Self-Control has Positive Results
Saving instead of shopping. Water instead of wine. Building the future instead of binge-watching. Doesn’t sound like fun, does it?
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” as Jack Nicholson in the horror movie “The Shining” wrote over and over on his typewriter. We see people with a lot of self-discipline as generally dour, joyless and not much fun.
True, studies have shown that self-control has positive results. People who control their urges are better at motivating themselves to do sports, stick longer to their diet, sleep better, and are more successful at their jobs.
Impact of Self-Control
One study followed 1,000 children from birth to age 32, and found “that childhood self-control predicts physical health, substance dependence, personal finances, and criminal offending outcomes.”
In another cohort of 500 sibling-pairs, the same study showed that the sibling with less self-control had poorer outcomes, despite sharing the same family background and the same genes, speak: they had the same nature and nurture as the other sibling.
But those of us who choose salad over a chocolate cake, who cram for an exam instead of partying, or who (if they go to the party) drink mineral water instead of beer because that exam is only three days away: Can they really be happy with their life?
Yes they can, as shown by a study in the Journal of Personality by German and American psychologists around Wilhelm Hofmann at the University of Chicago. According to the study, people experience more positive feelings and are more satisfied with their lives if they have a good grip on themselves—and can postpone their needs in order to achieve another, more important goal.
The researchers initially interviewed more than 400 men and women on how much self-control they show in everyday life.
People who like to do something that is actually bad for them, but fun, were classified by the scientists as less self-disciplined.
At the same time, the researchers asked how satisfied study participants were with their lives and what feelings they had predominantly in previous days and weeks. Those with more self-control reported significantly more positive and less negative feelings and more life satisfaction than those with less self-control.
The effect was confirmed in further studies by the research team. More than 400 other test subjects were asked to give information on a smartphone for one week about how often and to what extent they perceived needs and how often they tried to resist problematic temptations.
These included, for example, desires that conflict with important goals in the distant future: such as an extensive pub crawl, although the money for a new refrigerator would have to be saved. Or the fat pizza with extra cheese and a large ice cream—despite the doctor’s recommendation to lose weight.
Here too, it became clear that those who frequently renounce the satisfaction of spontaneous cravings felt more at ease throughout the week and were more satisfied with their own lives.
Both strongly and weakly self-controlled people reported conflicts between temptations and long-term goals. The difference: Self-disciplined people apparently intuitively use a trick: They avoid situations that could embarrass them.
At least this is what the third study by the German-American team suggests. “Someone with good self-control can obviously manage his life in such a way that conflicts occur relatively rarely,” wrote the study authors. Self-control thus prevents or minimizes problems—and therefore makes you happy.
But the researchers also have good news for less self-controlled people: “Self-control can be increased to a certain degree,” said Hofmann. In order to do this, one has to practice tasks that require self-control. Smokers, for example, found it easier to quit smoking if they trained in self-control in the two weeks before they stopped smoking. Afterwards they stayed smoke-free much longer than an untrained group. “Self-control resembles a muscle,” said study co-author Roy Baumeister: “It becomes stronger through training.”
In my own life, I have quite a few routines I stick to: my daily exercises, including meditation, stretching, 100 push-ups and 100 sit-ups each morning; working on a book each morning; marketing for one hour each afternoon; answering all my emails from yesterday (but only those—I don’t answer today’s emails unless there is a crisis); playing the piano weekly; swimming one kilometer each Sunday; and managing my accounts receivable on the 1st of each month, to name but a few.
I know each of these routines is good for me. They have been instrumental in major achievements in my life. Frankly, they usually feel like a pain in the neck before doing them. But once they are done, I feel like a million dollars.
And what about my craves for food and sweets, you ask? Well, I’d rather not say, I’m still working on those…
Build a success machine. Think about 3 routines (daily, monthly and/or annually) that, if done regularly, would put you on the road to a major achievement and/or standardize your life fulfillment.