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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Self-control: Not just willpower

Moses (by Rembrandt)
Most religions come complete with commandments – in other words, a built-in component of “I will” and “I won’t.”  The Ten Commandments, for example, include such precepts as “I will honor the Sabbath” and “I won’t commit adultery.”

If these things came naturally, they wouldn’t need to be commandments. How then can humans learn to abide by such high-principled ways of living?  In a nutshell:  not by willpower alone.

The American Psychological Association’s (APA’s) article What You Need to Know about WillpowerThe Psychological Science of Self-Control defines “willpower” in the following ways:  “the ability to delay gratification…  the capacity to override an unwanted thought, feeling or impulse… the ability to employ a “cool” cognitive system of behavior rather than a “hot” emotional system… conscious, effortful regulation of the self by the self.”

The APA is also quick to warn that willpower is “a limited resource capable of being depleted.”  The good news is that it can be strengthened with practice (up to a point).  Each cigarette you resist may therefore bring you that much closer to the goal of being “smoke free.”

There are also concomitant aspects to willpower that are vital to success.  Described by the APA as a “willpower researcher,” Dr. Roy Baumeister of Florida State University lists these three:  a motivation for change, a clear goal, and a monitoring of the behavior toward that goal.

It won’t be easy, but it will be worthwhile.  University of Pennsylvania researchers found that self-control was “more important than IQ in predicting academic success.”  Duke University researchers found that individuals with strong self-control enjoyed these long-term benefits:  “greater physical and mental health, fewer substance-abuse problems and criminal convictions, and better savings behavior and financial security.”  (Yahweh would be pleased…)


Copyright July 14, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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