Posts Tagged ‘self control’

Tweaking The Talk

December 14th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

There’s a well-known distinction between those that do and those that talk about doing – walking the walk compared to just talking the talk.

You don’t often hear about tweaking the talk.  But tweaking the talk – modifying the content of your talking over time – is a very common feature of our interaction with others.  ‘Talking the talk’ is tweaked all the time such that your talking becomes more impressive and more remote from any and all instances of actually ‘walking the walk’.  It is likely that when you talk the (particular) talk today, it will deviate substantially from the first time you talked that particular talk.  Embellishment is an inextricable component of expression.

We often create false memories 

Thinking we know, often without either knowing or thinking, can create all sorts of problems.  One example is in the false memories we have of our performance and behaviour.  To fill in the short-term gaps, we ‘remember’ things that never happened, we assume or infer rather than recall.  How often have you heard people explain their mistakes by saying “I thought that ….” when this thinking is at odds with the situation?

And our recollection of past events is not a process of neutral recall:

Using past experiences as building blocks for present performance is not necessarily a neutral process. Injecting the past into the present can and does assist in meeting current task demands but this can and does change your memories of the past. You effect their retrieval and they are affected by this retrieval. The past is fenced off in time but the fence is not impervious to the present. Over time, facts can soften, fiction can harden and the lines between them can become less visible.

Some recent evidence emphasises the social nature of this embellishment process.  We embellish for others and because of others, not just by and for ourselves.   Conformity is a frequent characteristic of group performance – don’t stand up, don’t stand out, just stand in line as that makes it easiest to toe that line.  These studies demonstrated that conformity can affect memories in an enduring way.   Socially-imposed illusion, even ones that are known to be wrong by individuals, can supplant individual memories; these will often remain in place even when the original illusion is shown to be false.  It’s seems true that two (or more) wrongs can make an individual’s right (memory) turn into the same wrong.

Do you often talk to be typical, of your friends, of your generation, of your experiences?  Conversation is often typified by a desire to conform rather than communicate.  Conversation is often the outcome of memory and emotion.  Conversation is not just about facts and passive discourse; it can also be about fictions and ‘theatre’:

Fact may be stranger than fiction but fiction is more frequent than fact.  How do you find your own way through this quagmire?  Do you do it by tweaking your talk?

Zero Addition

October 14th, 2011 | Strategic | 0 Comments

That’s right – zero addition.  If ‘tis nobler stopped writing right now, what would your reaction be?  If there’s nothing to add, that might be a minor concern.  What if ‘tis nobler put things in reverse – add to nothing instead of nothing to add?

‘Add to nothing’ can have much more serious implications for learning and change.  For when things add to nothing, it’s a zero-sum game.

A zero-sum game is one in which the gains and losses cancel each other out – for you to win a little bit, somebody else has to lose a little bit (check out the Prisoner’s Dilemma).  When everything is added up, they sum to nothing, a sum that is something even though it is nothing.  By definition, these are conflict games.

In your experiential learning and behavioural change journeys, it might be helpful to think of yourself as being in a competition and not a contest.  You are a competitor and not a contestant who, by definition, contests things.  If this distinction is too fine, it becomes clearer when you recognise that you are only competing with yourself.  There is no competition with others.

What does competing with yourself, rather than contesting issues with others, mean?  You might conclude that you’ll cross that bridge when you come to it …… and that’s a great example:

Compete with yourself, co-operate with others.  The advantages are clear, so clear in fact that reaching this conclusion is a ‘no contest’.  Be positive, operate beyond zero.

“Operate beyond zero’ has been a theme of this week; “operate beyond zero” is never a theme of the weak!

Zero Tolerance

October 12th, 2011 | Strategic | 0 Comments

Zero tolerance is a well-known approach to law and order that dismisses discretion and imposes automatic punishments.  If you do something, then this will happen.  No ifs, no buts, no nonsense, no escape.  There’s an iron-clad guarantee of a specific response.  These are the rules, and the rules must be obeyed.

There is debate within criminology and the justice system about the efficacy of zero tolerance.  There should be no debate within experiential learning and behavioural change circles about the intrusive influence of (arbitrary) rules.  They shouldn’t be tolerated.

And yet learning and change are often reduced to simple rules, but that’s another story for another time.

The previous post pointed powerfully to the pursuit of alliterative prose.  No, it didn’t but the previous sentence did have a point (and it had to do with tolerance!). The previous post talked about the relative ease of separating the possible from the ‘impossible’, which just left the ongoing challenge of sorting out the probable from the less probable.  Zero separation is straightforward; beyond zero lies everything with which you must cope.  And that, as every learner and changer knows, is not easy!

Can you identify things for which you do have zero tolerance?  For these things, is it zero tolerance in principle or do you actually practise zero tolerance?  As you know, individuals, corporations and governments do (sometimes or often) condone things for which they have expressed a zero tolerance attitude.

Beyond these things, that is beyond ‘zero’, what are your tolerances?  More importantly, how variable are these tolerances and how do they affect the way you behave?  These sorts of questions reinforce the principle that what you do tells me more about the situation than it does about who you are .

This father finds himself in a peculiar situation, for Buck is different – can you/should you  draw any conclusions that generalise beyond the situation?

Was Hamlet talking about zero tolerance when he stated “…it is a custom more honor’d in the breach than the observance …”?  The real challenge, though, can again be found beyond zero.  What are your tolerances and how flexible are they?

Possible, probable and tolerable all exist beyond zero; there’s nothing more to say but everything for you to do.

What Does Pride Go Before?

September 5th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

Psst, look over there.  Can you see something really tempting?  You know you shouldn’t give in to temptation but perhaps you will.  It’s only a couple of cream buns, or a dozen cans of beer, or an excuse to miss an exercise session.  What are you going to do?  How will your decision on whether to give in be affected by how you imagine you’ll feel afterwards?

Usually, it will go one of two ways.  Firstly, there’s thinking about the (future) shame or disgust of giving in:

That was absolutely hopeless!  I am ashamed of myself.  Why did I give in?  How pathetic am I?  And I know I shouldn’t do it.  Shame on me, shame!

Then there’s thinking about the (future) satisfaction or pride in not giving in:

Hey, I’m proud of myself for resisting.  I didn’t really need to eat/drink/sit around and I’m glad I didn’t just cave in.  I reckon I’m stronger than people give me credit for.  I didn’t give in to the temptation.  Well done, me!  I feel really good now.

What approach do you think is more effective for maintaining self control – imagining your future shame for giving in or imagining your future pride in having resisted?  The research evidence is in and ‘tis nobler will allow the finding to be announced by Elmo (and the Goo Goo Dolls):

Elmo reached the highest shelf …. and you feel that pride …’.  Dragging yourself down with the shame of poor self control is not the way to go; the pride in resistance outweighs the shame of succumbing as a way to sustain self control.  As a guiding principle, it’s always better to lean towards a positive approach than it is to manage your behaviour through fear or shame.

‘tis nobler wonders whether there is another control issue at work here that might help explain this finding.  How would you control the assessment process?  It might be easier to soften the impact of (future) shame than it would be to elevate the pride that results from resisting.  Even if you negated the effect of shame completely, pride remains effective relative to a neutral approach; it’s not just that pride is better than shame for pride is also better than passivity.

‘tis nobler needs to re-write a familiar saying: Pride goes before better self control (but gloating still goes before a fall).  Be proud of your continuing efforts by taking pride in what you are becoming.  To control yourself, will you drag yourself down or raise yourself up?  Be proud.

Wearing You Down Weakly

August 26th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

From previous ‘tis nobler posts, you are aware that self control – an important component of self management – can be affected by a range of factors.  If you browse the archives, you’ll find posts on the self control benefits of psychological distance (the greater the ‘distance’, the better the self control), the self control trap that is the restraint bias (you’re not as ‘strong’ as you think you are so don’t challenge your self control by seeking temptations), the connection between self control and procrastination (more self control = less procrastination) and the benefits of exaggerating the threat that temptations pose (called counteractive construal):

Perhaps this evidence indicates that it can also be good to go the other way, exaggerating the cost of temptations in order to maintain self control and (longer term) goal adherence.  Be neither a saint nor a sinner for you won’t be perfectly good or perfectly bad.  You’ll just be – doing your best more often than not, dealing with the obstacles and temptations as best you can at the time and making forward progress despite the occasional steps back……If you exaggerate the costs of losing your way whenever temptations appear, it may enable you to continue finding your own way. How do you construe this message?

And this last issue – exaggerating the threat of temptations – introduces the additional concept of strength.  Given all of the interacting elements, how does the strength of a temptation – weak or strong – affect your ability to maintain self control?

By definition, you would expect strong temptations to pose a greater challenge to self control; after all, one of the ways to interpret strong temptations is that they are much harder to resist.  Almost irresistible must mean frequent loss of control – how can you resist when the temptation is almost overpowering?  On the other hand, weak temptations should be more like water off a duck’s back.

However, the evidence reverses these expectations, with a series of studies indicating that weak temptations represent a greater threat to self control.  The explanation is that, effectively, insidious beats irresistible in the self control challenge.  It is true that ‘every little bit hurts’ but because there are so many more ‘little bits’ or weak temptations, their individual and aggregate effect is to undermine self control much more than the infrequent but much stronger temptations:

The message is that you are more likely to be worn down weakly, for weak temptations (and your relative weakness for them) occur daily.  Can you see how this position is consistent with the value of ‘distance’, the operation of restraint bias and immunity through threat exaggeration?

In experiential learning and behavioural change, there are no single answers and no watertight guarantees.  For self control to be sustained, active management of complexity rather than blind faith in a simple recipe is required.


July 13th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

The heading for Monday’s post was ‘Behind’; you might be wondering how ‘Before’ can come after ‘Behind’. Before ‘tis nobler answers this question, which would put us behind schedule, let’s explore the value of ‘before’. For ‘before’ is capable of putting you ‘ahead’, ‘before’ can stop you getting further ‘behind’. Even though ‘before’ is before ‘now’, ‘before’ can help you control ‘now’, especially if you use ‘before’ more often than every ‘now and then’.

Now then, if we want to understand ‘before’, we must realise that it’s important to not just stand there. Of course, there are many ways we could just ‘stand there’ – we could stand around, we could stand still, we could stand for it or we could stand our ground:

These lyrics from this song were very pertinent – It’s all around, Getting stronger, coming closer, Into my world, I can feel that it’s time for me to face it, Can I take it? Many think that the essence of self control is to ‘stand your ground’ and attempt to take whatever is thrown at you; while ‘tis nobler has explored the value and shortcomings of willpower previously ( see a summary here), standing your ground should never be the only way you exercise self control.

And this is where ‘before’ comes in. Rather than just standing your ground, prepare the ground in advance so that standing it is either unnecessary or easier. There is substantial evidence to support the notion of pre-commitment – taking actions beforehand that reduce the need to subsequently control other actions. Do you remember when ‘tis nobler wrote that experiential learning and behavioural are ever tempting:

Limiting exposure to known temptations is particularly important as people tend to overestimate the strength of their self-control, another one of those pesky cognitive biases. This overestimation is exacerbated by the fact that it is used as the basis for greater exposure to temptation. Can you guess what happens?

Decide and act on how you want to cope with temptations before they appear. Never just rely on your (weaker than you believe) ability to stand your ground. A commitment to pre-commitment will help you cope with the ‘now’ because of what you have done ‘before’. Think of this as anticipatory self control.

To assist your self control, the ‘now’ you want can be achieved by organising the ‘now’ you will confront ‘before’ it happens. Standing your ground can sometimes work but you must realise that this ground can be shaky. What can you do beforehand to make it firmer?

What Am I Saying?

May 11th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

It is important to think of experiential learning and behavioural change as bottomless – you can never delve too deeply for learning is lifelong and change constantly presents new challenges.  Take a concept like self control that can be ‘dismissed’ superficially and semantically.  After all, it is just controlling yourself!  ‘tis nobler has unpacked self-control in various posts:

“There is an inverse relationship between self control and procrastination – the more you exert self control, the less of a procrastinator you’ll be.  It can also be possible to ‘import’ self control from other aspects of your life and apply it to your learning journey; if it exists somewhere, you can use it here”.

And then ‘tis nobler wrote, “There is evidence that indicates that high discount rates – the ‘now, now, now’ phenomenon – are associated with reduced self control.  Immediate gratification is seen as much more valuable than something more valuable for which you must wait”.  It might help maintain self control by recognising that “Perhaps this evidence indicates that it can also be good to go the other way, exaggerating the cost of temptations in order to maintain self control and (longer term) goal adherence”.

And it is possible to learn self control – “And the point of this post is that there is evidence to indicate that there is a practice effect for self-control.  Implementing self control behaviours, rather than just coping through willpower or suppressing the ‘objects of your desires’, does lead to more effective self control”.

And now we turn to some research that emphasises the role of your inner voice.  Telling yourself what or what not to do is a popular cultural theme and it seems that it can be successful.  The evidence is indirect; suppressing your inner voice by requiring other verbal tasks while completing a primary task in which impulse control is important leads to more impulsive behaviour than when the secondary task is non-verbal.  Your inner voice is lost in the din, and impulsiveness  increases.

Think of the (inner) verbal interference you may experience during experiential learning and behavioural change – I’m not sure I can do this, just a little (lapse) won’t hurt, how is this going to turn out? – and it is little wonder that your inner voice struggles to keep you heading in the right direction for it is drowned out by doubts and short-term decisions.

But your inner voice usually does know the real answers and, like your oldest friend, just trust the voice within:

In self control, it helps to silence the noise in your head so that you can hear what your inner voice is saying.  This is easier said than done but, as noted above, there is a practice effect in self control; try repeating this mantra:

What am I saying?  What am I saying?  What am I saying?  What am I saying?

Is Your Mind Set?

January 31st, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

All of us come to experiential learning or behavioural change with baggage.  It might be prior effort, previous ‘failure’ or past experiences.  Unlike real baggage, which can be a useful way to confine clothes to a finite and manageable space, the other sort of baggage can be a hindrance.  But not necessarily in the way that most people think it’s a hindrance.

In popular culture, ‘baggage’ often refers to emotional issues, whereby the past continues to affect the present because of a failure to resolve it and move on.  And these can be important, serious effects.  However, while the consequences may be far-reaching, the ‘baggage’ can usually be traced to specific events or circumstances.  What about ‘baggage’ that is more general and more amorphous – the ‘baggage’ that has been built up through countless small experiences, ‘baggage’ that you weren’t aware was being built?

And hence the question, “Is your mind set?”  For this type of ‘baggage’ produces a mindset that has the potential to influence your approach to learning and change.  By filtering out alternatives, by restricting choices and by constraining understanding, mindsets distort experience and experiences.  It’s the everyday, as you see it, and not necessarily the everyday that is or the everyday that could be:

Of course, the effects of mindsets are not as blatant as the video suggests and it may be that their subtlety masks their existence.  If you follow instructions or accept advice to alter your behaviour in certain ways, it is possible to overcome mindsets temporarily.  But putting your ‘baggage’ down for a while comes at a cost.  Overriding mindsets can be overwhelming, leading to subsequent loss of self control.

Don’t leave your ‘baggage’ circulating on the carousel while you attempt something, only to pick it up later.  This achieves little in a direct sense and the pervading effect and affect of the ‘baggage’ remains a significant, indirect influence.

‘Baggage’ is something that has to be actively managed and resolved, it has to be unpacked and then re-packed in a different way.

Is your mind set on lugging around your ‘baggage’?  Or can you set your mind to revise and replace your ‘baggage’?  It’s the everyday that produces the ‘baggage’; therefore, your ‘baggage’ removal efforts must be applied every day.

Other Shoes

July 15th, 2010 | Specific | 0 Comments

There are many things tempting you away from experiential learning or behavioural change.  Wouldn’t you rather watch TV than fit in another practice session?  If you scoff that pizza before tea, can’t you walk an extra 20 minutes after your evening meal?  If you give in to temptation now, can’t you resist it tomorrow?  Surely losing the plot doesn’t matter if you find it again.

Think through what you’re doing.  Think through what it means.  Think through where this might lead.  Think through how you are finding your own way.  Be yourself at all times and stay in control.

Put yourself in someone else’s shoes.  See yourself as others see you.  Be someone else occasionally and stay in control.

Isn’t this a contradiction?  How does being someone else help you stay in control?  One factor that has been shown to improve self-control is distance – the further away something is, the easier it is to resist.  If a chocolate éclair is served up to you on a plate (literally), it is more difficult to resist than if you had to travel across town to get the very same éclair.  But this is a literal approach to distance, let’s go lateral.  Let’s move from my head to yours – I want to see me through your eyes.

Putting yourself in other shoes can help you succeed in your own.  Distance, whether it is physical or psychological, is one way to enhance self-control and maintain your own journey.