Self-Control: Only All Good for the Privileged

Whether it’s getting an education, improving your dietary habits, getting some exercise or going for improved efficiency, altering your life begins and ends with self-control. But for some, this comes at a steep price.

For life hackers, it’s about making the changes as efficient as possible: reaping maximum benefits for minimum efforts. For members of the quantified self movement, it’s about monitoring yourself in order to create a scheme of self-improvement tailored to your body and your needs. For the average reader of the self-help article in a magazine, it might just be about quitting smoking or getting the laundry done.

Self-help gurus agree that the best way to change one’s life is the one that doesn’t require more self-control than necessary. Indeed, many have grown to view self-control as a finite resource, and the phenomenon of “running out of it” has a term of its own: ego depletion. For this reason, habit formation is encouraged: once you’re accustomed to a certain way of acting, you no longer need to push yourself to do it. It gets easy. One caveat though – for that habit to be formed, it’s that much more important that self-control is maintained during the first three(ish) weeks that it takes to instil a new habit.

But while most address self-control as an internal property of people – one that can be learned and cultivated, but a property of the person, nonetheless – there’s a factor to it that is often overlooked: money.

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