In Virtue/Vice, Dr. Christine B. Whelan blogs about news, books, scientific and psychological research and her general musings about virtue and vice in our everyday lives.
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OK, I know I’m a little obsessed with self-control research (see my recent posts on Dogging Self-Control and Commitment Strategies 101) but PsyBlog recently posted a fascinating tidbit: Positive affirmations can replenish your self-control.
In a study published last year in the Journal of Personal Social Psychology, participants were asked to write a short essay about something that was important to them-their core values, their relationships etc. But half of the participants had to write this essay without using the letters ‘a’ and ‘n’ while the other half could use the entire alphabet.
Proving yet again that self-control is a resource that gets depleted over time, when folks were then asked to submerge their hands in a bucket of ice-water, those that didn’t have to previously exert self-control were able to hold their hands in the freezing, painful water for longer.
But here’s where it gets interesting: Among the group that had exerted self-control in their essay writing, some were instructed to reaffirm good things about themselves – thinking about what makes them proud, focusing on the positives – and for those folks, their self-control recovered quickly and they were able to hold their hands in ice-water for longer than those who didn’t reaffirm positive things about themselves after a trying test of control.
What does this mean for your life? This study supports the simple idea (embraced by self-help writers and the Jesuit tradition of Ignatian prayer alike) that spending a few minutes thinking about the good things in our day, the things for which we are grateful, can give us the strength to carry on.
As the folks at PsyBlog put it:
So, the next time you feel your self-control ebbing away at work, with your personal projects or with your partner, think about what you most pride yourself on; think about those things you hold dear, whatever they may be.
If this experiment is correct, then self-affirmation could help you discover new reserves of self-control.
It’s certainly worth a try.