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8 Tips to Improve Your Self-Control

It happens to us all: a well-meaning stab at a virtuous task devolves into an hour of Facebook or six trips to the fridge. This week, the Savvy Psychologist offers 8 tips to help increase your self-control.

By
Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
6-minute read
Episode #37

Tip #7: Self-Talk

Literally talk yourself out of temptation. Talking out loud helps “facilitate metacognitive representations"--or in other words, helps you think about your own thinking.

So many of the rewards of resisting temptation are abstract, like better health, a strong work ethic, or a job well done. So hearing yourself talk about your goals can make them more real, and better able to compete with the concrete temptation of that jar of cookie butter. For more on talking to yourself, check out the episode, Talking to Myself--Is That Normal? in the podcast archives.

Tip #8: Cut Yourself Some Slack

Strong emotion, like anger or anxiety--or another task that takes willpower, like being on a diet or staying with demanding relatives--will strain your self-control. So forgive yourself a self-control fail (or five) when your competing needs are depleting your limited resources.

So with some practice, you’ll be waiting for marshmallows with the best of them! Let me know on Facebook if any of these tips work for you. In the meantime, I’m going to go peer in the fridge. Or not.

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Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

References

Baumeister, R.F, Bratslavsky, E., Muraven, M. & Tice, D.M.  (1998).  Ego depletion: Is the active self a limited resource?  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 1252-1265.

Chen, C. & Stevenson, H.W. (1989).  Homework: A cross-cultural examination.  Child Development, 60, 551-561.

Duckworth, A.L., Gendler, T.S. & Gross, J.J. (2014).  Self-control in school-age children.  Educational Psychologist, 49, 199-217.

Duckworth, A., & Seligman, M. (2005). Self-discipline outdoes IQ in predicting academic performance in adolescents. Psychological Science, 16, 939-944.

Milkman, K.L., Minson, J.A. & Volpp, K.G. (2014).  Holding The Hunger Games hostage and the gym: An evaluation of temptation bundling.  Management Science, 60, 283-299.

Mischel, W. & Baker, N. (1975).  Cognitive appraisals and transformations in delay behavior.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 31, 254-261.  

Mischel, W., Ebbesen, E.B., & Raskoff Zeiss, A. (1972).  Cognitive and attentional mechanisms in delay of gratification.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 21, 204-218.

Moffitt, T., et al. (2011). A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108, 2693-2698.

Moore, B., Mischel, W. & Zeiss, A.  (1976).  Comparative effects of the reward stimulus and its cognitive representation in voluntary delay.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 34, 419-424.

Tangney, J., Baumeister, R., & Boone, A.L. (2004). High self-control predicts good adjustment, less pathology, better grades, and interpersonal success. Journal of Personality, 72, 271-324.

 

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All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen was the host of the Savvy Psychologist podcast from 2014 to 2019. She is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets. Her debut book, HOW TO BE YOURSELF: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety, was published in March 2018.