Doing what’s best 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.


About the Author

Angela Duckworth is the co-founder, chief scientist, and a board member of Character Lab. She is also the Rosa Lee and Egbert Chang Professor at the University of Pennsylvania and faculty co-director of the Penn-Wharton Behavior Change for Good Initiative. Her first book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, is a #1 New York Times best seller.


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