Self-Affirmation & Self-Control

Feel great, act great, and approve of yourself.

I love a good mantra. This one comes from this great psychology article, which discuss the connection between self-affirmation and self-control. We are a society that constantly promotes and challenges self-control. As the article points out, we know from tons of experiments that people who practice self-control lead happier, healthier lives. Yet, we all struggle with controling our choices from time to time.

There are many strategies to practice and improve our self-control. Each of us has a gas tank, so to speak, and when forced to exercise our tank’s worth of control, we become depleted and susceptible to even the smallest temptations. The key is to fill this tank back up…and affirming yourself is a great way to do it.

The best part? The positive affects of self-affirmation on your self-control have been demonstrated in psychology experiments. The PsyBlog article summarizes the findings of  Schmeichel and Vohs (2009):

Participants were asked to carry out a task that required self-control: they had to write a story but without using the letters ‘a’ and ‘n’. Participants then wrote about their core values, e.g. their relationship with their family, their creativity or their aesthetic preferences, whatever they felt was important to them.

Finally they were given a classic test of self-control: submerging their hand in a bucket of icy cold water, which, if you’ve ever tried it, you’ll know becomes very painful after a minute or two.

This group was compared with another that was allowed to use all the letters of the alphabet when writing their story, so didn’t have to exercise their self-control to the same degree (in total there were 59 people in 4 experimental conditions).

Participants who could use any letters managed to hold their hands underwater for almost 80 seconds, on average. However those who had written the stories without the ‘a’s and ‘n’s only managed 27 seconds. This shows just how dramatically our self-control can be depleted. No wonder people find it so difficult to avoid temptation.

However in the group that had to write the tricky story, then self-affirmed their core values, self-control did recover. They managed to hold their hands underwater for an average of 61 seconds. So it seems that self-affirmation can refuel depleted self-control.

Note that self-affirmation didn’t improve self-control for people who completed the easy-peasy story. In other words the self-affirmation trick only works if you’ve already taken a hit to your self-control.

 If you are fascinated by these types of things, the way I am, I encourage you to read more about self-control strategies. Stay focused on all the great things you do and you are, and love your life!

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