Self-control is much easier talked about than accomplished, and that applies to improving diet, exercise and reducing stress.
Researchers point out that many of the long-term goals people strive for — like losing weight — require us to use self-control and forgo immediate gratification. But ignoring immediate desires in order to reap future benefits is often very hard to do.
In a new study, researchers Kentaro Fujita, Ph.D., and Jessica Carnevale of Ohio State University propose that the way people subjectively understand, or construe, events can influence self-control.
Experts say that thinking about things abstractly and placing the items into broad categories (called high-level construal) allows us to psychologically distance ourselves from the pushes and pulls of the immediate moment. This, in turn, makes us more sensitive to the big picture implications of our behavior and helps us become more consistent between our values and our behavior.
For example, a dieter choosing based on immediately apparent differences between the choices (low-level construal) might focus on taste and opt for a candy bar over an apple.
A dieter choosing on the basis of high-level construal, however, might view the choice in the broader terms of a choice between weight loss and hedonism, and opt for the apple.
Viewing the decision-making process in an abstract or construal process as a means to maximize self-control involves the integration of many scientific disciplines.
Researchers believe investigating the link between construal level and self-control may be a method to help society confront societal problems including obesity, addiction, and debt.
The research is published in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science.