All About Self-Control

Self-control separates us from our ancient ancestors and the rest of the animal kingdom, thanks to our large prefrontal cortex. It is the ability to subdue our impulses in order to achieve longer-term goals. Rather than responding to immediate impulses, we can plan, evaluate alternative actions, and, often enough, avoid doing things we'll later regret. The ability to exert self-control is typically called willpower. It is what allows us to direct our attention, and it underlies all kinds of achievement. There is significant debate in science as to whether or not willpower is a finite resource. Studies demonstrate that exercising willpower makes heavy demands on mental energy, notably on reserves of glucose, the brain's preferred fuel, creating ego depletion. It's one reason we're more apt to reach for that chocolate chip cookie when we're feeling stressed than when we're feeling on top of the world. Recently, scientists have failed to replicate some of the studies underlying the concept of ego depletion, and more research is underway.

Recent posts on Self-Control

Compassionate Parenting

We teach children self-regulation by modeling our more humane values.

What's Up with the Mad Pooper of Colorado Springs?

Like the Energizer bunny, she keeps going...and going

Conservatism Predicts Lapses Back to Meat Consumption

By Gordon Hodson Ph.D. on September 15, 2017 in Without Prejudice
Although those on the right eat more meat in general, some nonetheless attempt to quit. New research provides insights into why they may struggle.

Teaching Children to Be Honorable

By William R. Klemm Ph.D. on September 13, 2017 in Memory Medic
Children are biologically wired to behave falsely. Where do they learn moral values and respect for truth?

Collective Intelligence in the Holocene - 5

By Michael Hogan Ph.D. on September 01, 2017 in In One Lifespan
There are five disciplines that need to be mastered.
Rob Mulally/Unsplash

Answering Life's Call

By Alex Pattakos Ph.D. on September 01, 2017 in The Meaningful Life
Do you recognize that you are being questioned by life? Here is some guidance to help you find answers.

Open Letter to College-Bound Kids About Sex

By Marty Klein PhD on August 29, 2017 in Sexual Intelligence
Sex can be thrilling, awful, or even both. We should be honest with college students about the difference.

Learning to Live From the Inside Out

Do you feel tossed around by the waves of your life? What if you could learn to powerfully surf them instead?

I'll Start Tomorrow

By Frances Kuffel on August 20, 2017 in What Fat Women Want
People lose weight for a million bad reasons, ones that won’t resonate back to them across the years.

B.E.A.R.–Strategies for Restraint and Stability

Looking for strategies to help curb your anger arousal? Try practicing B.E.A.R.

What My Gym Membership Taught Me About Mental Accounting

By Alain Samson Ph.D. on August 16, 2017 in Consumed
When you think about money, think it through.

Death, Taxes, and Urination

The cognitive effects of withholding urination are discussed in the context of athletic performance.

Out of Balance?

By Rick Hanson Ph.D. on August 08, 2017 in Your Wise Brain
Think of sobriety in terms of the big picture, and in the context of a life well-lived. Sobriety is a gain—of health, self-respect, unclouded mind, peace with others and bliss.

The Trouble with Teenagers

By Vanessa LoBue, Ph.D. on August 07, 2017 in The Baby Scientist
Do you have a teenager at home? Here's what's special about the teenage years and what makes them so difficult...for both parents and teenagers.

The Irrationality of Marriage

By Katherine Hawley Ph.D. on August 06, 2017 in Trust
How can we commit whole-heartedly, when we know divorce is so common?

7 Science-Backed Reasons You Should Spend More Time Alone

Studies show spending just 10 minutes a day alone with your thoughts could change your life.

Anger, Anxiety, Resentment, Stress, and Basic Humanity

Your chances of consistently managing anger, anxiety, resentment, and stress, without becoming a better person, are practically zero.

Bring Back Confession

By Jeremy E Sherman Ph.D. on August 03, 2017 in Ambigamy
It's useful to calmly inventory your bad habits, not that they're going to change overnight.

Is Thin Beautiful?

By Emily T. Troscianko on August 03, 2017 in A Hunger Artist
There are a number of ways thinness can disguise itself as beauty.

From Impulsive to Intentional

Do you sometimes feel out of control? A basic mindfulness practice can get you back in the driver's seat of your life.

The Myth of Motivation

By Rubin Khoddam on August 01, 2017 in The Addiction Connection
So many of us wait to feel motivated before we do anything. But what we don't realize is that just by taking action, the motivation will follow.

Silent Third Person Self-Talk Facilitates Emotion Regulation

Silently talking to yourself in the third person—and using your own name during inner dialogues—facilitates emotion regulation, according to a recent neuroscience-based study.

Values Can Be a Conduit to Recovery

By Dan Mager MSW on July 27, 2017 in Some Assembly Required
Contentment, like recovery, is an inside job. It comes from making choices that are healthy and helpful, and in alignment with our values.

The Secret of Raising a Self-Disciplined Child

Our children learn self-control from the limits we set. But -- and this is critical -- only if we set those limits with empathy.

Gimme Shelter: Soaked by Organizational Change

By James Bailey Ph.D. on July 24, 2017 in At the Helm
Where you stand when times are turbulent determines where you are when times calm.

Feeling Lost? Part 2

In a committed relationship that means a great deal to us, it’s not so easy to walk away when difficulties arise.

Is It Narcissism or Sociopathy?

By Stephen A. Diamond Ph.D. on July 19, 2017 in Evil Deeds
What is the nexus between narcissistic and antisocial personality?

Does a Happy Meal Really Make Us Happy?

We know that what we eat impacts our physical health. But what about our psychological health? How does what we eat impact our happiness?

Fear-Based Anger Is the Primary Motive for Violence

By Scott A. Bonn Ph.D. on July 17, 2017 in Wicked Deeds
Anger is not a primary emotion. It is a secondary emotion or reaction. Fear or terror is the root of all anger.

Six Ways To Beat Childhood Trauma & Stop Self-Sabotage

Recovery from trauma and growing beyond it can seem challenging and even impossible. Here are some potentially useful tools to begin to take the first steps.