Self-Control: A Function of Knowing When and How to Exercise Restraint
Abstract (via Booth)
To successfully pursue a goal in the face of temptation, an individual must first identify that she faces a self-control conflict. Only then will the individual exercise self-control to promote goal pursuit over indulging in temptation. We propose a new model that distinguishes between the problems of conflict identification and those of conflict resolution. We then review research on the factors that influence conflict identification and those that determine conflict resolution.
Findings (via Booth)
The two-stage model of self-control postulates that individuals in the face of temptation first either do or do not identify conflict between temptation and goal pursuit and then, if they have identified the conflict, draw on self-control strategies to promote goal-pursuit. This model implies that remedies for overindulgence should focus not just on self-control strategies, such as setting rules and improving discipline, but also on facilitating identification of self-control conflict. For example, the dieter faced with the opportunity to indulge in sweets should think about similar future consumption opportunities and avoid thinking about the temptation in isolation. Similarly, the smoker should not consider the question of having one cigarette alone but consider instead the prospect of regularly smoking, to activate self-control strategies associated with quitting. This analysis further implies that policy makers should consider measures aiding individuals to avoid framing tempting opportunities as isolated or ‘‘special.’’
While we have mostly discussed examples of self-control problems from the domains of food and health, the questions of conflict identification and resolution also are applicable to a range of other domains. Examples include impulsive spending (vs. saving) and selfish (vs. prosocial) behavior. The fashionista might feel tempted to purchase a new handbag every time she passes the boutique window, but her ability to identify conflict with saving goals might activate her selfcontrol strategy to briskly move on. Alternatively, in the domain of cooperation, a student might feel tempted to free-ride on her study group. Nonetheless, her ability to see such behavior as conflicting with her ethics might allow her to steer clear from temptation by activating positive thoughts about cooperation.
We conclude that the problems of self-control may not be mere problems of acting against one’s better judgment but also problems of determining better judgment in the first place. Better understanding the etiology of self-control success could lay the groundwork for further remedies against excessive indulging.