Ramadan is nigh!

Tonight is the new moon - 0% illumination
Tonight is the new moon – 0% illumination

The first fast is upon us – the one act of piety most associated with Ramadan. The spiritual and spiritual benefits of fasting get the most attention, but there is a third aspect that isn’t discussed as often: the cognitive benefits. A great article from Christianity Today generalizes the question to self-control:

Studies on self-control have boomed in the past two decades, and self-control is a really good thing to have. Research has found, for example, that people with more self-control live longer, are happier, get better grades, are less depressed, are more physically active, have lower resting heart rates, have less alcohol abuse, have more stable emotions, are more helpful to others, get better jobs, earn more money, have better marriages, are more faithful in marriage, and sleep better at night. But psychologists, sociologists, and other scientists aren’t just interested in self-control’s practical benefits. They want to know what it is, how it works, and why some people seem to be better at it than others.

Let’s start with definitions. Self-control regulates desires and impulses. It involves wanting to do one thing but choosing to do another. We substitute responses to a situation, like wanting to eat a bag of chips but instead picking up an apple. That definition may seem obvious, but thinking about self-control this way helps us avoid less accurate or more vague ways of thinking about self-control, like “being a good person.” We use self-control to regulate what we think, what we do, and even how we express our emotions. Willpower is the emotional and mental energy used to exert self-control.

The applicability of this research to fasting is obvious. The article explains that the broad concept is referred to in the literature as “ego depletion”. The article is more interested in the applicability of self control and ego depletion with respect to sin, but it equally applies to simple addiction and even everyday bad habits – or outright denial. Ramadan teaches us to exert self control against the most primal of our body’s needs – hunger. Well worth the long read!

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