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Wayne L. Klein, PhD

Neuropsychological Assessment of Children & Adults; Couples & Individual Psychotherapy Offices in Franklin, MA & Spaulding Center for Children, Sandwich, MA
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As a neuropsychologist, a psychotherapist and especially as a person too often torn between ice cream and carrot sticks, I, like you, have always been forced to deal with self-control. Several years ago my interest in self-regulation was driven to new heights by a simple newspaper clipping sent to me by my mother. The clipping described the work of an obesity researcher and ended with the claim "we now know self-control to be illusory."

In the process of seeking to generate compassion for the obese, and more research funding for his field, this well meaning scientist did something far worse than shouting fire in a crowded theater. And he did it in the mass media. The reason his statement was so damaging lies in a major property of self-control -

if you don't believe you have it, you act as if you don't.

As a cynical psychology professor of mine once said: "After a hundred years of research, one of the few principles discovered by psychology is that success breeds success and failure breeds failure." This has been demonstrated with victor and vanquished mouse studies. For both dogs and humans, learning to believe we are helpless causes us to act as if we are helpless. Innumerable human studies have demonstrated one of the very best predictors of goal attainment to be sense of self-efficacy. Having put several thousand people through neuropsychological assessments, I have seen innumerable times the power of persistence, and the success-draining effects of lack of faith that ones efforts will eventually lead to success. What this means as that when we believe we can, we often can. When we believe we can't we almost surely can't.

Proclaiming the death of self-control shouts loud and clear. The message says that there is no point in attempting to exert yourself beyond what you are already doing because the possibility does not exist. Do not exert yourself to ignore the desire to give up or give in. Do not exert yourself to push harder, to choose the more difficult but ultimately more rewarding path. Do not exert yourself to transcend the feelings, needs, desires of the moment. What you will do, you will do.

As anyone who has pushed oneself beyond their comfort zone knows, reports of the death of will are greatly exaggerated.

If it had occurred to the devil to persuade people they had no control, he would not have had to tempt with lavish promises.

This website addresses self-regulation at both applied and more technical levels.

Contact mePlease send me your comments, disagreements, insights.

Please visit my clinical website Family-Neuropsychology

Wayne L. Klein, PhD