Self-control is the ability to subdue our impulses in order to achieve longer-term goals rather than responding to immediate impulses. Instead we plan, evaluate and often avoid doing things we’ll regret later. The ability to exert self-control is typically called willpower, which allows us to direct our attention toward goals. And, therefore, it underlies all kinds of achievement.
The Marshmallow Experiment –
A psychologist named Walter Mischel, in a psychology experiment in 1970, placed a treat in front of children and offered them a choice – they could either enjoy a treat of marshmallow now, or wait a brief period of time in order to get two snacks. The experimenter then left the room.
He found on coming into the room after some time that many of the kids immediately ate the marshmallow, but a portion of the kids were able to put off the urge to enjoy the treat now and wait for the reward of getting two delicious goodies later on.
Mischel discovered later that the children, who had waited for the treat, performed better academically than kids, who ate the treat right away. Those, who delayed their gratification, also displayed fewer behavioral problems and later had much higher SAT scores.
In follow-up experiments, Mischel found that using a number of distraction techniques helped children delay gratification more effectively. Such techniques included singing songs, thinking about something else, or covering their eyes.
The children in Mischel’s study had the promise of a secondary reward for waiting just a short period of time. But, on the contrary, everyday scenarios don’t always come with this guarantee and, therefore, it becomes quite difficult to delay gratification.
Unpredictability of future rewards –
The uncertainty about future rewards makes delaying immediate gratification a real challenge. And, that is why, many think why not have immediately which is there in front of us. May be, it may not be there later!
Our everyday life is replete with such examples. If on a diet, many will lose their self-control and give in to temptation to enjoy a delicious dish at a party. They will argue with themselves that even after following a diet plan, they are facing difficulty in losing weight. So why not enjoy the treat! They forget at that time that a weight loss plan requires real self-control.
Developing self-control –
We can look at self-control as a muscle, and just like our physical muscles, we can strengthen it by training. Below are some proven ways to do so –
Perform self-affirmation – According to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, self-affirmation can even help one to have more self-control when one is running out. Every time you tell yourself “I can’t,” you’re creating a feedback, which is a reminder of your limitations. This terminology indicates that you’re forcing yourself to do something you don’t want to do. So, by creating positive affirmations like “I can do it”, you will be able to retrain your responses to situations that require self-control. With many repetitions of such affirmations, you will be able to develop good self-control.
Delay immediate gratification – Delaying immediate gratification is one potent way to develop self-control. Delaying gratification involves the ability to wait to get what one wants. Though it is often quite difficult, it is most important for developing self-control. Choosing a long-term reward over immediate gratification poses a major challenge in many areas of life. One can employ diversionary tactics like thinking about something else, or simply walking out of the sight of tempting object or just reminding yourself that delaying will yield more benefits. It actually has to be done repeatedly before you can strengthen your will-power.
Do meditations regularly – Experts agree across the board that a regular practice of meditation provides many benefits of overall mental and physical well-being to the practitioner. It helps lower the levels of emotional reactivity and impulsivity as it gives a latency to the practitioner before reacting. The latency keeps increasing as the practitioner advances in the practice of meditation. It is this latency period that gives a person enough time to think before reacting, which, in its place, comes as proactive response. So, instead of giving in to the temptation of immediate gratification, you will have some time to change your mind. And it doesn’t take a lifetime of practice but, on the contrary, behavioral changes to counteract reactivity have been observed after eight weeks of brief daily meditation training.
Learn to manage stress – High levels of stress entice us to surrender to temptations, forcing us to make decisions based on short-tem outcomes, because the process of decision making requires energy, and we are low on energy level under high stress. By being relaxed, we will be able to make sound decisions with far reaching positive effects. Our self-control gives in, when we are under any kind of high stress, especially if that involves emotions. Thus, we can conclude that if we learn to manage our stress well, we will have better self-control.
The ability to subdue our impulsivity underlies all kinds of successful achievements. It is quite tempting for us to indulge in instant gratification of our desires, albeit our understanding that it is not beneficial to us, whereas delaying gratification will be beneficial. The classic Marshmallow Experiment testifies to this effect. Our ability to regulate impulsivity and reactivity to life events contributes to lend strength to our self-control. We should help our children to learn and develop self-control as it is easy to create behavioral patterns when their young minds are more suggestible. Nevertheless, self-control can be fortified at any age with sincere efforts and it is worth making efforts.