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While acknowledging the difficulties inherent to changing our current routines and behaviors, this chapter focuses on the obstacles we place in front of ourselves by embracing – rather than ignoring – reality. Indeed, being realistic is a critical step toward easing the goal pursuit process by directing self-control efforts to manageable steps and attainable outcomes. That said, embracing reality has little to do with the size of one’s goals or dreams or desires; it merely signifies an attempt to acknowledge that change is not without obstacle and that identifying and preparing for those obstacles eases goal pursuit by facilitating self-control efforts.
Intentions are certainly an important step in the goal-pursuit process, as they clarify our course of action. Yet intentions are meaningless without action. Indeed, self-control is about more than simply knowing the course of action to pursue our goals; we must execute those actions as well. However, the reality is that the transition from intention to action can be incredibly difficult. Our inability to act in ways that adhere to our intentions can derail the goal pursuit process. However, there are ways to ease the course from intention to action, whether it be itemizing a step-by-step plan so that it becomes habitual, capitalizing on factors in our environment to nudge us toward action, or disrupting our environment to making on opportunities to change our behavior. Yet whatever the method, easing the transition from intention to action is essential to getting beyond merely stating our commitment to our goals and establishing a consistent pattern of action that maximizes goal pursuit.
The goal of this chapter is to call into question the ways we inherently define success and force us to consider and subsequently be explicit about the criteria we use to evaluate our goals. Importantly, this chapter is not intended to devalue the importance of evaluating success by the outcomes, but rather to acknowledge that the outcome is not the only measure of success. Indeed, though individuals seem by default to define success as a function of the desired outcome, the process by which that outcome is attained as well as the effort invested in the process to attain the desired outcome offer alternative criteria that may best fit depending on the goal.
The focus of this chapter is on the importance of identifying the various incentives that promote self-control. Indeed, whether intrinsic or extrinsic, those reasons can provide numerous insights into how we can incite action to facilitate goal pursuit. Importantly, the issue of motivation is expansive, but the simple exercise of identifying the fundamental reasons driving our goals offers invaluable insight into the incentives that motivate us to satisfy those reasons and manifest our goals across a range of circumstances.
Monitoring our progress is an important – yet oft-overlooked – aspect of goal pursuit. However, the need for setting achievable markers that benchmark progress in the short term is crucial to achieving long-term success. After all, goal pursuit is a dynamic (rather than static) process and maximizing that process over time requires a systematic effort to monitor our progress.
For self-control to be possible, it is important we prepare our bodies to provide the necessary energy to fuel our mental abilities. Unfortunately, many of us neglect the value of preparing ourselves physically in order to ease the high demands on the demanding self-control process. This chapter speaks about the importance of our physical abilities to fueling effective self-control and details the factors that impact those abilities (sleep, stress, and circadian rhythm). As such, it is important to identify the factors that deprive and exhaust our physical resources so that we are able to maximize our mental capabilities when engaging in goal pursuit.
Whether resisting a temptation, suppressing an emotional urge, or persisting at a challenging task, we can all relate to the experience of self-control. Oftentimes, we associate self-control with specific events, such as making a healthy choice at a restaurant or avoiding spending money on an impulse or unnecessary purchase. Yet self-control is more than just a temporary act of restraint; it is the conscious regulation of emotional, mental, and behavioral impulses in the pursuit of short- and long-term goals.1 Stated simply, self-control is the means by which we achieve our goals.2
The chapters thus far have dealt with the process of goal-setting and goal pursuit to maximize our self-control efforts to achieve our goals. Yet as noted, self-control is an iterative process that we engage in over time. Given the inherent difficulties of any goal pursuit, the need to create a support system seems implicit to attain self-control success in the long term. This chapter focuses on the social and contextual factors that facilitate a progression toward goal attainment in an attempt to encourage us to establish a support system that can bolster our attempts at goal attainment.
Whether hoping to lose 10 pounds, pay off debts, or write the next great novel, the process of goal pursuit forces us to embrace the factors that move us, confront the biases that shape our thinking, overcome the obstacles that impede our actions, and adapt our lifestyles to productive routines. Yet the journey does not end as we transition from goal attainment to goal maintenance. This chapter details the way we construe maintenance to prepare ourselves for long-term success as we face new challenges and embrace new opportunities.
Grounded in nearly a century of scientific research, Mastering Self Control is an academic 'how to' in the mastery of self control. Though most of us have an acute awareness of the goals we want to achieve, we have little insight into how we respond to questions central to successful goal attainment. What is a realistic goal? Can we turn intentions to actions? Why do we need a support system? It is within this context that this volume identifies a series of actionable strategies to push readers to master self-control and consequently optimize goal progress.
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