People who make plans to avoid or handle temptation are more likely to achieve their goals, according to a new study.
Proactively planning to manage temptations may be more effective than simply responding to temptation when it arises, notes University of Wyoming Associate Professor Ben Wilkowski and recent UW psychology master’s degree recipient Zach Williamson.
“People rely on several self-control strategies,” the researchers said in their study, which was published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, a journal of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology.
“The use of these strategies can be planned ahead of time, before a temptation is directly experienced. And, planning self-control ahead of time may be critically involved in achieving long-term goals.”
Wilkowski and Williamson conducted two studies involving undergraduate college students to assess the effectiveness of five self-control strategies in their pursuit of long-term goals:
- Situation selection: Avoiding situations where temptation is present. For example, if a dieter knows there are cookies in a kitchen, he might stay in a different room.
- Situation modification: Altering your situation to minimize the influence of temptation. For example, if a dieter must remain in the kitchen to help cook, he may ask the host to move the cookies to the living room.
- Distraction: Diverting your attention away from a temptation. For example, a dieter might choose to not look at tempting cookies, even if they remain in front of him.
- Reappraisal: Changing the way you think about a temptation to make it seem less appealing. For example, a dieter might tell himself that cookies are disgusting and might upset his stomach.
- Response inhibition: Exerting effort to shun the temptation when confronted with it.
The researchers found that the first four strategies, which might be more easily planned in advance, are generally more effective than the last.
“We found evidence suggesting that participants sometimes formed plans for how to manage temptations and that these plans were indeed related to the initiation of diverse self-control strategies,” they said. “People can, indeed, proactively initiate self-control. And those who do so are better able to make progress toward their long-term goals.”
Source: University of Wyoming