See Inside June 2005

Taking the Reins

Self-control helps you meet small challenges, but to change your life significantly you'll need self-regulation instead

MANY PEOPLE HAVE grown up hearing the same exhortations: “Put your shoulder to the wheel!” “Pull yourself together!” “Shape up!” All these demands are aimed at the same thing: self-control. This ability is an essential life skill, yet it also has the obvious drawback of being stressful. It is hard enough for most people to force themselves to see a dentist for an annual checkup. Accomplishing a larger, longer-range goal can be so daunting that we often never confront it.

The reason we demur, psychologically, is that self-control does not give us enough sustained motivation to achieve big plans. For that we need self-regulation, something we do every day without realizing it. Understanding how to spot your own self-regulating mechanisms, and then how to exploit them, will give you greater power to reach your most prized objectives.

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