How do we show more self control?

10 March 2023


Angry woman



Central to us all making individual contributions to climate change, or for the greater good more generally, we need to demonstrate good self-control and discipline. So what can you tell us about self-control from a psychological perspective. Are we some of us born with exceptional self-control, self-efficacy, and some of us a bit more weak-willed? Or is this something we can all learn and improve on?


Charlotte - Self-control is something that gets talked about so much of, sometimes almost seen as this holy grail of psychological capacities and the scientific sort of view of self-control is essentially the capacity to resist a tempting thing - like flopping on the couch after a long day at work in order to pursue a goal. So, for example, to get fitter or to run a 5k. And there are differences between people and how good they are at this, but that may be due to strategies that people use so, for example if the couch is really tempting and you want to get good at running, you might go to the gym straight from work instead of going home.

Chris - So you subvert yourself into doing virtuous things?

Charlotte - You can trick yourself a little.

Chris - So you basically know what your weaknesses are and you know you can avoid everything except temptation. And so you sort of make sure you plan your life because someone always said to me when I studied nutrition, they said never go shopping when you're hungry, for example. You always buy all the wrong stuff.

Charlotte - I think that's definitely one strategy that people can use. But I'd say that it's also really important to stress that self-control is only one piece of the puzzle, right? And so there are environments that people make decisions in and often those can be outside of people's control. So you have to have access to resources, to time, to money to buy a sustainable and healthy diet, for example, or to use public transportation, it has to be accessible, right? So I'd say strategies for goals are great, that's something that we can all work on to some extent, but mindset isn't everything and we can't remove structural barriers through positive thinking.


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