Empowering SELF CONTROL

I’m excited to be posting on this blog tonight. I am currently in the airport waiting for my flight.  I normally wouldn’t write under these circumstances.  I am one of these highly fickle writers who wants to have the perfect environment for inspiring the written word.  But…in my previous posting I talked about devoting this month to exploring different tools that someone can use to move from having good intentions to act in a certain way to actually engaging in that desired behavior.  What better time but now to start using those tools.  Carpe Diem my friends!

Before I discuss a tool that I am using tonight, I want to devote a few words to the concept of SELF CONTROL.  Ajzen revised his Model of Reasoned Action in 1985 to include a concept called Perceived Behaviour Control.  This revised model was termed Model of Reasoned Action and Planned Behaviour.  In this revised model, Ajzen theorized that moving from positive intentions towards engaging in a behavior required a belief that one could do what was required to adequately perform the behavior even in difficult circumstances.  For example, if I have a strong intention to write a blog posting, it is more likely that I would actually write the blog posting if I believed that I had the skill to do so, and/or I believed that I had the skill to overcome any difficulties/obstacles that could possibly arise preventing me from writing.  This ‘perceived behaviour control’ is also understood more colloquially as self control.

Self control is a ‘willpower’  of sorts.  It is the conscious effort that you exert when you are trying to adhere to a specific diet or maintain a specific training schedule (for your sport). Self control can also be thought of as the part of you that helps you stayon task in a more general sort.

An example of self control:

What studies have taught us about self control is that it is exhaustible. The sales clerk knows that it takes tremendous energy to direct our attention and thoughts to carrying out a behaviour under self control, which is why most of our day-to-day behaviours are under automatic control.  Can you imagine if you had to think deliberately about how you got yourself out of bed? Brush your teeth? Pour cereal into your bowl? Drink your juice? Put on your clothes?  You would be exhausted and you haven’t even made it past breakfast!!  In the Cathy comic, the sales clerk is waiting for Cathy to expend her self control and knows that shoppers are vulnerable to spend more when self control is low.  The Heath brothers (www.heathbrothers.com/switch) in their well written book on behavior change state that

When people exhaust their self control, what they are exhausting are mental muscles needed to think creatively, to focus, to inhibit their impulses, and to persist in the face of frustration or failure…So when people say that change [or moving from intention to behavior] is hard because people are lazy or resistant , that is just flat wrong. In fact, the opposite is true: Change is hard because people wear themselves out.  (Heath & Health, 2010, p. 12)

I love this insight!  This insight gives me a whole new perspective on my October ‘problem’.   This insight implies that it is completely possible that I did not set myself up for success in my intention to regularly post on this blog site. I didn’t count on the fact that my SELF CONTROL would be worn out and and that I would need a back up plan to help energize or replenish my self control.  This got me thinking…how could I set myself up to make a blog entry so that it seemed less like ‘work’ and more like habit?

Research suggests that there are several things that I can do. Two important tools are ACTION PLANS and IMPLEMENTATION INTENTIONS (Lox, Martin Ginis, & Petruzzello, 2010).  With an action plan, I simply state the when, where, and how I am going to go about doing the behaviour (i.e., write a blog post) that I intend to do.  In the case of my blog posting, I am going to write on the Wednesday, the location differs from week to week (depending on the schedule of activities of the week and where my work takes me), and with a carefully planned out set of notes on my topic area.  This week I was even more specific in my action plan.  I decided to write my notes on Wednesday. Then I specified writing my post while I was at the airport waiting for my flight (no distractions there!). I would write the post based on my notes that I had composed.  How could you use an action plan to put your intention into action?  The more specific and concrete you can be in your planning, the easier it is to perform your intended behavior.

The action plan is a great tool to use, and admittedly, one of my favourites.  (My husband can definitely confirm that for you if you are in doubt.)  But an action plan may not be for you.  You may not carry the same enthusiasm for planning that I do.  Another powerful tool that will help turn an intention into action is an implementation intention.  With an implementation intentions a strong association is formed between a specific cue and behaviour.  For example carrying a bottle of water in your car signals drinking more water throughout your day.  (One woman I knew use to carry a whole case of water in her car!).  For writing my blog, one implementation intention I have is a email reminder to write my blog post every Monday morning (when I review and plan for my week).  What will be your implementation intention for the intention you are going to act on?

Bottom Line Message:  Self control is very important for turning intentions into full fledged actions.  Self control, however, is an exhaustible resource.  If it is possible to turn the action into something resembling a habit or something that requires a small amount of conscious mental activity, it is more likely that we will behave in accordance with the intention.  Two tools that one can use to do this are action plans and implementation intentions.

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