The Importance of Self-Control…

by: Maurice Gibbons

Maurice Gibbons is the sole owner of this article and all rights to it and its use. Copyright 2012. Personal Power Press International.

Success in SDL depends on your ability to do what you want to do. If you want to manage your learning and your life, you have to have self-control so you can decide and then act.

In their current book, Willpower, Roy Baumeister and John Teirney, describe the seminal marshmallow research study conducted by Walter Mischel. In this study a group of four-year olds are each given a marshmallow and told if they keep their marshmallows uneaten for fifteen minutes, they will get another marshmallow. You can likely guess what happened: some kids couldn’t wait and ate their prize right away; others held out for a while and then gave in and devoured theirs; and a few waited patiently for their second marshmallow, which they received.

Much later, accidental good-fortune struck. Mischel’s children attended the same school as the subjects of the study and he noticed that those who ate right away were getting into a lot of trouble. He decided to conduct a follow-up study to see what the subjects’ marshmallow behavior revealed. It revealed a lot, especially in follow-up studies of the benefits of self-control that Beaumeister conducted and summarized in his book Losing Control.

It turns out that low self-control leads to lower SAT scores (by more than 200 points), poorer grades, lower salaries, poorer health, and a higher rate of imprisonment. The researchers concluded that “Self-regulation failure is the major social-pathology of our time.” Conversely, that self-control is the only trait that predicts success in education and in life, and therefore, “Self-control is a vital strength and key to our success.” These studies make it easy for us to see why their authors say that improving our willpower is the best way to pursue a better life.

How Much Self-Control Do You Have?

What is your marshmallow? Most of us watch a lot of TV or play computer games, so let’s use one of those as our temptation. Substitute something else if that doesn’t work for you. Imagine that you were offered an hour of TV or gaming today, but if you didn’t watch or play today, you could have two hours at it tomorrow. How do you think you would do at denying yourself this pleasure on the promise that you can have more of it later?

Be honest with yourself. Look at your recent experience. How good are you at denying yourself something, or putting out great effort for a pleasure or valuable result that is far off in the future? Do you take courses or programs that will increase your skills (hard work now for success later)? Do you avoid impetuous buying to save for future needs (go without now to achieve goals ahead)? Do you exercise, eat well, get a good night’s sleep, and go without smoking or drinking more than a social glass (manage yourself now for health in the years ahead)? Do you have a criminal record or have you done things that you are ashamed of (acted recklessly without consideration of the effects on others or the consequences for yourself)?

Give yourself a self-control rating from one to ten with ten being very capable of applying willpower to achieve valuable results, and zero being incapable of any self-discipline even to achieve what you want to achieve. The first step to greater personal control is recognizing its value, and the second step is acknowledging that you need to develop it more. What do you think about your capacity for applying willpower when you need it? Could you be stronger?

(Careful now: are you going to rush on and avoid this self-examination, or stop and do the preparation necessary for moving forward? This self-regulation is live right now. This would also be a great place to stop and write in your journal about your own self-control. (I like this: exerting self-control in the examination of your own self-control).

Developing Willpower

If you recognize the importance of willpower, want it for yourself, and decide to develop it, what can you do to be successful?

Practice exerting willpower. Research shows that by controlling small patterns of behavior you are exercising your control and your overall willpower will improve. If you decide, for example, to drink a glass of water every morning (great for the brain and the body), or to exercise for ten minutes every morning when you get up, and do so, you will find that your willpower is stronger when you apply it to other tasks. So choose a small new activity that will improve your life and get started right now. And you will have begun your story as a self-directed person.

You can build on that story right away by finding a touchstone in your past, an experience in which you exerted self-control to achieve a result that was important to you or to others? I remember working in a logging camp when I was a young man to earn the money to go to university. Both the camp and the university were hard work for a distant goal, but I completed both. What is your touchstone?

Go over it in your mind and remember the effort and the feelings involved, especially the pleasure of achieving the vision you had. You can take this further by remembering a number of incidents and stringing them together as your story of self-control, yourself as a person with willpower.

Apparently will power is a limited resource. We start the morning with a full tank, but use it up with every application of it we make, so choose carefully what you decide to spend your powers on. Be sure also that you maintain a full tank by eating well, getting a good night’s sleep, and staying healthy.

Taking the Offensive

Baumeister and Tierney urge us all to take the offensive; to be determined to develop willpower. The strongest offence is developing what I call project plans. It begins with having values, thinking positively about yourself and your future, and thinking of moving forward with yourself and your life. If those thoughts are supported by religious beliefs they will be even more effective.

From such a context we can begin to set goals that matter. The goals we set should be worthwhile but achievable, and they should be few in number so that our willpower is not diluted. Focus is important. I have goals set within goals: I want to maintain my two websites, and to do that I am setting goals about productivity, mainly writing, and about developing, such as doing research for new articles, and making videos to introduce each section of at least one site.

Once we formulate our goals we have to get started. Procrastination immobilizes a lot of us. We have to fight it with grim determination, especially men. One method the authors of Willpower recommend is pre-commitment. When, for example, you go into the candy store–whatever that candy may be–leave your credit card at home. I like to underline my commitments by writing them down so they can never be denied.

The next step in the offensive for success is to keep track. If you are going to give up desserts, for instance, keep a record of each day. Mark it on a calendar where it can be seen. By following this practice you not only record your success, you reinforce it, too, with the growing number of marks. When you see that, reward yourself. Reward yourself regularly with many little prizes and occasional big ones. Choose real treats that you normally wouldn’t have.

Just Do It!

The engine that drives willpower is determination. In the end you have to suck it up, get moving, and keep moving until the goal you seek has been achieved. The only temptation that Oscar Wilde could not resist was temptation itself. That was Oscar. We can do a lot better than that.

Maurice Gibbons is the sole owner of this article and all rights to it and its use. Copyright 2012. Personal Power Press International.

Ref: http://www.selfdirectedlearning.com/personal-development/develop-willpower.html