Minutes after writing my last post about self-control, I learned about another study suggesting yet another potential effective strategy. And I think this one is particularly intriguing….
In post titled “Thinking About Tomorrow,” Jonah Lehrer writes about a study that apparently shows that thinking about the future — even for a brief time — enhances self control:
While most techniques for fighting off errant impulses focus on reducing our emotional attraction to the reward – that’s why, for instance, Walter Mischel teaches kids to draw a picture frame around the marshmallow – this new research suggests that an even more effective approach involves activating vivid, episodic associations about future events. In other words, before we decide whether or not to make a big purchase, or take out a mortgage, or make a donation to a 401(k), or contemplate a policy devoted to climate change, we should spend a few minutes thinking about what we’re doing tomorrow.
I’ve been writing a lot about how I’ve been spending a fair amount of time with my students on goal-setting activities this school year, and how successful it has appeared to be with most of my students.
I’ve also been trying some more intensive goal-setting with a couple of students who are having particular challenges with self-control and focus. However, I’ve typically been working with them on much more immediate goals — what are they going to accomplish today. This has proven to be less-than-successful.
I’m thinking of continuing to try and have them each day think about their goals. But, instead of asking them think about what their goals are for that day, ask them to write about ones that are longer-term — this school year, a couple of years out, post-high school. I suspect the results can’t be worse than what I’m getting now.
I hope Lehrer is right:
We can’t always get what we want, but if we think about the future first, sometimes we can get what we need.