By Walter Mischele



    “Beginning early in life, some people are better than others at self-control, but almost everybody can find ways to make it easier.” p.12


    THE PROCEDURE: The participant (preschooler) selects a desirable treat. The treat is placed on the table in front of the child. The facilitator then explains that he will be stepping out, but the child can summon him back by ringing the bell. If the child chooses to ring the bell before the facilitator returns, then he/she will receive only one treat. However, if the child waits for the facilitator to return, then the child will receive two treats. Once the conditions are clearly explained and the bell routine practiced, the facilitator leaves.

    Implications for the Future

    ADOLESCENTS “…exhibited more self-control in frustrating situations; yielded less to temptation; were less distractible when trying to concentrate; were more intelligent, self-reliant, and confident; and trusted their own judgement.” p. 23

    ADULTS “self-reported that they were more able to pursue and reach long-term goals; used risky drugs less; had reached higher educational levels; and had a significantly lower body mass index. They were also more resilient and adaptive in coping with interpersonal problems and better at maintaining close relationships.” p. 24

    “Focus” is a Scale

    HOT FOCUS –  driven by the limbic system - “Reflexive, simple and emotional, it automatically and quickly triggers consumptive behavior, arousal, and impulsive action.” p. 44

    COOL FOCUS – driven by the prefrontal cortex – “It regulates our thoughts, actions and emotions; is the source of creativity and imagination; and is crucial for inhibiting inappropriate actions that interfere with the pursuit of goals.” p.46

    …Cool the “Now”; Heat the “Later”

    Key Characteristics

    EXECUTIVE FUNCTION SKILLS: 1. Remember both goal and contingency; 2. Actively monitor own progress; and 3. Inhibit impulsive responses.

    PERCEIVED CONTROL: Participants with an internal locus of control persisted/delayed gratification longer than those with an external locus of control.

    OPTIMISM: Optimists will keep trying. Pessimists will quit. 


    IF-THEN IMPLEMENTATION PLANS – thinking ahead to create contingencies for things that go awry.

    PRECOMMITMENT PLANS – back up strategies that reinforce goals/strategies.

    CONTROL PSYCHOLOGICAL DISTANCE – the degree of abstraction experienced by an individual (Dimensions: now versus in the future or the past; near versus far away; definite versus hypothetical).

    SELF-DISTANCING – the individual’s ability to step of the self as if they were a fly on the wall. Do not relieve the experience. Describe it.

    COGNITIVE REAPPRAISAL – create an alternative narrative that aligns with your goals.

    Additional Thoughts

    *Self-control should not be generalized. It is skill that individuals apply differently depending on the context. Given the opportunity, one should endeavor to map “hot spots,” an individual’s specific triggers.


    Courtesy of Haley Beffel, Sonoma State University Graduate School of Counseling, Spring 2018

    Posted 2/7/2018