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The Discipline Conundrum: When to Exert Self-Control and When to Cut Yourself Some Slack

The ability to exert self-control is considered a fundamental trait of people who are successful. It has been a long held view since Walter Mischel’s marshmallow experiments of the 1960s that people who can exercise self-control at will must possess some kind of super-power.

Self-control, or discipline as it is more commonly referred to by people who sense they lack it, is a learned skill. Like a muscle, self-control can be developed to essentially unlimited levels. But is a strong ability to exert self-control a good thing? New research suggests not.

"Developing your discipline muscle and practicing self-control is important. We should all do it. But we also need to know when to give it a rest and cut yourself some slack."

The Marshmallow Experiment

Most of our current understanding of self-control comes from the work of Walter Mischel’s marshmallow experiments of the 1960’s. I learnt about these experiments when I was studying psychology at university and, with...

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