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

Understanding Your Child's Behaviors in Context

When it comes to children, how can you tell the difference between a discipline problem and a mental health diagnosis?

The New Science of Successfully Breaking Bad Habits

By Christopher Bergland on December 06, 2017 in The Athlete's Way
The Science of Behavior Change (SOBC) coalition is on a mission to help people break bad habits and successfully make behavioral changes that will lead to longer, healthier lives.
CC Commons

Writing Letters for the Holiday

By Diana Raab PhD on December 06, 2017 in The Empowerment Diary
Are you wanting to do something different this holiday season or perhaps connect wit those who you haven't spoken to in a while? Try crafting a handwritten letter.

Future Harassers Beware! We'll (Eventually) Learn About You

How can some of those who harass others stay under the radar for such a long time? What is the appropriate response to these cases? What could prevent them in the first place?

Male Sexual Misconduct and the Testosterone Curse

By Leon F Seltzer Ph.D. on November 29, 2017 in Evolution of the Self
In assessing present-day perpetrators, it's important to consider testosterone—the "ethics-free" chemical of desire—as being the organic culprit of their objectification of women.
Freestocks/Pexels

Don't Be a Slave to the Cyber Monday Crawl!

By Vijayeta Sinh Ph.D. on November 27, 2017 in Life in Balance
Understanding the need to fill your shopping cart while emptying your wallet.

How to Break Free From Excessive Internet Gaming

By Seth J. Gillihan Ph.D. on November 17, 2017 in Think, Act, Be
There is a growing awareness that problematic Internet use can have serious consequences. A new study demonstrated one simple technique that can help.

Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child?

By Asa Don Brown Ph.D. on November 16, 2017 in Towards Recovery
Spanking a child is about the parent not the child. The child will learn more from positive correction than physical manipulation.

Generating Energy to Be Kind

By Mica B. Estrada, Ph.D. on November 16, 2017 in Lead with Kindness
Do you have enough energy to be kind today? Wisdom and science show how personal reflection empowers us to be our best self.

The Resilience Option

By Bryan E. Robinson Ph.D. on November 11, 2017 in The Right Mindset
Are you Unable to Stop Blowing Your Top? The Resilience Option Will Curb Your Reactions

Walking the Tightrope of Change: When Virtue Becomes Vice

How to keep transitions from spoiling your best qualities.

What Hungry Dogs May Teach Us About Ourselves

Are hungry dogs teaching us about human appetite?

Why Addicts Make Poor Decisions

By Shahram Heshmat Ph.D. on November 06, 2017 in Science of Choice
Decision failures could explain why addicts pursue and consume drugs even in the face of negative consequences.

How to Stop Procrastinating on Self-Change

By Bill Knaus Ed.D. on November 03, 2017 in Science and Sensibility
Overcome the hidden "yes-but" factor in procrastination. Gain confidence. Fulfill your dreams.

The Surprising Power of an Unscratched Itch

Could you use a little more self-control in your life? Good news! You can start to acquire it, right here and now.
Pam Brophy [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Use This Problem-Solving Strategy to Achieve Any Goal

By Shahram Heshmat Ph.D. on October 27, 2017 in Science of Choice
The mental contrasting strategy has four steps: wish, outcome, obstacle, and plan.

Candy, Costumes, and Scares. Oh My!

By Shawn M. Burn Ph.D. on October 21, 2017 in Presence of Mind
What's behind people's love for Halloween and wild Halloween behavior?

The Power of Preying

Harvey Weinstein is just one of many.

Digital Distraction: Internet and Smartphone Addiction

The Internet and smartphones have been adopted in the U.S. at a faster pace than any technology since the start of the Industrial Revolution, and we can't seem to stop using them.

Don’t Justify What You Want to Change

We justify resentment by citing evidence of unfairness and how badly other people behave. The more adrenaline we need for justification, the more subject to confirmation bias.

Yes, Condemn Weinstein, but Don't Endorse a “Pence Rule”

All of us are alarmed and angered by revelations about Harvey Weinstein. But does this justify restrictive rules on interactions between men and women like Mike Pence follows?

Neither Free Will Nor Determinism

By Jeremy E Sherman Ph.D. on October 10, 2017 in Ambigamy
We haven't resolved the free-will debate because we don't know what will is. Here's an explanation from will's origins in chemistry with intuitive implications for your own life.

Mental Accounting and Self-Control

By Art Markman Ph.D. on October 09, 2017 in Ulterior Motives
The 2017 Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded to Richard Thaler from the University of Chicago. His work explores strategies people use for making choices.

How Much Better Life Would Be Without Emotions

The brain skill that everyone should practice

We Are Programmed for Gluttony and Weight Gain

By Nathan H. Lents, Ph.D. on October 03, 2017 in Beastly Behavior
The key to understanding our struggles with healthy weight management lies in our evolutionary past.

Exorcise the Devil-vs.-Angel Analogy From Health Behaviors

Deciding what to eat for lunch isn't a battle between good and evil. It's just a choice. We can learn a lot by treating it as one.

Controlling Your Emotions

By James E. Crum, II on October 02, 2017 in The Executive Brain
Can we control our emotions? Here's how.

Aging, Health, and Conscious Evolution

Can a framework based on an ancient parable help us to realize how much control we have over the nature and quality of our old age?

Another Example of Less Teaching Leading to More Learning

By Peter Gray Ph.D. on September 26, 2017 in Freedom to Learn
Williams identified the "worst" boys in a city of 300,000 people. He allowed them to pursue their own interests rather than attend classes, and here's what he found!

Compassionate Parenting

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