The More You Want Self-control, the Less Likely You Are to Have It


Self-control is an oft-desired trait as it can help you advance your career, keep relationships strong (and free of cheating), and ward off any pesky and troublesome addictions. But it can be a hard trait to develop if you aren’t naturally inclined to exert strong control over your own behavior, and a new study published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin may have discovered why.

Researchers found that, ironically, wanting self-control could possibly be an impediment to attaining it. They conducted four experiments on more than 600 subjects, who either needed them to use a lot or a little self-control, and measured their desire for more self-control or manipulated by having the subjects rate the benefits of more control. The scientists noticed that the measuring or manipulating didn’t matter, people who wanted more self-control found it tough to complete tasks that required a lot of self-control.

Why? Well, they figured, the desire transforms into a feeling that they don’t have much self-control, making them doubt their abilities and lessen the need to finish the test competently.

“One of the main messages of this paper is that although it’s good for society that both children and adults have a high level of self-control, the mere desire for self-control could be an obstacle to achieving it,” said study co-author Liad Uziel, Ph.D., a senior lecturer in the department of psychology at Bar-Ilan University in Isreal. “Thus, while intended to help people gain more self-control, the common practice of driving people to desire more self-control runs the risk of actually undermining their confidence and increasing their doubts that they have the resources to exhibit self-control.”


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