Submitted by Wesley on October 12, 2007 – 4:07pm.
Break any habit? Okay that might be over-promising just a bit but we do have a pretty good tip that makes self-regulation much easier and will improve the likelihood that you can erase some unwanted behavior in your life. Positive psychologists have been taking a closer look at self-discipline and have made the somewhat surprising observation that improving self-regulation in one area helps you in other areas as well. They liken self-regulation to a physical muscle that can be strengthened (or alternatively allowed to waste away).
In an extensive post on the subject, positive psychology coach Senia Maymen cites three studies to illustrate this phenomenon: the posture study, the exercise study and the money study.
The posture study: if you ask college students to watch their posture for two weeks – simply to improve it whenever possible – and then have the students take a self-control activity test, those who had been asked to work on their posture improved their self-control.
In the exercise study, students were taught a cardio and weights exercise regimen and were told to follow it closely for two months. At the end of two months, not only did their self-regulation increase under test circumstances (link how do scientists measure self-regulation?), but also the exercisers had less junk food, cigarettes, alcohol, and caffeine…additionally, the students reported studying more, watching TV less, and doing more household chores like washing dishes.
Finally, in the money study, participants were asked to manage their finances for four months by following a specific system. Not only did the participants increase their average savings rate over four months from 8% to 38% of their income, but they also improved study habits and doing household chores and decreased cigarette use.
The lessons from these studies are both obvious and thought-provoking. If you want to improve some aspect of your life, say break a bad habit, then look to improve your overall self-regulation. Find an area(s) that you can “train” your self-regulation muscles. For me, adhering to the discipline of being an early-riser has had benefits in aspects of my life that go well beyond what happens in the morning hours. Ask yourself, what are you going to improve today?