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Thinking of Long-Term Goals and Understanding of Situations Boost Self-Control

Update Date: Aug 10, 2012 08:48 AM EDT

To achieve many of our long-term goals, we need to practice self-control. From losing weight to passing an exam, one needs to make a lot of choices and sacrifices based on what is desired in the end. One should let go of the need for immediate gratification, focusing on the bigger reward later.

According to researchers Kentaro Fujita and Jessica Carnevale from The Ohio State University, the way people subjectively understand or interpret events is what influences their self-control.

The research suggests that when people understand and categorize events in a broader way, they are better able to react to the situation and control their behavior.

Looking at situations from a broader perspective helps people better handle and deal with the immediate push-and-pull of the situation, psychologically distancing themselves from the present moment.

Thinking of situations in a broader sense makes us more sensitive toward the broad implications of our behavior, which leads us to show greater consistency between our values and our behavior; the press release stated.

For instance, when a dieter is given a choice between an apple and a candy bar, if he only focuses on the immediate gratification and the taste, he will most likely reach for the candy bar.

However, if he thinks of his long-term goal of losing weight, and makes his choice on the basis of high-level construal, he might view his choice in the broader terms of a choice between weight loss and hedonism, and opt for the apple.

The researchers argue that this research, investigating the link between construal level and self-control, is important and timely. This is because some of the most critical societal problems such as obesity, addiction and debt are believed to be caused due to a lack of self-control and understanding of a broader perspective.

The article appears in the August issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

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