People Who Can Manage Temptations Are More Likely to Achieve Their Goals: Study
Thu, April 22, 2021

People Who Can Manage Temptations Are More Likely to Achieve Their Goals: Study

People who proactively plan to manage or avoid temptations are more likely to achieve their goals, like weight loss or academic goals / Photo by: scyther5 via 123RF

 

People who proactively plan to manage or avoid temptations are more likely to achieve their goals, like weight loss or academic goals, said new research conducted by two psychologists from the University of Wyoming.

 

Managing Temptations and Goal Pursuit

UW associate professor Ben Wilkowski and Laverl Z. Williamson, a master’s degree recipient in the UW Department of Psychology, explained in their research, which recently appeared in the journal of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology, that people who plan to avoid their temptations rather than just responding when they arise are more effective in terms of goal pursuit. They said that there are various self-control strategies and the use of these techniques can be planned even before the temptation is experienced directly. Furthermore, planning self-control strategies can help a person achieve their long-term goals as well. “Nipping Temptation in the Bud,” the title of their study read.

They said that there are various self-control strategies and the use of these techniques can be planned even before the temptation is experienced directly / Photo by: Ion Chiosea via 123RF

 

Five Self-Control Techniques

Wilkowski and Williamson shared the five self-control techniques that they assessed in their study subjects: 1) situation selection, 2) situation modification, 3) response inhibition, 4) distraction, and 5) reappraisal.

In situation selection, it involves avoiding the situation where the temptation is seen or present. For instance, the person is a dieter and he wants to avoid temptation. If they know there are cookies in the kitchen, they may prefer to stay in a different location or room. In situation modification, it involves changing the situation to minimize the influence that temptation gives to the person. For instance, the dieter chooses to stay in the kitchen to cook but asks the hosts to move the cookies in another room.

In response inhibition, it requires exerting effort to purposely stay away from temptation when confronted. Fourth is a distraction, which means diverting the attention away from something else instead of toward the temptation, let us say the dieter would choose not to look at the cookies that are in front of them. Last is reappraisal or changing the way one thinks about the temptation so that it will be less appealing. For instance, the dieter would imagine the cookies to be a food that will upset their stomach or is something disgusting.

All self-control strategies, except response inhibition, are considered more effective as they can be planned ahead. The duo pointed out that they have participants who can plan self-control and they are the ones who make progress in terms of achieving their long-term goals. 

The Psychology of Self-Control

Psychologists typically define self-control as the ability to delay gratification, control behaviors to achieve goals and avoid temptations, and resist unwanted urges or behaviors. In a separate survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, it was found that “lack of willpower” is the primary factor that keeps 27 percent of the respondents from reaching or achieving their goals such as to earn a college degree, to quit smoking, or to lose weight. But the survey also showed how the majority of people believe that self-control is something that can be strengthened and learned.

In another survey, Americans revealed the top temptations they face. It was conducted by the Christian research firm Barna Group. The survey showed that 60 percent of Americans are tempted to worry too much or procrastinate, 55 percent are tempted to overeat, and 41 percent said they are tempted by laziness. Surprisingly, drugs, sex, and other vices fell last in the temptation categories. The Barna Group also stated how the battleground for temptation has shifted as it has now gone digital. Based on 1,021 online interviews, nearly 50 percent of the respondents admitted being tempted to use “too much media.”

Psychologists typically define self-control as the ability to delay gratification, control behaviors to achieve goals and avoid temptations, and resist unwanted urges or behaviors / Photo by: Andriy Popov via 123RF

 

Sleep Plays an Important Role in One’s Capacity for Self-Control

Of the many ways to boost our capacity for self-control, Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., author of “The Willpower Instinct,” said that sleep plays a significant role. The reason is that when a person is sleep-deprived, their brain functioning is impaired. Their prefrontal cortex, which is the brain region that is involved in planning complex cognitive behavior, moderating social behavior, decision-making, and personality expression, cannot control the other region of the brain that reacts to stress and create cravings.

On the other hand, when a person gets enough sleep, the impairment in such a brain region does not exist. McGonigal pointed out how a person’s ability to discern things on how they can achieve their goals or what they should be doing will be better if they have more sleep as it means more self-control.  Take note, however, that self-control is different from over-control. Research and training clinic Portland Psychotherapy, Clinic, Research, & Training Center’s CEO Jason Luoma, Ph.D. believes that over-controlled people often mask their true and inner feelings, are distant or aloof in their way of relating to others, focused much on details at the expense of seeing the bigger picture, and are perfectionists.

So the next time you set a goal, make sure you have ample self-control against temptation. Yes, it’s easier said than done, but it is definitely achievable.