Saturday, May 28, 2011

Three Self-Control Strategies That Work

You want your students to build up their self-control. You know that self-control is one of the best predictors of being successful in school and outside of school. What strategies actually have a track record of success? Here are three strategies that really work.

To learn more about the strategies, I decided to try them on myself. Recently, I decided that I wanted to lift weights on a regular basis. I thought I could use this change to test how well self-control strategies worked.

The three strategies are:
  1. Use self-imposed rewards Trope and Fishbach (2000)
  2. Use self-imposed consequences Trope and Fishbach (2000)
  3. Reaffirm core values (the study is described here: self-affirmation in self-control)
Here is how I am using these three strategies. My goal is that I want to lift weights 5 times a week, but each day I am only going to do two different exercises. I wrote down which exercise I was going to do each day of the week, so my goal was specific. Then I decided on a reward. I planned on paying myself $2 for each day that I met my goal. The $2 I would spend on more plants for my garden. So, I had followed step 1.

For step 2, I created a consequence. Each day I did not do my workout as planned, I would take $2 out of my jar. And for step 3, I thought about my core values for exercising. My values are that I am healthy and energetic. I wrote my core values on the jar where I am keeping track of my money.

So far, this has been by far the easiest exercise routine for me to stick with! The combination of the three self-control strategies is working well for me. I have tried just rewards before. That would work for a while, and then it would stop working.

How to apply this to the classroom?

Do you have a student who never turns in his HW? Or, do you have a student who is constantly getting into trouble of a specific type? Let's call that student Larry. If you have tried everything with Larry, why not try some self-control strategies?

Maybe you are thinking - I've tried rewards and consequences. They didn't work. If you give a student a sticker, a recess or free time for doing something, and take away something if they don't, that is not a self-imposed reward and consequence. You, the teacher, made a choice and imposed it on the student.

For self-control strategies to work, you need to actually have a conversation with Larry about the problem, and have him come up with the rewards and consequences. Of course, you have the final say in approving them. You might need to say, "That's a great start. . . what else?" You will also want to help the student clarify a value around the goal, and a positive affirmation to help them when the going gets tough.

Won't it take a long time to have that conversation? Hopefully, if Larry is consistently causing problems or not succeeding, the conversation will save you time. Not only that, you will be teaching Larry self-control strategies that he can hopefully use for the rest of his life.

And the research is clear, people with self-control achieve more, have more friends, are happier and more successful. People with low self-control are at risk for underachievement, risky behavior and addiction. This is your chance to help Larry get on the right path!

Learn more about how I teach this to my students through stories.

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