How can I develop self-control

"Self-control can be learned"

And the later success in life is already revealed in whether four-year-old children can wait for sweets?

Children who can control themselves well are usually more attentive when something is explained in kindergarten or school. You can concentrate better, learn better. And the success that these children have at an early age makes them self-confident. Let's take our test: many children who had managed to wait didn't eat the marshmallows or cookies at all, but took them home to show their parents. They were really proud of themselves. The children realized: they could achieve the things they wanted to do.

And children who can't do that don't get that far in life?

Our long-term study showed that those who as children could wait longer for the reward achieved a higher level of education on average, avoided drugs and also had a lower body mass index. But these are just averages. A concrete prediction for an individual based on his performance in the marshmallow test is impossible. The idea that you can predict a person's future with certainty, for example by the simple fact of how long he can deny himself a reward, is nonsense.

How can parents help their children learn self-control?

The first is that if you promise children something, they should keep it. This gives children a sense of reliability; this is the only way they can ultimately learn that they will achieve something if they make an effort. Second, it is important to keep the stress level at home low, especially in the first two years of life. On the other hand, parents shouldn't overprotect their children either.

What if kids already have a problem with self-control?

Self-control can be learned quite easily - with role plays, memory training, exercises in which the child tells himself aloud what to do. These strategies should also be taught in kindergarten and school. This is an important task in narrowing the economic gap between those who are above in society and those who are below. The potential to change is inherent in each of us - that is also a message to politics. Even people who are hereditary problems to control themselves often manage to get a grip on themselves through simple exercises. Something can be done for everyone.

Many people want to finally put their good intentions into practice. How do you do it?

Above all, nothing will come of this if you don't have a concrete plan. For example, many decide to "do sport more often". But if the plan is vague, it will not be implemented in the long term. The best way is to make simple if-then rules. "If it's eight o'clock on Tuesday, I'll go to the gym." Period. A very concrete plan. Twelve-year-olds who are supposed to study for school but prefer to play with their smartphones can decide: "When I do homework, I turn off my cell phone." If I practice such simple strategies often, they will be automated. Like brushing your teeth before bed, it's not a natural behavior, but most people do.

Why do we often find it so difficult to live healthy?

When smoking, drinking or eating fast food, it is difficult to resist because negative consequences such as cancer, liver damage and cardiovascular diseases only appear 30 or 40 years later. We cannot feel the long-term consequences of our behavior as strongly as we can feel the hot desires in the present, so we need to be vividly aware of the consequences. Only when I imagine what it means to have no money in old age do I start taking care of my old age. Making the long-term consequences "hot" and the short-term "cold" is an important principle for strengthening self-control.

Is it actually true that journalists ask for your opinion when politicians or other celebrities get into trouble because of a lack of self-control?

Yeah, like when Bill Clinton hit the headlines about his intern. Reporters called me and asked: Can we still trust this man?

And what did you answer?

Of course we can! We all have our weaknesses - and how steadfast someone is in one area says little about how they do in another. The people who are in the public eye, however, are looked very carefully.

Is it important that very controlled people also have areas where they can take it easy?

An overcontrolled life is just as unsatisfactory as an uncontrolled one. Just work hard to get something out of it later, but never enjoy the joys of the moment, that wouldn't be for me at any rate.

Personality or situation: what matters more?

An old dispute characterizes psychology: What is more important for our actions - the individual disposition or the circumstances under which one acts? To put it another way: Are some people "by nature" more controlled and more assertive than others, or does that depend more on environmental conditions? According to the often confirmed "fundamental attribution error", we usually ascribe more power to the personality of the individual in everyday life than it actually has, and we neglect the influence of situational factors. Most experts consider a strict separation of personality and situation to be pointless, as the two are closely linked.

According to Walter Mischel, one should beware of simple explanations. While self-control is helpful in achieving goals that you have set yourself, it is not the only thing that is crucial. In addition to social relationships, aspects of personality also play a role - such as frustration tolerance or the ability to distract yourself at the right moment. In addition, depending on the situation, people sometimes have more and sometimes less control of each other. If you can easily resist sweets, you don't have to be able to keep things moderate when shopping.