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Self Control Options
 
MelCat
#1 Posted : 2/6/2011 7:14:37 PM

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While single events in our life may seem chaotic, those events as a whole reveal clear patterns. Looking for the patterns is a good way for doing life check and making progress in life.

Doing some deep introspective analysis of myself, I've come to realize that my self control is way out of whack. So I started doing a little research on the subject and found some interesting things that I thought might be of interest to some of you fine folks of the Nexus.

The first article I found is The secret of self control.

Quote:
In the late nineteen-sixties, Carolyn Weisz, a four-year-old with long brown hair, was invited into a “game room” at the Bing Nursery School, on the campus of Stanford University. The room was little more than a large closet, containing a desk and a chair. Carolyn was asked to sit down in the chair and pick a treat from a tray of marshmallows, cookies, and pretzel sticks. Carolyn chose the marshmallow. Although she’s now forty-four, Carolyn still has a weakness for those air-puffed balls of corn syrup and gelatine. “I know I shouldn’t like them,” she says. “But they’re just so delicious!” A researcher then made Carolyn an offer: she could either eat one marshmallow right away or, if she was willing to wait while he stepped out for a few minutes, she could have two marshmallows when he returned. He said that if she rang a bell on the desk while he was away he would come running back, and she could eat one marshmallow but would forfeit the second. Then he left the room.
Although Carolyn has no direct memory of the experiment, and the scientists would not release any information about the subjects, she strongly suspects that she was able to delay gratification. “I’ve always been really good at waiting,” Carolyn told me. “If you give me a challenge or a task, then I’m going to find a way to do it, even if it means not eating my favorite food.” Her mother, Karen Sortino, is still more certain: “Even as a young kid, Carolyn was very patient. I’m sure she would have waited.” But her brother Craig, who also took part in the experiment, displayed less fortitude. Craig, a year older than Carolyn, still remembers the torment of trying to wait. “At a certain point, it must have occurred to me that I was all by myself,” he recalls. “And so I just started taking all the candy.” According to Craig, he was also tested with little plastic toys—he could have a second one if he held out—and he broke into the desk, where he figured there would be additional toys. “I took everything I could,” he says. “I cleaned them out. After that, I noticed the teachers encouraged me to not go into the experiment room anymore.”
Footage of these experiments, which were conducted over several years, is poignant, as the kids struggle to delay gratification for just a little bit longer. Some cover their eyes with their hands or turn around so that they can’t see the tray. Others start kicking the desk, or tug on their pigtails, or stroke the marshmallow as if it were a tiny stuffed animal. One child, a boy with neatly parted hair, looks carefully around the room to make sure that nobody can see him. Then he picks up an Oreo, delicately twists it apart, and licks off the white cream filling before returning the cookie to the tray, a satisfied look on his face.


Most of the children were like Craig. They struggled to resist the treat and held out for an average of less than three minutes. “A few kids ate the marshmallow right away,” Walter Mischel, the Stanford professor of psychology in charge of the experiment, remembers. “They didn’t even bother ringing the bell. Other kids would stare directly at the marshmallow and then ring the bell thirty seconds later.” About thirty per cent of the children, however, were like Carolyn. They successfully delayed gratification until the researcher returned, some fifteen minutes later. These kids wrestled with temptation but found a way to resist.
The initial goal of the experiment was to identify the mental processes that allowed some people to delay gratification while others simply surrendered. After publishing a few papers on the Bing studies in the early seventies, Mischel moved on to other areas of personality research. “There are only so many things you can do with kids trying not to eat marshmallows.”
But occasionally Mischel would ask his three daughters, all of whom attended the Bing, about their friends from nursery school. “It was really just idle dinnertime conversation,” he says. “I’d ask them, ‘How’s Jane? How’s Eric? How are they doing in school?’ ” Mischel began to notice a link between the children’s academic performance as teen-agers and their ability to wait for the second marshmallow. He asked his daughters to assess their friends academically on a scale of zero to five. Comparing these ratings with the original data set, he saw a correlation. “That’s when I realized I had to do this seriously,” he says. Starting in 1981, Mischel sent out a questionnaire to all the reachable parents, teachers, and academic advisers of the six hundred and fifty-three subjects who had participated in the marshmallow task, who were by then in high school. He asked about every trait he could think of, from their capacity to plan and think ahead to their ability to “cope well with problems” and get along with their peers. He also requested their S.A.T. scores.
Once Mischel began analyzing the results, he noticed that low delayers, the children who rang the bell quickly, seemed more likely to have behavioral problems, both in school and at home. They got lower S.A.T. scores. They struggled in stressful situations, often had trouble paying attention, and found it difficult to maintain friendships. The child who could wait fifteen minutes had an S.A.T. score that was, on average, two hundred and ten points higher than that of the kid who could wait only thirty seconds.


The next and more important article was ways to actually improve your self control.

Quote:
Temptation comes in many forms, often so potent, so animal, that it seems impossible to resist. Eating too much, drinking too much, spending too much or letting the heart rule the head. We get instant messages from deep in the gut that resonate through the mind, trying to dictate our behaviour.


One of humanity's most useful skills, without which advanced civilisations would not exist, is being able to engage our higher cognitive functions, our self-control, to resist these temptations. Psychologists have found that self-control is strongly associated with what we label success: higher self-esteem, better interpersonal skills, better emotional responses and, perhaps surprisingly, few drawbacks at even very high levels of self-control (Tangney et al., 2004).

People, being only human, find the constant battle with basic urges is frequently too great and their self-control buckles. However, recent experimental research by Dr Kentaro Fujita at Ohio State University and colleagues has explored ways of improving self-control, where it comes from and why it sometimes deserts us.

Based on new research, along with studies conducted over the past few decades, Dr Fujita and colleagues have proposed that abstract thinking and psychological distance are particularly important in self-control.

1. Evidence that abstract thinking improves self-control

It never ceases to amaze just how different two people's views of exactly the same event can be: one person's freedom fighter is another's terrorist. But the way in which we view people or events isn't just constrained by unchangeable patterns of thought that are set in stone. Dr Fujita and colleagues explored the idea that simple manipulations of how we construe the world can have a direct effect on self-control. Their hunch was that thinking from a more abstract, high-level perspective increases self-control.

In their research, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Fujita et al. (2006) used a number of experiments to test the idea that self-control is affected by how we construe or interpret events. The problem for the researchers was manipulating aspects of people's construal without them realising: this required some deception.

In one of Fujita et al.'s (2006) studies participants were told they were going to take part in two separate experiments - one on personality and another billed as a student survey. In fact this was just a cover story as the two pieces of research were designed to work together.

Experimenters used the 'student survey' as a cover to manipulate levels of construal. They needed participants to be thinking in either a high-level way (abstract - seeing the whole forest) or a low-level way (concrete - seeing individual trees). They did this by getting participants to think about their level of physical health, but in two different ways:

High-level construal condition: participants were asked to fill in a diagram which encouraged them to think about why they maintain good physical health. Participants tended to put answer such as: "To do well in school." This got them thinking about ends rather than means - the ultimate purpose of physical health.
Low-level construal condition: in contrast participants in this condition were asked to think about how they maintained their physical health. Naturally they responded with things like: "Go exercise". In other words they focused on means rather than ends, the actual process.
Just before this manipulation of construal level, in a study they were misinformed was separate, participants were told their personality was being tested physiologically through holding a handgrip. This handgrip was designed to be difficult to squeeze together but participants were told to hold on as long as possible. This provided a baseline measurement of their grip strength.

Just after the manipulation of construal level participants had dummy electrodes attached to their arm and were told that their personality could be measured while they squeezed the stiff handgrip again. This time, though, they were told that the longer they could squeeze the handgrip the more accurate the information would be. The question was: how well could participants forget the temporary discomfort of holding the handgrip once they had been told about the desired goal of getting information about their own personalities?

The results confirmed Fujita et al.'s (2006) suspicions. They showed that participants in the low-construal thinking condition (thinking about means rather than ends) held on to the handgrip for, on average, 4.9 seconds less than they had during the baseline measurement.

In contrast those in the high-construal condition held on for 11.1 seconds longer than their baseline measurement. Whether participants were thinking about means or ends had a really significant effect on how long they squeezed the handgrip. Those participants who had been encouraged to think in high-level, abstract terms demonstrated greater self-control in enduring the discomfort of the handgrip in order to receive more accurate personality profiles.

Along with this design Fujita et al. (2006) also carried out other studies using different measures of self-control and different ways of inducing either high-level or low-level construal. These produced similar findings. People in the high-level construal condition were consistently:

More likely to avoid the temptation of instant gratification.
Prepared to make a greater investment to learn more about their health status.
Less likely to evaluate temptations like beer and television positively.
2. How personality and the situation affect self-control

Self-control is not just affected by how we are thinking at a specific moment, that would be too easy. We have each developed different amounts of self-control. Some people seem to find it easy to resist temptation while others can be relied on to always yield to self-gratification. To a certain extent we have to accept our starting point on the self-control sliding scale and do the best we can with it.

Although a few people have very high (or very low) levels of self-control, two-thirds of us lie somewhere near the middle: sometimes finding it easy to resist temptation, other times not. Naturally the exact situation has a huge effect on how much self-control we can exert. One property of different situations central to self-control that psychologists have examined is 'psychological distance'.

Research reveals that people find it much easier to make decisions that demonstrate self-control when they are thinking about events that are distant in time, for example how much exercise they will do next week or what they will eat tomorrow (Fujita, 200Cool. Similarly they make much more disciplined decisions on behalf of other people than they do for themselves. People implicitly follow the maxim: do what I say, not what I do.

It's not hard to see the convergence between the idea of 'psychological distance' and high-level construal. Both emphasise the idea that the more psychological or conceptual distance we can put between ourselves and the particular decision or event, the more we are able to think about it in an abstract way, and therefore the more self-control we can exert. It's all about developing a special type of objectivity.

3. How to improve your self-control

Fujita et al.'s (2006) studies, along with other similar findings reported by Fujita (200Cool, suggest that self-control can be increased by these related ways of thinking:

Global processing. This means trying to focus on the wood rather than the trees: seeing the big picture and our specific actions as just one part of a major plan or purpose. For example, someone trying to eat healthily should focus on the ultimate goal and how each individual decision about what to eat contributes (or detracts) from that goal.
Abstract reasoning. This means trying to avoid considering the specific details of the situation at hand in favour of thinking about how actions fit into an overall framework - being philosophical. Someone trying to add more self-control to their exercise regime might try to think less about the details of the exercise, and instead focus on an abstract vision of the ideal physical self, or how exercise provides a time to re-connect mind and body.
High-level categorisation. This means thinking about high-level concepts rather than specific instances. Any long-term project, whether in business, academia or elsewhere can easily get bogged down by focusing too much on the minutiae of everyday processes and forgetting the ultimate goal. Categorising tasks or project stages conceptually may help an individual or group maintain their focus and achieve greater self-discipline.
These are just some examples of specific instances, but with a little creativity the same principles can be applied to many situations in which self-control is required. Ultimately these three ways of thinking are different ways of saying much the same thing: avoid thinking locally and specifically and practice thinking globally, objectively and abstractly, and increased self-control should follow.


I hope that these articles can help bring you a fuller and more enriched life!

Much Love <3
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pau
#2 Posted : 2/6/2011 9:44:17 PM

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Fujita's Global Processing, Abstract Reasoning and High Level Categorization are what differentiate us from animals (though perhaps lower primates are capable of some of this stuff).
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Lavos
#3 Posted : 2/7/2011 4:57:34 AM

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Thanks for posting this. I get bogged down entirely too much by technical thoughts of how to fix myself up, instead of just realizing what I want to be fixed into, and taking what comes. I hope this helps, but it was an insightful read at least.
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