Ron A. Rhoades
Studies show that f you possess “self-control” you are far more likely to be wealthy, happy, and well-adjusted. In fact, self-control is more important than intelligence, SAT scores, or family background.
“Self-control” is the ability to control one’s emotions, behavior and desires in order to obtain some reward later. Yet most persons (including college students) suffer from problems with self-control … whether it be in the achievement of the completion of a common college task (e.g., homework or test preparation) or with regard to matters with huge long-term financial implications (e.g.., not incurring credit card debt you will have difficulty paying off). During decision-making moments a person often places disproportionate weight on immediate costs and benefits, rather than what is important for the long-term.
The good news is that “practice makes (nearly) perfect.” That’s because self—control is like a muscle … the more you use it, the stronger self-control gets. That’s also why it is hard to “get back in the groove” after a break. At the same time, you may be aware of individuals who, through practicing self-control continually, develop an immense ability to exercise self-control, even when accomplishing many tasks requiring self-control in repetition.
But how does one begin to “practice” self-control? One must first understand that goals and rewards which are abstract and likely to be achieved only in the future, such as “securing a good education, good grades, and landing a good job,” are likely to be de-valued relative to those goals or rewards which can be achieved in the very near-term and more concretely. For example, “play video games now” or “let’s go out” – while neither possesses a great long-term positive effect on one’s development – are much more concrete and near-term (and hence are more motivating) to a person than “outline this chapter in order to do well on the final exam several weeks from now.” The first step to better self-control is simply being aware that your brain assigns abstract and far-off goals less value.
While externally-imposed deadlines, such as professor-imposed deadlines to submit an assignment, are generally met, life won’t always involve situations in which deadlines are imposed by others upon you. In the real world, you will need to self-impose upon yourself your own deadlines … and learn how to stick with them.
One way to enhance your own self-control is to adopt a near-term reward for a goal: “If I finish outlining this section of the chapter, I will then be able to be on Facebook for 10 minutes.” (It would be best if a timer is then set.)
Another such a technique is a “pre-commitment” device. Often this is where one puts the wrong choice beyond reach. For example, a student who shops weekly for snacks for her or his dorm room might only purchase a week’s supply of 100-calorie snacks. By eschewing snacks with higher calorie content the student does not have to confront the difficult choice of whether or not to eat an unhealthy snack. And by limiting the number of snacks purchased to a week’s supply (even if a larger quantity purchase would result in discounts), the student becomes more aware that eating the 100-calorie snacks all in the first few evenings results in the prospect of no snacks later in the week.
What are some other pre-commitment techniques? (1) Study in a controlled environment, like the library (better yet, undertake a mutual promise with a friend to study there until a certain time); (2) turn off your smart phone; (3) leave your video games at home – don’t bring them to your dorm room; (4) turn off your internet connection on your computer (unless you need it for the assignment); (5) plan to reward yourself with a recreational activity – but only after you have completed your assignments; and (6) make a commitment to meet a friend at a particular time in the gym, in order to exercise.
In the real world few supervisors desire to deal with employees who need to be constantly provided deadlines in order to get projects accomplished. In this regard, your ability to exercise self-control is a key factor affecting your retention and promotion within a firm.
Of course, practice is just that … practice. You won’t always succeed in exercising self-control. No one is perfect. There will be lapses. But, over time, and with continued practice, your capacity to exert self-control can substantially increase, leading to a much more fulfilling and rewarding life.
Do you have 25 minutes to learn more about self-control … In order for you to be more successful for the rest of your life? Watch these videos:
“‘Sesame Street’ Tells You How to Get to Sunnier Days Financially” [9:36] at http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/business/jan-june11/makingsense_06-03.html
“Stop Procrastinating” [4:17] at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qjIsdbBsE8g
“3 Powerful Techniques To Beat Procrastination” [3:45] at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VA8D1cGW5Qk
“How Bad Do You Want It?” [5:51] found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsSC2vx7zFQ
Ron Rhoades, JD, CFP® is an Assistant Professor in Alfred State’s Business Department, where he teaches business law and financial planning.