Doing what’s best in the long-run despite short-term temptations

Strength of will

“The most important scientific discovery about self-control is that it can be taught.”

—Walter Mischel

Why does self-control matter?

Sometimes, what makes you happy right now isn’t good for you in the long run. For instance, junk food tastes great but isn’t healthy. Self-control powerfully predicts academic and professional achievement, physical and emotional well-being, positive social relationships, and financial security.

Pulse Check

Think about how your day is going. How many of these things are true?

  • I got to work right away, rather than procrastinating.
  • Instead of getting distracted while working, I stayed focused.
  • Because I planned ahead, I was prepared for what I needed to do.
  • I didn’t do things I knew I’d later regret.

How do I encourage self-control in others?

Model it. Resolve to accomplish a goal of personal significance, then talk about obstacles and your plans to overcome them. Emphasize strategies you’ve found work especially well for you: “I’m not super motivated to exercise, but I now take the stairs instead of the elevator—that’s a start!”

Celebrate it. Praise children for waiting patiently. Notice when they plan ahead: “Great job getting all your stuff organized!” Appreciate ingenuity in navigating self-control dilemmas: “Keeping your cell phone in a different room is such a clever idea!”

Enable it. Establish family rules, like no cell phones at mealtimes. Create quiet, distraction-free areas for study and work. Keep fruit on the kitchen counter and hide junk food on a high shelf.

Try This:

WOOP for Classrooms

Declare a Wish, then contrast the positive Outcome it would bring with the negative Obstacle that stands in its way. Create a Plan to get around the obstacle.

About the Author

Angela Duckworth is the Founder and CEO of Character Lab. She is also the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, faculty co-director of the Penn-Wharton Behavior Change for Good Initiative, and faculty co-director of Wharton People Analytics. Her first book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, is a #1 New York Times best seller.

Related Tips of the Week

Sleep Success

Setting yourself up for New Year’s resolutions

View All

Learn More

Videos about Self-Control

Angela Duckworth | Self Control

Character Lab CEO Angela Duckworth on strategies for self-control that can help students more effectively fulfill their wishes.

CNN on Self-Control

What the “marshmallow test” can teach you about your kids

Character is more than just self-control.

There are many other strengths of heart, mind, and will.

LEarn more about character