As regular readers of this blog, and readers of my latest book (Helping Students Motivate Themselves), know, I have written a lot (see My Best Posts About Helping Students Develop Their Capacity For Self-Control) about helping students strengthen their capacity for self-control.

Among the strategies I’ve discussed is helping students learn about the famous marshmallow test and, as part of the lesson, encourage them to identify ways they can distract themselves when feeling the tug of temptation (for example, when they want to throw a paper wad at a friend, instead they can think of the fun times they’ve had with him/her).

The Los Angeles Times has just written about a new study that examines self-control from a slightly different perspective (see To resist temptation, forget guilt or shame and think positive). Using a piece of chocolate cake instead of a marshmallow (Boy, I can hear my students now complaining that they want cake instead of candy when we do our own version of the marshmallow test as part of our lesson on self-control 🙂 ), researchers determined that having people think about the pride that they will feel in themselves after resisting temptation was a very successful self-control strategy.

And, interestingly enough, they also found that trying to encourage self-control through the use of shame or guilt actually resulted in people showing less self-control.

When I’m going to have a sub coming in, in addition to students knowing that the substitute will be grading them (and they will be grading themselves) on their behavior using a form I’ve created (see When You Have A Sub), I always make a point of telling the class, “Don’t behave well for the points, and don’t behave well because you don’t want to get sent to the office. Instead, behave well because that’s who you are and because your represent your family.” I say something similar before we go on field trips.

Of course, I am human, and there have been a few times when I’ve reached the end of my rope and I just couldn’t hold back on using shame or guilt…

But this new study, I suspect, may make me pause for reflection during those moments, and cause me to look for other opportunities to reinforce the idea of pride. For example, during the marshmallow test lesson, when asking students to think about how they can distract themselves from bad temptations, I’ll more clearly raise the idea of feeling pride in that accomplishment.  And I’m sure there are other times besides sub days and field trips where I can effectively reinforce that message.

Ah, figuring out positive classroom management strategies, and remembering to implement them in the moment, is a constant challenge…