Yesterday we participated in what I would call a quintessential American sport. No it wasn’t baseball – it was shopping :).

We went to IKEA. For those of you that haven’t ever experienced IKEA, let me explain. I say experience because, besides being a major furniture and household retailer, when you visit the store your experience isn’t like any other furniture and household retailer.

You know you have arrived at an IKEA Store when you find yourself in front of an unmistakably large building that is color blocked blue and yellow. At first you think you’ve arrived at the Swedish Embassy because of the numerous flags marking the entrance. But then revealed by a flag in motion, you see the looming large letters reading I-K-E-A.           

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Most retailers allow you to walk straight to the department or section where the item you are looking for is located. So easy, right? For example, if you were going to Target to buy a garden hose, you could walk straight to the outdoor section to look at the selection of hoses. You wouldn’t have to walk through the electronics department, the baby department, the grocery section, the automotive section, the bathroom section, and every other section that Target offers. Totally normal.

The IKEA Experience

Here we go: The IKEA Experience.

Here we go: The IKEA Experience. (Nick is looking very serious)

Well this is where IKEA does it very differently. Upon entry to what I call the experience, you are herded through the store in a maze like configuration, passing by countless options of household items that you didn’t come to shop for, and even a few restaurants to grab a bite, in case you get hungry on the mile long trek. You are wound through every square inch of the building leaving no section or department unturned. Whether you want to or not. There is no cutting or skipping over departments, you must pass through every.single.one. Once delivered to the exit, you find yourself mostly in tact, although exhausted and inevitably with a few less hours and dollars than you came with.

Well, you can only imagine what two overly sensitive, culturally out of shape, just back from 5 years in Costa Rica newbies looked like wandering through. 

At first, we were excited to arrive and get to the middle of the maze where the standup desk we had researched online was located. But on the way there, we had to pass by so many bright and shiny objects.

Nick look at this, it would look great in our new apartment! I would say as I jumped on a couch in a sea of couches. But when I looked over for confirmation I realized Nick was nowhere to be found, as he had strayed over to the chair section trying each one out for comfort.

The arrow pointing on in the maze.

The arrow pointing on in the maze. There is Nick in the distance as I am getting lost in all the bright and shiny objects.

We resisted making any decisions about furniture and eventually, after passing numerous sections we had little interest in, arrived to the stand up desk area. We should have known being the latest trend in office décor that they would be sold out. So much for getting anything you want in the USA.

As we disappointedly continued on through the maze, with nothing in our hands, (we didn’t have a cart…yet) slowly but surely we started to pick things up. A candle here, a bathroom plunger there, until it was time to finally get a cart.

 It seemed like the longer we stayed in the maze the more things we put in the cart. Our ability to resist became weaker. When the checkout line was in reach and less than 1 football field away, I’m not exaggerating, in the last minute we ended up adding 3 more things to our cart. All of which were the most expensive, of course.

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Checkout station optimized for speed and well, mass consumption.

What had intended to be a one stop purchase turned into somewhat of a shopping spree. Now I know this happens all the time – where you come for one thing and leave with another. But I can’t help but think if I hadn’t been forced through all those extraneous departments that I may have come out with less.

As I pondered what the hell just happened, 2 little words came to mind:

EGO DEPLETION.

Yep that’s it. That explains what happened, I said to myself.

What is ego depletion?

For those of you who haven’t heard the term ego depletion, it is defined as:

 the idea that self-control or willpower draw upon a limited pool of mental resources that can be used up. When the energy for mental activity is low, self-control is typically impaired, which would be considered a state of ego depletion.

 Simply put, ego depletion is a state you find yourself in when you have no willpower. When you can’t say no to that glass of wine, the scrumptious donut, or that beautiful and unnecessary large beveled mirror in IKEA. (Ha, that was me).

We can all relate to the idea that at the beginning of a week say Monday, it is pretty easy to eat baked chicken with veggies for dinner. We’re motivated and raring to go for the week. But by Friday, eating broccoli sounds like crazy talk and before you know it you find yourself washing down an entire pizza with a bottle of wine.

Yep, you’re officially, ego depleted.

This concept has been studied and you can read more about it here.

In fact, President Obama was quoted saying:

He only wears blue or gray suits, because it’s a way of managing his willpower. He doesn’t want to waste his mental resources. “I’m trying to pare down decisions,” Obama says. “I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” –From Business Insider

So why should we care?

Because whether we’re aware of it or not, all of the seemingly innocuous decisions we make each and every day add up. Decisions like, what we are going to wear, what we are going to make for breakfast, what time we are going to the gym, what route we’ll take to work, and so on. And when it comes time to make a decision that require more mental faculties what we have left in the tank will matter.

 If you can manage ego depletion you can take control of your life.

If your find yourself ego depleted a lot, you’re not going to make the best decisions. But on the flip side, if you can do a few small things to set yourself up to avoid it, you can save yourself from the mental agony of making poor decisions and instead have on tap the vital mental energy necessary.

A few tips to avoid ego depletion:

  • Awareness is the most powerful remedy because once you’re aware you can do things differently.
  • Don’t waste your finite resource of decision making on predictable decisions that you know you make every day (what to eat, what to wear, etc.) Instead create a limited number of options to choose from daily and a ritual around them. So you can power through them essentially on autopilot.
  • Decrease the power of the SEE Food Diet (See food insert into mouth). Get rid of junk food (cookies crackers, and chips) in pantry that is easy to mindlessly eat. Instead stock your refrigerator with prepared proteins (like oven rotisserie chicken) and fresh veggies. Also, keep protein bars, nuts, or other healthy snacks in your purse or car to take the hunger edge off.
  • Lastly, and most importantly, under no circumstance enter IKEA, unless you have dumped all you credit cards, check book, and means to create compelling IOU’s in the dumpster prior, and then enter with only $20 cash. 

Hope you enjoyed this one! (I was cracking up a lot when I wrote this:)).

Have you ever found yourself in state of ego depletion? Would love to hear what happened in the comments below.

(Image at the top of post from kaboompics.com)

P.S. We’ve got our week #2 glute post coming out on Thursday to get you all primed and ready for the (#BBB) Better Bikini Bum Program launching July 13. Interested in more info? Email me or check this out.

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