Self-control is the ability to control one’s emotions, behavior, and desires in the face of external demands, to function in society. Self-control is essential in behavior to achieve goals and to avoid impulses and/or emotions that could prove to be negative or destructive.
In psychology it is sometimes called self-regulation, although that is itself a some what broader concept.
In behavior analysis self-control represents the locus of two conflicting contingencies of reinforcement, which then make a controlling response reinforcing when it causes changes in the controlled response. Self-control is like a muscle. In the short term, overuse of self-control will lead to depletion.
However, in the long term the use of self-control can strengthen and improve over time.
Benefits of Self-Control
1. INCREASES DECISION MAKING CAPACITY
When we exercise self-control after making a decision it becomes more difficult. When we practice self-control first, it becomes easier to make decisions because our minds switch to simpler processes. For example, a dieter may avoid a donut first thing in the morning but after making tough decisions about work and life all day, their self-control may have slipped by the time they should say no to cake as dessert after dinner.
2. INCREASES CHANCES OF SUCCESS
Research at Duckworth Lab at the University of Pennsylvania’s positive psychology center concluded that when self-control was measured against talent over time the ones that practiced grit rather than relying on talent came out as more successful. For example, in an experiment carried out between two groups at West Point, those that relied on self-control had a better chance at being able to move past the first summer of intense trials over those that had domain relevant talents such as physical fitness.
3. SELF-CONTROL CAN HELP US CURTAIL IMPULSIVE BEHAVIORS SUCH AS LYING AND BINGE DRINKING
In a study conducted by Meldrum et al. A group of 1600 adolescents in US schools were asked if they had taken a fictitious drug and if so, how frequently.
Out of the participants, 40 said that they were familiar with the medicine and had taken it in the past.
This goes to show that some people can’t help lying and those that have low self-control are more likely to succumb to the impulse even if, like in this situation, they have nothing to gain from it.
4. IMPROVES FOCUS
In a study by Bertram et al., participants were asked to solve math problems while under pressure. The participants that were evaluated as having low self-control were distracted by negative thoughts and did much poorer than their disciplined counterparts.
Self-control allows us to focus our energies on the task at hand and tune out distractions which make sure we perform to the best of our abilities. It also allows us to kick those negative thoughts out of our head, a major impediment to long term success.
5. MORE LIKELY TO GET RICH
Although self-control is not the end all be all when it comes to making millions, it is an incredibly significant factor.
In a study conducted in New Zealand that shadowed 1,000 children over the course of 30 years. It was determined that those who had high levels of self-control went on to land high income jobs and had significantly lower levels of addiction. Only 10% of the children with developed discipline were in low income jobs as opposed to over 30% of those with poor discipline being in low income jobs.
6. PROMOTES CONGRUENCE
Have you ever held two conflicting desires in your mind like wanting to eat a the last piece of red velvet cake after dinner but at the same time wanting to drop a few pounds?
People that are able to practice self-control have more harmonious lives because they avoid situations in which they have to choose between desires.
Instead of fighting with themselves over eating the last piece of cake to stick to their diet, they would not have bought the cake in the first place and therefore prevent themselves from being exposed to conflicting desires.