I came across a fantastic article on self control that I want to share with you. If you want to read the full article you can access it here if not read on for a summary and actionable content for you to work on your self control.
How often have you found yourself saying I know what to do but...The but arises for many reasons, most common reasons are ineffective strategies to deal with setbacks, making it too easy to fail with environments not being set up to succeed or perhaps a lack of foresight, i.e. not expecting yourself to sabotage your own plans!
What we are left with are processes (actions) that move us closer to our goal. These processes come in many forms and there are a number of things we can do to make these processes easier and more likely to take place - when the process is easy*, simple and useful, we rarely suffer from a lack of motivation. Before we take a look at the articles findings lets go over the key words
Cognitive: Thinking and thought based processes - I will not succumb to eating chocolate.
Situational: The environment and environment triggered - There is no chocolate in the flat.
Self Deployed: You are in control or initiate process - I am the master of my thoughts.
Other Deployed: The process is initiated by others (which could also be your past self). - Chocolate is banned from the flat.
Situational interventions that are typically self deployed
1. Temptation bundling Doing two things at once, one better one worse. - e.g. I only watch Netflix on an exercise bike
2. Commitment devices can help people make more self-controlled choices when making decisions about the future, such as ordering lunch for tomorrow, rather than the present, such as ordering lunch for today. e.g. deleting apps.- e.g. I use a food delivery service
3. Situation modification involves removing temptations from sight instead of directly resisting them- Out of sight out of mind. - e.g. I delete apps on my phone.
Cognitive interventions that are typically self deployed.
4. Mental contrasting (MC; Oettingen, 2012) is a technique that involves vividly imagining a positive outcome of achieving a goal, followed by bringing to mind a negative obstacle that currently stands in the way. A growing body of literature affirms the benefits of MC in self-reported healthy eating and physical activity. e.g I will study on Tuesday, children may get in the way but I will still do 30 mins after they have gone to bed.
5. Implementation intentions involve linking an anticipated cue with a desired action. By creating mental associations that are automatically enacted, these if-then intentions have been shown to be psychologically costly to break. e.g. If I am offered chocolate I will say “not yet”, or “not until tomorrow”
6. Mental contrasting (MC) has been paired with implementation intentions (II) in recent studies. After articulating a goal, individuals use MC to imagine the positive outcome of accomplishing the goal ("What would be the best result of accomplishing X?") and to identify the obstacle that stands in the way ("What might prevent me from accomplishing X?"). They then create an implementation plan to tackle the obstacle ("What's an effective way to tackle this obstacle?"). Mental contrasting increases readiness to create if-then plans and prompts the identification of obstacles that can then be addressed.
7. Self-monitoring is the intentional and consistent observation of one's own behavior (Snyder, 1974). A recent meta-analytic review has identified that self-monitoring interventions have a positive impact on goal attainment.. The benefits of self-monitoring interventions were greaterbwhen the monitoring was made public rather than private, and when the monitoring was recordedbphysically rather than not recorded - e.g Dave this month I will go to the gym twice a week.
8. Psychological distancing - The more distant a temptation is, whether in time, place, or reality, the weaker its allure becomes. Psychological distance tends to promote the pursuit of more valued goals, the benefits of which are often more abstract than the immediate gratifications of the present moment. Individuals who use their name or a third-person pronoun instead of the first person ("I") to process emotionally upsetting events demonstrate superior emotion regulation. - e.g. Chris is stressed by the chocolate right now but will take a break by going into the other room.
Cognitive interventions that are typically other deployed.
9. Descriptive social norms. When people learn that the majority of their peers are engaging in a certain behavior, they are motivated to align their own behavior with that norm for at least two reasons. First, they may assume that their peers possess information that they do not. Second, deviating from the crowd can be socially uncomfortable and even ostracising.e.g. Everyone is doing this.
10. Social labeling refers to affiliations with a social group and its beliefs and norms. People can have multiple identities, but only a few may be active. For instance, one may identify as a mother on weekends but as a leader at work. Social labeling can promote self-control by encouraging identity-congruent behavior, which is usually done impulsively. - e.g. People like me do healthy things like this
11. Making the future self relatable is crucial in avoiding self-control failure. According to Bartels and Rips (2010), one source of such failure is the inability to empathise with a future self. Interventions that increase the relatability of the future self have shown promise in improving self-control. - Tip, imagine the future you is you right now - if you right now does not want this, there is a good chance future you does not want it either.
12. Fresh-start framing. Research suggests that people are more likely to make self-controlled decisions at the beginning of new cycles, such as the start of a week or year, or after a birthday or holiday. These moments, known as fresh-start moments, help people feel disconnected from past failures, which can help with the attainment of long-term goals. - Tip, be creative, fresh starts can work just as well on Tuesday at 3.pm compared to January 1st
Situational interventions that are typically other deployed.
13. Microenvironments: Deliberate modification of decision makers' microenvironments. Such as plate size, location of healthy food and water. e.g. buy smaller plates
14. Defaults. People's tendency towards inactivity and delay can make it difficult to make good choices, a phenomenon known as the "status quo bias" (Samuelson and Zeckhauser, 1988). Changing the default option, which is the option a decision maker gets in the absence of making an active choice, can have a major impact on societal outcomes. This innovation, which is perhaps the most well-known in the field of behavioral economics, has been used to improve results. e.g. What work out should I do? Start by turning up and doing a pre set warm up routine.
15. Active choice interventions require individuals to actively make a choice rather than simply accepting a default option. This leads to more thoughtful decision-making by forcing individuals to consider their preferences. Active choice is particularly useful when there is no socially optimal default or when it would be unethical to default individuals into a particular option. It is also effective when the decision maker must take follow-up action. However, this intervention may only lead to a socially efficient outcome if the decision maker makes a good choice, which may require knowledge, self-awareness, or self-regulation that the decision maker may not possess. e.g. Chips or pasta… I will choose to wait until i get home.
16. Choosing in advance is a strategy that encourages more self-controlled decisions. This involves prompting decision-makers to select a choice well before it will take effect. People are more patient when choosing for the future rather than for immediate consumption (Laibson, 1997; Loewenstein & Prelec, 1992; Prelec, 2004), making this strategy effective. Laboratory research has shown that self-controlled decisions are more likely to be made using this approach. e.g. At the ball, I choose the fish option and do not choose free flow.
17. Planned interruptions. Incorporating interruptions into choice environments can prevent mindless overindulgence, such as eating an entire pint of ice cream before realizing it, and instead encourage more deliberate decision making. And… scheduling time for rest may reduce self control failure by preventing fatigue. e.g. at 12.30 I schedule a walk to meet Ad at the fountain. (social proof and self monitoring!)
Client success stories indicate that self-initiated strategies are more effective in the long run. These strategies require you to take ownership of your goals and develop your own self-control skills, leading to increased confidence and capability.
On the other hand, other-initiated strategies can be helpful in the short term to get you started, but they don't teach you to take responsibility for your own behavior.
Personally, I use Mental Contrasting and Implementation Intentions. Here's how it works:
1. Identify what you want to achieve. For example, going to the gym four times a week.
2. Identify potential obstacles, such as children, waking up early, feeling tired, or having a heavy workload.
3. Plan ahead for how you will handle these obstacles using an IF-THEN statement. For example, "If I feel tired, then I will give myself permission to stop after I have started. If my workload picks up, then I will plan to do two short workouts per day and make sure I take one, or if my workload picks up, then I will get a 20-minute workout in before bed."
Remember, taking ownership of your own goals and developing the skills you need to achieve them is key.
Be well and be OK.