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

Helping Kids Succeed—Minus the Stress

The secret of high-achievers is NOT tutoring or AP classes

On a Carl Rogers Quote

By Marty Nemko Ph.D. on August 27, 2016 in How To Do Life
When are you defending yourself versus being defensive?

Neuroscience Suggests That We're All "Wired" for Addiction

By Christopher Bergland on August 26, 2016 in The Athlete's Way
New research suggests that everybody has the neurobiological potential to become an addict.

Do Strong Sexual Desires Universally Predict Cheating?

If you (or your partner) have a high sex drive, is there more risk of infidelity?

Clear Evidence: Spanking Harms Kids

A large body of research definitively shows that spanking has negative consequences for kids.
By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

10 Cognitive Biases Ruining Your Diet

By Shahram Heshmat Ph.D. on August 25, 2016 in Science of Choice
Cognitive biases lead to craving and overeating thereby contributing to weight gain and obesity

Divorce an Unreliable Predictor of Aggressiveness

Even amongst a small fraction of children, severe aggression is rare.

Take Back Control and Reach for the Stars

By Atalanta Beaumont on August 19, 2016 in Handy Hints for Humans
How to take back control and make it work for you

Acting Out of Conviction vs. Acting Out of Resentment

Conviction is the strong belief that a behavior is right, moral, and consistent with your deeper values. Like resentment, conviction provides a sense of certainty.

Living With Intention

Intention is the power to redirect your thoughts. This power is limited. Here's how to grow it instead of wasting it.

The Devoted and Dependent Person at Work

By Adrian Furnham Ph.D. on August 15, 2016 in A Sideways View
Some people seem to be self-sacrificial at work? But is this behavior more a cry for help than dedication to others at work?

Caught in a Stress Cycle

By Stuart Shanker DPhil on August 12, 2016 in Self-Reg
Stress cycles are impervious to ordinary self-help tips. Like “Devil’s snare”, the more you struggle the harder they grip. So it’s essential to understand when you’re caught in one

Consequences of Compulsive Sexual Behavior

By Jon E. Grant, JD, MD, MPH, Brian L. Odlaug, PhD, MPH, and Samuel R. Chamberlain, MD, PhD on August 12, 2016 in Why Can't I Stop?
Individuals with CSB (compulsive sexual behavior) may face a variety of medical complications, including unwanted pregnancies; sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS

Facebocrastination: New Research on the Perils of Facebook

By Timothy A Pychyl Ph.D. on August 11, 2016 in Don't Delay
A new study in the journal Computers in Human Behavior underscores the self-control challenges of social media. Learn about the effect of students' Facebook habit on well-being.

3 Reasons We Make Terrible Decisions

The science behind why we make decisions we know we'll later regret.
Thomas L. Webb

The Road to Hell

By Thomas Webb Ph.D. on August 10, 2016 in The Road to Hell
Why don't you cycle to work? (and why people struggle to achieve other goals)

Mental Illness and Violence

The psychotic killer may make a great Halloween costume, but in real life, they're surprisingly rare.
By Vouliagmeni (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

How to Prevent Cravings?

By Shahram Heshmat Ph.D. on August 08, 2016 in Science of Choice
A key lesson of behavioral economics is the power of the context that shapes behavior and overrides individuals’ intentions.

On the Malignant Nature of Narcissism

By Stephen A. Diamond Ph.D. on August 07, 2016 in Evil Deeds
Should presidential candidates be required to undergo a psychological evaluation?
Jonathan Khoo via flickr

Are You a People Pleaser?

People often ask me what the secret to happiness is. My response is that the most important thing for happiness is living truthfully.
pressmaster/BigStock

Maintaining Self-Control and Sexual Integrity

You can set the tone for most of your relationships. Conducting yourself in an aboveboard manner shows that you respect yourself and others.

3 Ways Olympians Focus and Succeed (and How You Can, Too)

By Vinita Mehta Ph.D., Ed.M. on August 04, 2016 in Head Games
How do elite athletes get their competitive edge?
art-and-anarchism.com

Our Anger Crisis: Can Philosophy Help?

By Michael Cholbi Ph.D. on August 03, 2016 in Ethics in Question
We are facing a rising tide of anger in public and private life. Can philosophy help us navigate our way through—or even beyond—anger?

This Is the Secret to Getting Anything Done

By Art Markman Ph.D. on August 02, 2016 in Ulterior Motives
We've all had the experience of intending to do something and then forgetting when the time comes to do it. This happens because you are not reminded to perform the action.

The 2 Most Important Elements of Any Relationship

Embracing respect and compassion, and putting them into daily practice, will improve all of our relationships.

Yes, You Can Do It! Self-Control May Be an Infinite Resource

Researchers are beginning to question the notion that self-control is a depletable resource. This is good news for anyone looking for inspiration and motivation to seize the day.

Why We Don’t Always Play by the Rules

By Seth Slater M.F.A. on July 29, 2016 in The Dolphin Divide
Can acting out keep us safe? Not playing by the social rules is often a behavioral warning, which we ignore at our own peril.
By NOAA Photo Library, NOAA Central Library; Family of Captain William M. Scaife C&GS. (NOAA Photo Library: theb0734) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0) or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

How Self-Control Can Help You Live a Healthier Life

Self-control is a vital strength and key determinant of success in everyday life.

The Surest (and Trickiest) Way to Make Yourself Healthier

By Joel Minden, PhD on July 26, 2016 in CBT and Me
Do you find it difficult to eat right or exercise? Instead of searching for willpower, address the barriers to success.

Want To Save Yourself Years Of Heartache?

Dysregulated relationships have a hard time surviving the transition from the passion of the honeymoon period into a mature, profound, and sustainable commitment to reciprocity.