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Effective self-control strategies to help you hit your goals

It’s no secret that New Year’s resolutions are often doomed to fail, and as we progress further into 2019, many people have let their goals slip away.

Is lack of self-control to blame for our lax resolution follow through? While determination and willpower are essential in achieving one’s goals, a new study found that there is more to self-control than just sheer force of will.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania examined self-control and why people are often unable to stick to their goals and resolutions in a new report.

The report, published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, outlines a new framework by using different strategies to boost effective follow-through depending on the situation and who is involved.

At a time when caving into temptation is easier than ever, the researchers say a new toolkit of strategies is essential to get people to stay on track.

“Temptations are arguably more readily available, more creatively engineered, and cheaper than any time in history,” said Angela Duckworth, an author of the study. “Junk food gets tastier and cheaper every year. And then there’s video games, social media, the list goes on. In parallel, there are public policy issues such as obesity, educational underachievement, and under-saving that result, in part, from failures of self-control.”

The researchers conducted a comprehensive review of past research on self-control and willpower and developed a new framework using four types of self-control strategies.

One type of strategy involves changing the situation to help exercise self-control. This strategy is self-implemented and could involve someone keeping junk food out the house to make it less accessible or using apps that limit screen time.

Another self-implemented strategy the researchers recommend is to come up with a game plan for practicing self-control. For example, someone could say, “if my coworker brings cookies to work tomorrow, then I’ll bring a healthy snack and make sure to fill up with a good breakfast, so I’m less tempted.”

This is an example of an “if–then” plan and helps make sticking to a goal a little easier.

Another type of strategy is not self-implemented and could work better if implemented by someone else. The researchers say that policymakers raising taxes on cigarettes and alcohol is a good example of this kind of strategy.

People may think will-power is all you need to stick to your goals, but this new report shows that in some cases determination alone isn’t enough but employing different strategies depending on the situation can help people succeed.

More research is needed to see if these strategies are effective over the long term and across a wide range of people, as the studies analyzed had small sample groups, but the results are a promising step in the right direction.

“There is an urgent need for a cumulative and applied science of self-control–one that incorporates insights from theoretical traditions in both psychological science and economics,” the researchers wrote in their study. “We hope this review is a step in that direction.”

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

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