Welcome to the Get It Done Tiny Course: Self-Control
This module is about self-control and how it is crucial to achieving your goals. This is the first of two videos in the module. After each video, there will be a short quiz. You’ll have to get most of the questions right to complete the module.
Self-Control – Video 1
Welcome to the Get It Done tiny course. In this module, you’ll learn how self-control is crucial to achieving your goals. This is the first of two videos in the module. After each video, there’ll be a short quiz. You’ll have to get most of the questions right to complete the module.
Self-control is what it takes to overcome the self. It’s your ability to stick with an important goal when you’re tempted to do something else. Self-control is instrumental for academic achievement, employment, financial savings, being able to stay in a relationship, and more.
Self-control requires that you first detect and then battle the temptations that lead you astray. Detecting your temptations is tricky because most temptations are not too damaging if you indulge in moderation. One beer won’t make you an alcoholic, and the one time you left your wet towel on the floor of the bathroom didn’t destroy your relationship. The problem is usually in accumulation. I have two tips for you for how to detect temptations:
- First, you’re more likely to detect a temptation when you make a decision that affects multiple occasions; we call this using a “broad decision frame.” If you decide in advance what to eat for lunch every day this month, you’ll probably choose healthier foods than if you decide on each lunch just around noon each day. Thirty lunch decisions are more consequential than one, as healthy choices add up, so you’ll see the self-control problem. You may even set a rule: no more than one glass of wine per dinner. Rules, by definition, refer to a broad set of decisions. Most of us spend too much money on unusual or infrequent items such as hotels or birthday presents. The reason? We tend to consider these purchases one at a time. Once study encouraged participants to think of these expenses together as part of a broad category of “exceptional expenses.” As a result, they were less likely to overspend.
- A second tip is to think of what your actions tell about your identity. If you think of your food choices as reflecting on who you are as a person, you’ll choose healthier food, and if you think of the quality of work as reflecting on your ethics, you’ll do a better job.
Now that you have completed the first video on self-control, let’s see how much you’ve learned with a few questions. Good luck!
Take the Quiz
Self-Control – Video 2
Welcome to the second video on self-control. In the first video, you learned how to detect the temptations that keep you from achieving your goals. In this video, you will learn how to exercise self-control and win the battle against temptation.
Self-control strategies cancel out the influence of temptations on your goal, either by increasing your motivation to pursue the goal or by decreasing your motivation to give in to temptation. There are two types of self-control strategies:
- First, you could change your situation. Consider pre-committing yourself to a particular course of actions by limiting your other options. At some point in your life, you may have had a friend who ended a bad relationship and then (maybe after a few drinks) was tempted to call her ex. Anticipating that she’d probably want to make that call when she felt lonely, your friend deleted his phone number. In theory, she had three options: (a) she could call her ex; (b) she could delete his contact information and not call him; or (c) she could keep his contact information and not call him. The reason she deleted her ex’s number is that she didn’t trust herself. Pre-commitment means removing temptation before you’re tempted.
- Second, you could modify how you approach temptation mentally. If your friend doesn’t delete her ex’s number, she might instead spend the entire night complaining to you about how horribly he treated her. What might seem like a typical breakup ritual actually serves to bolster her self-control. Reminding herself of what a horrible person he is keeps her from calling him, because who wants to date a horrible person? Recalling why your temptation is bad for you and what you gain by sticking to your goal helps your self-control.
Let’s discuss patience. Many self-control dilemmas involve choosing between a small reward sooner and a delayed reward later. Consider saving for retirement, for example. Patience is hard because as humans, we’re wired to discount our futures. In our mind, what happens to us in the future is worth less simply because it won’t happen right now. A promise for $100 in a year, for example, will make you less happy than getting $100 now, which goes against saving.
There are several ways you can increase your patience:
- First, you could make your decision in advance. You’ll be more patient if you decide between the smaller-sooner and the larger-later options when they’re both scheduled in the far future. Consider the following problem: If I offered to give you $120 in six months or $100 now, which would you choose? What if I offered $120 in a year and a half or $100 in a year? Many people would choose $100 in the first scenario but $120 in the second. Either way, I’m asking you to wait six months for an extra $20. Yet, when the options are close, we tend to choose a smaller-sooner reward, and when there’s distance to either option, we choose the larger-later reward. It’s better to decide to wait in advance.
- Thomas Jefferson once said, “When angry, count to 10 before you speak. If very angry, 100.” In saying this, he endorsed a second strategy to increase patience, the “wait-to-choose” technique. You postpone the decision and think about your decision for a while. The wait-to-choose technique introduces a deliberation time in which you get to assess the options and appreciate the advantage of getting something better if you wait a bit longer. As a result, you become more patient.
- Another tested technique to increasing patience is to increase the degree to which we feel connected to our future self. Psychological connectedness makes you care about your future self, so you wait. For college students, using virtual reality to generate an image of themselves at age 70 increased their intentions to save for retirement.
- Finally, you can remind yourself what’s special about the long-term outcome and why you care to be patient in the first place. When people love the reward they’re waiting for, they become more patient in waiting. For example, coffee lovers waited longer to get a gourmet espresso instead of a standard drip coffee.
Now that you’ve learned techniques to curb your temptations, let’s test your expertise.
Take the Quiz
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