One of the great ironies about self-control is that those who want it the most tend to have the least.
Worse, wanting more self-control actually reduces it!
Do not despair, though, self-control can be boosted by talking to yourself, keeping busy and feeling grateful.
These findings and more are among the 8 most fascinating modern self-control studies.
1. Talk to yourself for more self-control
Talking to yourself is a sign of intelligence and self-control, research finds.
Inner talk helps to organise our thoughts and control impulsive behaviour.
It is far from a sign of madness, as is sometimes claimed.
Whether we talk out loud or it is a silent inner voice, talking to yourself can help improve focus and boost brain power.
Talking to yourself has also been linked to wise reasoning, dealing more effectively with stressful situations and feeling more confident.
2. Self-control makes you look younger
People who are better able to control their thoughts, feelings and behaviours have biologically younger brains and bodies at age 45, researchers have found.
This means that people with higher self-control look younger and are able to walk faster.
So, self-control helps people prepare for old age.
3. Busyness breeds self-control
Busyness gives people a sense of self-importance, which causes them to make better lifestyle choices.
Busy people often choose healthier food, save more for retirement and do more exercise, the experiments demonstrated.
4. Desire for self-control
The tricky thing with the desire for self-control is that it often comes too late.
Just as one might suddenly want to be stronger when faced with lifting a heavy object, or richer when a final demand arrives.
The desire comes right at the moment when it is required and after it can be developed.
The desire for self-control is highest in those who innately have the least and in those who are in direst need of it right now, a study finds.
To fight your way out of these maddening double-binds, explained Dr Liad Uziel, the study’s first author, requires a little planning ahead:
“In order for desire for self-control to carry beneficial effects, it must arise at a point where change is feasible.
Changing one’s self-control is a very difficult challenge and must be considered a journey, not a one-shot occurrence.”
5. Wanting self-control reduces it
The desire for high self-control can, ironically, reduce people’s self-control.
The problem is that a strong desire for self-control becomes a sense of lacking self-control.
In other words, the desire for self-control is a signal to our minds that we do not have it — after all, one tends not desire what one already has.
Find out how to escape this self-control trap.
6. Playtime with Dad boosts self-control
People whose fathers played with them more as children grow up with stronger self-control, four decades of research reveals.
Up to the age of three, playtime with Dad seems to have a particularly beneficial effect.
Men tend to play in more physical ways, the researchers found, including giving piggy-back rides, tickling and chasing.
This may help children learn to control their feelings.
As a result, later on they can find it easier to regulate their behaviour.
7. Kids have more self-control nowadays
Kids have more self-control now than they used to in the 60s and 80s, a classic child psychology test finds.
The ‘marshmallow test’, as it has become known, has children sit in front of a marshmallow, but told they will get another treat if they can wait 10 minutes.
Psychologists then watch the poor child wrestling with its self-control from behind a two-way mirror.
Children tested in the last decade or so can hold out an average of two minutes longer than children tested back in the 60s and 80s.
8. Feeling grateful boosts self-control
Being grateful helps to increase self-control and reduce impulsive behaviours, new research finds.
People who cultivate gratitude towards everyday events are also more patient.
Professor David DeSteno, one of the study’s authors, said:
“We can all point to the five things in our lives that we’re most grateful for, but if we keep thinking about those, we’ll habituate to them—they’re going to stop being interesting.
Those kinds of daily gratitude boosters will function like a vaccine against impulsiveness and enhance self-control and future orientedness.”