I’ve written in the past about classroom lessons I’ve done to help students develop more self-control (see “I Like This Lesson Because It Make Me Have a Longer Temper” (Part One)).

The Wall Street Journal has just published an article today about this very topic — Blame It on the Brain:The latest neuroscience research suggests spreading resolutions out over time is the best approach.

The article reinforces what other resources in my lesson plan say:

“…that people who are better at delaying gratification don’t necessarily have more restraint. Instead, they seem to be better at finding ways to get tempting thoughts out of their minds.”

It also cites research that supports what common sense tells us — it’s better not to make multiple changes of behavior at the same time. Instead, focus on being successful in one change first and that accomplishment will increase the chance of additional successful changes. Teachers can recognize this by encouraging students to target one thing at a time — whether it’s related to classroom behavior or writing improvement.

According the article, it’s necessary to use these strategies because of the part of our brain responsible for willpower just has too many other responsibilities — it can only handle so much more:

The brain area largely responsible for willpower, the prefrontal cortex, is located just behind the forehead. While this bit of tissue has greatly expanded during human evolution, it probably hasn’t expanded enough. That’s because the prefrontal cortex has many other things to worry about besides New Year’s resolutions. For instance, scientists have discovered that this chunk of cortex is also in charge of keeping us focused, handling short-term memory and solving abstract problems.