Explain the meaning and importance of self-control. Describe the strategies to develop selfcontrol.
Self-control is the ability to regulate and alter your responses to avoid undesirable behaviors, increase desirable ones, and achieve long-term goals. Research has shown that possessing self-control can be important for health and well-being.
Psychologists typically define self-control as:
- The ability to control behaviors to avoid temptations and achieve goals
- The ability to delay gratification and resist unwanted behaviors or urges
- A limited resource that can be depleted
Importance of Self-Control
How important is self-control in your day-to-day life? A Stress in America survey conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that 27% of respondents identified a lack of willpower as the primary factor keeping them from reaching their goals.4 The majority of people surveyed (71%) believed that self-control can be both learned and strengthened.
In one influential experiment, students who exhibited greater self-discipline had better grades, higher test scores, and were more likely to be admitted to a competitive academic program. The study also found that when it came to academic success, self-control was a more important factor than IQ scores.
The benefits of self-control are not limited to academic performance. One long-term health study found that high levels of self-control during childhood predicted greater cardiovascular, respiratory, and dental health in adulthood, as well as improved financial status.
While research suggests self-control has its limitations, psychologists have also found that it can be strengthened with certain strategies.2
This is an effective way of making the most of your available self-control. Avoiding temptation ensures that you do not “use up” your available self-control before it is really needed.
Consider possible situations that might break your resolve. If you are faced with temptation, what actions will you take to avoid giving in? Research has found that planning ahead can improve willpower even in situations where people have experienced the effects of ego depletion.
For example, if you are trying to reduce your sugar intake and you have a hard time controlling late afternoon hunger pangs, eat a well-balanced lunch packed with plenty of fiber, protein, and whole grains that will keep you full longer.
Practice Using Self-Control
While your control might become depleted in the short term, regularly engaging in behaviors that require you to exert self-control will improve your willpower over time. Think of self-control as a muscle. While hard work may exhaust the muscle in the short term, the muscle will grow stronger over time as you continue to work it.
Focus on One Goal at a Time
Setting a lot of goals at once (such as making a list of several New Year’s resolutions) is usually an ineffective approach. Depleting your willpower in one area can reduce self-control in other areas. It is best to choose one specific goal and focus your energy on it.5
Meditation is a great way to strengthen your self-control muscle. If you’re new to meditation, mindfulness meditation is a great place to start learning how to be more self-aware so you can better resist temptations. This technique can also help you learn to slow your thoughts, which can help you control the gut impulses that can get in the way of your self-control.