The Dunedin Study is an ongoing 40 year investigation that follows a roughly 1000 person sample size from birth into adulthood and tests the subjects for various health and social well being factors. In the early years it also interviewed subjects’ parents and teachers. The major discovery to come out of the study is the importance of self control to the overall happiness and success of an individual in life. This is a great summary of the study in slide format and I’m going to use some of its information to talk about this topic here.

Before we continue we need to define what self control is.

Self-control is the ability to regulate one’s emotions, desires, and behaviours in the service of later rewards.

  • Think before you speak or act.
  • Resist temptations.
  • Give considered responsive instead of an impulsive one.
  • Resist saying something inappropriate of hurtful.
  • Resist hurting someone because they hurt you.
  • Resist jumping to conclusions.

Children who exhibit self control have these advantages in adult life:

  • Avoid obesity in an era of abundant and available food.
  • Maintain fitness in an era of sedentary jobs.
  • Sustain marriages in an era of easy divorce.
  • Prevent addiction in an era of access to substances.
  • Resist spending in an era of sophisticated marketing.
  • Save for old age in an era without guaranteed pensions.

Lets now have a look at the qualities which make up a lack of self control.

  • Impulsive, acts without thinking.
  • Can’t wait his or her turn.
  • Low frustration tolerance.
  • Dislikes effortful tasks
  • Fleeting attention, easily distracted.
  • Lacks persistence, easily forgets goals.
  • Often goes for the risky thing.
  • Requires constant attention and motivation from an adult.

The study goes on to demonstrate the correlation between a lack of self control and problems with health, personal finances, criminal behaviour, parenting involvement, and making serious adolescent mistakes, (such as falling pregnant).

By now you’re probably in one of two camps. Either you’re high-fiving yourself because you realise that you have consistently demonstrated good self control or you’re trying to spin this another way to make up for your own evident lack of self control.

But I have some good news for all of you. Self control can be taught and learned. The act of taking control of your life and beginning a series of gradual and incremental improvements is a big part of this. But more than that, people who already exhibit good self control can always improve.

The thing that I like the most out of the research is how preventing adolescents from making bad mistakes does not help them later in life. You cannot save someone from their own nature as it will only be a temporary fix. What you can do is instill the discipline of behaviours that emphasize self control.

From the very first trait in the list of the 28 traits of the modern man there is an emphasis on self control. This was not cognizant on my part. I was unaware of this study until yesterday when someone pointed it out to me, (my mentor to be precise). He made the connection between my traits and the importance of self control.

Following the traits is a step in the right direction. I have had excellent self control from an early age but I have found that a recent small change has had noticeable improvements. I have instigated the trait of shaving every day and I have noticed better results in my morning activities such as working out and writing.

If you have children then perhaps you need to examine their self control. The earlier in life that children’s self control is improved the better the results later in life.

Now I must go as it’s time for the morning workout. Self control and all that.