Cooking Up a Recipe for Self-Control

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     Co-author and friend, Chris Manolis, and I recently had an article accepted for publication in the Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice. The study investigated how the three ingredients of self-control impact our shopping. First, let me share my recipe for flexing your self-control muscle. Start with a good night’s sleep. More formally put, ego depletion is how anxious, tired or frenzied we are. A frenetic life-style is a major ingredient of self-control failure. With proper rest, relaxation, and an even –paced life-style, our self-control resources are bolstered. When we are in the proper frame of mind, we are better able to control ourselves.
     The second ingredient in our self-control recipe is consistent goals. When we hold goals that oppose each other (save money versus buy stuff) it creates tension that leads to lapses in self-control. Coping with the stress associated with conflicting goals reduces the resources needed to exercise self-control in other areas of our lives. So, convince yourself that it’s people that matter most not money and possessions and you will have a lot less stress in your life and a lot fewer lapses in self-control.
     The third and final ingredient to improved self-control is self-awareness. We need to be constantly vigilant about what’s going on around us. Realizing there are people, or places, or things that lead us down the slippery slope to self-control lapses is critical to countering such lapses. For example, some of our friends can be a bad influence on us. If you’re trying to save money, avoid going to the mall with the friend who has an intimate relationship with her credit cards. Or, if you’re trying to stop drinking, avoid the people and places that make this type of behavior easier.
     Do you know why we make so many bad decisions when we’re drinking – because alcohol reduces our self-awareness. When our self-awareness is reduced, we take a short-term perspective on things and end up making decisions we soon regret. Next week we will talk about happiness – what it is and what we can to get more of it.

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23 Responses to Cooking Up a Recipe for Self-Control

  1. Kyle Vesta says:

    I think that self-control, like marketing, is easy to talk about, but hard to actually practice.

  2. Carlos Ruy Martinez says:

    Good advice, Jim. I am sure that self-awareness includes religious beliefs since it gives us the true persfective of life!

  3. erica says:

    In my experience, it is extremely true that we are more likely to spend money in a social setting such as going to the mall with a friend. I believe that it is also in relation to the pressure we feel to avoid leaving somewhere empty handed when the person you attended with had obviously accomplished something out of the trip.

  4. jim_roberts says:

    Very good point Erica. Research tells us that when we shop with friends we are much more likely to spend our money than when we shop alone or with our parents. it’s not easy staying on a budget or diet for that matter when so many people around us are spending money and eating too much. We need clear and consistent goals and must remain vigilant if we want to stay the course. Thanks for the insightful comment.

  5. Wade Rowatt says:

    Jim, Here’s one of my favorite journal articles in the past five years. Do glucose levels affect consumer behavior?

    Galliot, M. T., & Baumeister, R. F. (2007). The physiology of willpower: Linking blood glucose to self-control. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 11, 303-327.

  6. jim_roberts says:

    Hello Carlos! You are correct as usual. It is our belief in a higher being that allows us to transcend daily temptations and endure hardships that alone we could not withstand. I hope all is wel in the Martinez household.

  7. jim_roberts says:

    Amen to that brother. We know what we need to do but it isn’t easy. But, having clear goals, being aware of what’s around us, and keeping our store of the self-control resource full, we at least have a chance. Getting friends and family involved in keeping us on course is another way to improve our self-control. A website called can help you be more accountable as well.

  8. jim_roberts says:

    Hello Wade. Thanks for the cite. As a diabetic, I can simply blame any lapses in self-control I have on low blood sugars 🙂 This article is important in many ways, probably the most important is it shows us how complex an issue like self-control really is. I look forward to reading Roy Baumeister’s newest book on self-control. He and his colleagues have amassed a great deal of knowledge on the topic.

  9. Anne says:

    This sounds like advice that we need to impart to out children (and the younger the better)!!!

  10. jim_roberts says:

    You hit the nail on the head. The earlier we help our children to exercise self-control (save for a toy, stop at one dessert, hang around good kids, go to bed as scheduled) the sooner it will become a habit. Self-control is not something we learn over-night but the beauty is we can improve our self-control through its practice. Thanks for the comment “Anne”‘ 🙂

  11. Deryl Cason says:

    I agree with Erica, when I go to the mall with a friend, I feel like I am kind of obligated to purchase something, even if t is the smallest and unnecessary item.

  12. jim_roberts says:

    You’re right. When studying adolescents, we call peers “deviant socialization agents”, i.e., thay are not always the best influence on us. So, word to the wise. Leave your credit cards at home when you go the mall. if you find something you really need, you can always come back. my bet is that you won’t – a little tip to help improve our self-control when shopping. A 24-hour cooling off period is always a good idea for any hting over $25. If you still want it after 24 hours, you will probably get your money’s worth.

  13. Rockell says:

    Luckily …..As a marketing student I have found myself more aware of the tricks that marketers place in front of us…for example Glades NEW fall scents they have placed down the Wal-mart Isles….ALMOST had an impulse purchse of a candle to collect with the other 50 candles which yet to be lit! …. 😀

  14. jim_roberts says:

    You’re right, marketers can be a sneaky lot. Take for instance product obsolescence, which has two varieties: planned and perceived obsolescence. In planned obsolescence, products are simply made to break by a certain date, often called the “Death Date”. Designed for the dump is another phrase used to describe how products are designed to fail and can’t be fixed or are too expensive to fix. So, back to the store to buy a new one when the old one may need only a minor repair. Perceived obsolescence is another technique used to get consumers back in the store. Annual style changes in the automobile industry easily identify who is driving the latest model and who are driving last year’s model. And, don’t even get me started on product placements in movies and TV and their impact on consumers.

  15. Korrie Reichman says:

    I find that this article was very helpful to me as a somewhat-poor college student. It’s VERY true that being self-aware about where, when, and with whom you spend money can help reduce any squandering that may be happening. I’ve come to realize in the past four years that if I don’t go into Walmart with a list of specific items that I need, it’s very likely that I’ll come out with a full cart and an empty bank account. Being aware helps you take control, and can definitely benefit you in the long run.

  16. jim_roberts says:

    Great comment. Our success and happiness in life come down to our ability to control our thoughts, feelings, and, very importantly, our behavior. Knowing the “three ingredients” of self-control is a great first step to improving our self-control in all areas of life.

  17. Nicole Savage says:

    This post definitely directly relates to everyone. Whether it’s with money, alcohol, food it’s hard to maintain your self- control. Nothing is ever good in excess. Personally, I struggle with it all the time. I agree that your state of mind is one of the most important things initially, but that’s the hardest part as a college student! We’re up late, under high stress levels, probably not eating as healthily as we should, no wonder we struggle with it so much!

  18. Elsa says:

    I need to keep these ideas in my mind when i go shopping! I think self awareness is essential to this mix. If we are unaware of ourselves and our spending habits, we are not able to recognize that we spend too much.

  19. Julianna says:

    I think it depends alot on the person’s personality and upbringing. There are some people who have to buy something every time they go shopping, while others can shop for hours without buying anything. My mom and I for instance, like to say we shop often and buy rarely, which is true for us because we probably only actually come out of a store with something in hand maybe 1/4 of the time we go shopping without a definite goal in mind (and even sometimes when we have a definite goal). It’s all in the mindset you shop with.

  20. Tori Moore says:

    Great advice! Self control is something I think every single person can agree that they need to work on! Great blog!

  21. Juan Pablo Gomez says:

    Very interesting article.

    I think that our shopping habits depend a lot on our emotional intelligence. I personally believe that emotional intelligence is our ability to process the sensorial information with both sides of our brain.

    If we take the time of thinking before acting, we will have very positive outcomes in our lives.

  22. A_Rogers says:

    I keep my shopping under control by prioritizing what’s important to me in my life at the moment and also by the limits of my bank account. I don’t have credit cards, so I can’t spend money I don’t have and seeing as I’m a student there isn’t very much money for me to blow away for silly things.

  23. Sarah Craig says:

    I like the first comment “I think that self-control, like marketing, is easy to talk about, but hard to actually practice.” It sums up my feelings exactly. Its so easy to forget self-control whenever I am shopping.

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