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

The Most Basic Way We Regulate Our Feelings

By Tom Bunn L.C.S.W. on February 19, 2017 in Conquer Fear Of Flying
We can't use our own two feet inside a car. But anxiety does not develop. The ground is immediately accessible. Imagination of a plane crash is the opposite.
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Say Farewell to Emotional Exhaustion

Stop letting other people, present circumstances, or ghosts of your past dictate your life. Be willing to let go and no longer be paralyzed by perfectionism.

Why Productivity Is Counterproductive

By Caroline Beaton on February 05, 2017 in The Gen-Y Guide
Chasing productivity can sabotage performance and impact.

5 Strategies for Finding Calm in a Turbulent Life

Stress affects us all in different ways; here are five suggested activities to help you escape your own mental combat arena.

Why Bosses Can Be Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

By Joel Brockner Ph.D. on February 01, 2017 in The Process Matters
It is unnerving when people in authority positions behave inconsistently, especially when it comes to matters of morality.

7 Truths If Someone You Love Is Addicted

Addiction can be overwhelming, especially to those on the outside looking in. Knowing what you’re dealing with helps.

How The What-The-Hell Effect Impacts Your Willpower

The what-the-hell effect describes the cycle you feel when you indulge, regret what you’ve done, and then go back for more.

The Silenced Majority

By Marty Nemko Ph.D. on January 21, 2017 in How To Do Life
To avoid Civil War II, we must encourage moderates to speak up.
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6 Tips for Managing Strong Emotions in the Moment

By Tara Well Ph.D. on January 19, 2017 in The Clarity
Upset by the news? Try these strategies to stay informed without getting triggered.

Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child?

By Romeo Vitelli Ph.D. on January 18, 2017 in Media Spotlight
Does sparing the rod spoil the child? New research explores how corporal punishment and harsh parenting can lead to later behavioral problems in children.

The Problem With (How We Treat) Highly Disciplined People

By Samantha Joel on January 12, 2017 in Dating Decisions
New research explores a potential downside of having high self-control.

Radical New Discoveries Are Turning Neuroscience Upside Down

By Christopher Bergland on January 12, 2017 in The Athlete's Way
New discoveries are changing the way neuroscientists view how subcortical brain regions (including the cerebellum, basal ganglia, and brainstem) interact with the cerebral cortex.

Meaning and Emotions

Emotion, personal history, culture, religion, and historical moment heavily influence the brain’s construction of meaning, and these, of course, are often in conflict.

Financial Rubbernecking

By Michael F. Kay on January 06, 2017 in Financial Life Focus
Few things are more frustrating than being in a traffic jam only to find out that the delay is because other drivers are stopping to look. The same holds true for personal finance.

An Open Letter to Parents Struggling With Discipline

By Linda Esposito LCSW on January 04, 2017 in From Anxiety to Zen
Do you feel like the only time your kids pay attention is when you yell and get angry? Answering questions about your own childhood can help you restore rules and order at home.

Here's Why Your Resolutions Can't Rely On Willpower Alone

By David DiSalvo on January 02, 2017 in Neuronarrative
What if the reason our New Years resolutions often fail has less to do with willpower and more with something we chronically ignore right from the start?
Focus Pocus LTD / AdobeStock

9 Ways to Tell if Your Breakup Will Last

Are you going through a break up, but having a hard time? Some of these factors might be working against you.

7 Surprising Science-Based Willpower Hacks

By Gleb Tsipursky Ph.D. on January 01, 2017 in Intentional Insights
Willpower is crucial to achieving your goals! Learn seven easy science-based techniques to improve your willpower.
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Why Psychopaths Are Effective Killers

By Scott A. Bonn Ph.D. on January 01, 2017 in Wicked Deeds
When psychopaths commit a homicide, their killings likely will be planned and purposeful—that is, organized, and not committed in the heat of passion.

The Case Against Zero Tolerance in Schools

A recent study shows that a brief intervention encouraging teachers to respond with empathy to misbehaving students was able to reduce middle school suspension rates by half.

Zero Motivation to Exercise? Dopamine Receptors Could Be Why

By Christopher Bergland on December 30, 2016 in The Athlete's Way
Did you make a resolution to exercise more in 2017? A new study reports that D2-type dopamine receptors—not just willpower—boost or decrease the motivation to be physically active.
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The Paradox of Conscientious Prisoners

Criminals are usually lower than normal people in conscientiousness, yet a new study finds that prisoners are higher in this trait. What can explain this apparent paradox?

America's Top Case Study

By Noam Shpancer Ph.D. on December 26, 2016 in Insight Therapy
You don’t need to be a psychologist or a committed politico to recognize that Donald Trump makes for a fascinating psychological case study.

Why Is Violence So Contagious?

By Christopher Bergland on December 26, 2016 in The Athlete's Way
Violence is contagious. This week, two new studies put the epidemic of violence spreading like a communicable disease within social networks and communities back in the spotlight.
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You’re Never In Control

By Tim Carey Ph.D. on December 22, 2016 in In Control
Nothing is ever good or bad but controlling makes it so.

New Year's Resolutions Don't Work

Here's why I'll still make one anyway.

5 Tips for Limiting Sugar During the Holidays

By Georgia Ede MD on December 21, 2016 in Diagnosis: Diet
New to the low-sugar lifestyle? Stay motivated and on course with these simple strategies.

Physical Punishment and Violence

To paraphrase Abe Lincoln, if hitting a child is not wrong, then nothing is wrong. If we truly want to decrease violence in our society, not hitting our children is a good place.

Make 2017 Your Year!

How to set (and keep) New Year's resolutions this coming year.