Want More Self-Control? It May Zap Your Confidence

I don't know about you but I hate it when I'm not in control, of the world or myself.  I arrive minutes early (it enrages my son) for just about anything, because I like to get the lay of the land.  And I check my email a thousand times (well, maybe more like a hundred) times before I go out because I don't want to miss anything.

Now a new study says that wanting more self-control can actually hinder our efforts to obtain it.  

Huh? Haven't we all been programmed to strive for self-control? Whether it's wanting that extra piece of chocolate cake (Donald Trump, I'm looking at you) or unwise spending habits (that's me), going after that extra bit of self-control can, well, maybe harm us rather than help us, in the end.

Newswise.com reports that new research points out that, ironically, wanting to have more self-control could actually be an obstacle to achieving it (regardless of one’s actual level of self-control). The study, done by Bar-Ilan University, in cooperation with Florida State University and University of Queensland, Australia, discovered that it may actually erode our self-confidence.

Across four experiments, over six hundred participants were asked to perform tasks that required either much or little self-control in the study. Their desire to have more self-control was either measured (using a new “desire for self-control” scale developed by the researchers) or manipulated (by making people evaluate the benefits of having more self-control. The manipulation served to establish the causal effect of the desire).

The researchers discovered that no matter whether desire is measured or manipulated, those people with a stronger desire for self-control found it more difficult to exert self-control when the task was difficult (that is, it demanded much self-control). The reason for this, they determined, is that when faced with a difficult task, the desire translates into a sense that one doesn't have enough self-control, which causes low self-efficacy (that is, reduced belief in one’s abilities) and, subsequently, disengagement from the task at hand.

However, participants’ level of trait self-control (their basic predisposition to show self-control) did not affect the findings. That is, a strong desire for self-control had a negative impact on individuals high and low in trait self-control.

"One of the main messages of this paper is that although it's good for society that both children and adults have a high level of self-control, the mere desire for self-control could be an obstacle to achieving it. Thus, while intended to help people gain more self-control, the common practice of driving people to desire more self-control runs the risk of actually undermining their confidence and increasing their doubts that they have the resources to exhibit self-control," says Dr. Liad Uziel, of the Department of Psychology at Bar-Ilan University.  

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