Self control can be tricky business: There is a quote I love by Philip Meyer……”The entire history of humanity is marked by a single inexorable movement – from animal instinct toward rational thought, from inborn behavior toward acquired knowledge. A half-grown panther abandoned in the wilderness will grow up to be a perfectly normal panther. But a half-grown child similarly abandoned will grow up into an unrecognizable savage, unfit for normal society. Yet there are those who insist the opposite: that we are creatures of instinct, like wolves.”
We are similar to animals in that we have impulses and critical needs, but we are unique in that we can make logical decisions and think critically. However, these two sides of our brains are often in conflict. We constantly find ourselves in situations where we need to choose between what we want instinctively, and what we should do. “I really want this piece of cake, but I should have an apple instead.”
What the Research Shows: “Studies have found that children equalize their lifelong self-control level by age seven or eight (though these are not necessarily permanent and can be changed well into adulthood). People with high self-control are able to consider the long-term implications of their actions and can accordingly delay gratification, or choose to act based on their overall best interests. Those with low self-control, by contrast, have difficulty thinking beyond their immediate desires. This impulsiveness manifests in ways that can be destructive both to these individuals and those around them, including risk-taking behavior (which stems from lack of consideration given to possible hazards) and low empathy for those around them.”
How to change: Is it possible to increase our self control and allow it to overshadow our natural instincts? YES! Here is some food for thought from recent Social Psychology research. “Practicing self control in one area of your life will help you improve self control overall. So, if you’d like to increase your willpower, don’t make a long list of New Year’s resolutions and tackle them all at once in January. A better strategy, the research suggests, is to start with one area and then let your increased self control spread throughout your newly improved life.”
Try something new this week. Decide to floss your teeth every day, do yoga on Saturday mornings, read an educational book for an hour before bed. These, (small as they seem) are the start to accomplishing your bigger resolutions.