Wish you had more self-control? You should hear the downsides

Wish you had more self-control? You should hear the downsides

Self-control and discipline are often seen as foundational components of success in life, including mental health and happiness.

And they often are.

But even if something is beneficial more often than not, almost everything has a dark side.

What if more self control wasn’t necessarily great for your happiness? Sound interesting? Read on …

via Psyche by Samantha Lapka and Franki Kung

Temptation is part of life. It is commonplace to find yourself in situations where what you want to do and what you feel you should do are in conflict – for instance, choosing between a delicious dessert versus sticking to a diet, or playing video games instead of studying, or watching a movie rather than going to the gym. During these times, you likely aspire to make the ‘right’ decision – the decision that propels you towards your long-term goals. Successfully resisting temptations or, in other words, exerting high self-control more often, is probably something you strive for. There’s certainly a widespread cultural belief in the value of greater willpower and self-discipline, as a glance at any self-help shelf or magazine rack will attest. Yet research by us and others tells a far more interesting and nuanced story about the pros and cons of being someone with ample self-control.

Unsurprisingly, a good deal of past research has focused on the positive outcomes and impacts of having high self-control. Findings show that people with greater self-control experience benefits such as higher productivity and success at school and work, greater success and satisfaction in their relationships, and they are viewed as more trustworthy by their peers. Naturally, these impressive outcomes shine a highly favourable light on the trait, and they jibe with the way that willpower is vaunted in popular culture. But, in fact, there’s growing evidence that self-control is not an exclusively beneficial characteristic – it can also come with various downsides, suggesting we would do well to take a more nuanced view of this trait and our desire for more of it.

Some of the costs of high self-control are social and reputational. Imagine a prototypical highly conscientious individual – someone who always wakes up early, never allows for any distractions from their work, and adheres to a strict diet, budget and workout regimen. You might view them as ambitious, because of their determination and discipline. However, for those same reasons, you might also view this person as mechanical, uninteresting, uptight or even cold. In fact, that’s what we’ve found in our research. In our 2022 study, we presented participants with a description of either a high self-control person (similar to the description we gave you just now) or an average self-control person, and then asked about their perceptions of the character we told them about. We found that, on average, participants rated the person with high self-control as more robot-like and less warm. Moreover, they saw the person who acted on their impulses as more real and genuine – in other words, they saw the person with high self-control as less authentic.

It’s part of human nature to struggle against temptations, so it makes sense that a consistent and unwavering choice to hold back from indulgence can result in people with high self-control being perceived as less than human, hostile or not real. Anecdotal evidence backs this up too – for example, many commentators characterise David Goggins, the US Navy SEAL veteran well-known for his impressive self-control, as machine-like and even cold.

High self-control can also backfire socially in another way, leading a person to be seen as having less power and status. This is because when people act impulsively, such as speaking their mind or indulging themselves, it can be interpreted as a signal of social power in the sense that the person is not concerned with censoring themselves or with conforming to social expectations. In contrast, when a person with high self-control consistently inhibits their impulsive responses, they’re seen as more predictable and keen to play by the rules, which can lead others to see them as weaker…

… keep reading the full & original article HERE