Today, we’re talking about self-denial. Specifically…

Is self-denial inherently good, inherently bad, or only good when undertaken for a good reason?

Show notes & links:
Denial: Self-Deception, False Beliefs, and the Origins of the Human Mind

NPR, September 18, 2011: “Resistance Training for your ‘Willpower’ Muscles


Full episode text

Denying yourself something – anything – seems to be in many ways a pastime. Going on diets, cutting out something bad for you, or even stopping yourself from punching others in the face, according to one comment. Yet is self-denial as a practice something more than self-control?

One book, in fact, argues that self-denial is part of what creates self-awareness. Our ability to deny the reality of mortality that we encounter every day may well be a part of what creates self-awareness in human beings. This may be a part of why self-denial is, in many ways, built into many religions.

Yet the willpower it takes to practice self-denial is, in and of itself, a muscle that must be exercised. One commenter pointed out that it’s much, much easier to tell yourself “not now” rather than “not ever”. At the same time, the Just World hypothesis warns us that making a moral judgement on the basis of an exercise that can – and does – wear out a mental muscle could be a dangerous road to go down.

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