It used to be that those with self-control were simply proud of it, while those who lacked it, wanted it. Now, new studies go deeper to reveal the true importance of self-control when it comes to health and well-being, and a key tool in avoiding addiction.
Self-control is key — and it’s vanishing.
Thanks to booming technology, we now live in an age of instant gratification, and in which self-control is harder to maintain. If we want pain relief, we pop a few pills and feel better within minutes. Most often, addictions begins when people want what they want — and now — without using patience and/or assessing whether or not something is the right decision. This lack of self-control is something that, unfortunately, we’re passing on to our children.
A New Zealand study found that people with little self-control as children grew up to have a range of health and financial problems. The study assessed self-control using measures like “low frustration tolerance, lacks persistence in reaching goals, difficulty sticking with a task, over-active, acts before thinking, difficulty waiting for his or her turn, restless, not conscientious.” (1) The kids who scored the lowest scored highest for high blood pressure, gum disease and weight issues as adults, and were also more likely to experience problems with finances and debt, drug or alcohol abuse and have a criminal record.
Self-control allows us to turn away what we know may harm us. Impulsive children with low self-control will be the first to try drugs, alcohol or sex, resulting in consequences like dropping out of school, unplanned pregnancies, criminal records and addiction. And, as this study shows, when kids with low self-control can more easily become adults with low self-control, likely to pass it on to their own children. “One generation’s low self-control puts the next generation at a disadvantage as well,” researcher Terrie Moffitt says. (1)
Self-control is a learned trait.
“The good news is that self-control can change. People can change,” says Alexis Piquero, a professor of criminology at Florida State University. (1) Children in the study who learned self-control as they aged did better in adulthood than those who didn’t.
Practicing decision-making, role-playing and discussing consequences to certain actions are ways to increase self-control. Researchers from this study stress the importance of teaching self-control to both children and adults, which will strengthen techniques and help everyone be happier and more successful.