The afternoon slips away and the sunlight begins to fade until we are hidden in shadows of darkness. This is a time of transition. It also marks the time period that most people lose their willpower—from dusk to out of control. For example, perhaps you are on a diet and have done well all day, but then BOOM! From dusk till bedtime you are out of control. This is a time when we tend to give ourselves permission to go off the wagon. So why do we do that? How do we justify it, and what is your trigger?
For many, the most common trigger is stress, or a desire to fill emptiness. But why can we practice self-control during the day, but not at night? Is it because there is no audience watching us, keeping us in line, setting boundaries for us? Some of the science is still out on this, but a recent study published in the Journal of Marketing Research sheds some light. They found that diners in restaurants chose less healthy dishes and consumed larger portions when the lights were dimmed. When the lights were on, and both they and their companions were more aware of the choices being made, they consumed less and made better choices. There seems to be a degree of accountability that varies according to visibility.
In the open, with others around to witness our choices, we seem to do better. This is part of the reason why support groups are so effective for those looking to lose weight or break an addiction.
Why can’t we do this on our own? Why do we need a support groups? Are we asking permission to be broken, or are we asking to be helped into our healing? Is it that in the privacy of our homes no one can see us so going off the wagon, so we think it doesn’t really count?
These are all valid queries, but the clearest reason may be related to light and dark. The chemistry of the brain changes at night. As the light dims, melatonin levels begin to rise. We begin to feel tired, more relaxed. This is also a time when we begin to feel empty, especially if we live alone. Our thoughts that we try to drown out during the day become louder, overwhelming, and so we give in to the temptations. We lose control.
“To become a true master of your days and nights you need to master your dusks and dawns.” ― Stan Jacobs
According to psychologist Denise Cummins Ph. D of Psychology Today, the best method to avoid this loss of control after dusk is to train your brain to make better choices consistently. How does this work? We know inherently that a degree of willpower and self-control are essential to the success of any goal. The more you use these muscles, the more powerful and effective they become. To reduce your risk of losing control after dusk, visualize yourself choosing to delay gratification of the current temptation. Studies show that this practice of imagining yourself delaying gratification can actually reduce your desire to binge. We’ll explore this visualization method in more depth later on.
For now, foster this positive decision making with the reward of a new and positive habit. Find a hobby or activity that is enjoyable but doesn’t sabotage the goals you’ve worked towards during the daylight hours. Instead of reaching for that TV remote and a bag of candy, end your evening with a relaxing soak in the tub, a walk around the neighborhood, creating some form of art, or a leisurely meditation session. Growing these habits ensures that you will fall back on positive methods to relieve stress and boost your feel-good serotonin, instead of losing control.
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What To Remember:
Social pressures affect our choices, often positively.
- American Psychological Association. (2017). What You Need to Know about Willpower: The Psychological Science of Self Control. Retrieved from American Psychological Association.
- Cummins, D. (2013, June 21). How To Boost Your Willpower. Retrieved from Psychology Today.
- Houston, G. (2016, May 27). Dim Lighting Makes You Eat More at Restaurants. Retrieved from Food And Wine.
- Wehr, D. a. (2001, September 15). Evidence for a biological dawn and dusk in the human circadian timing system. Retrieved from US National Library of Medicine.
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