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Self-Control Can Be Contagious

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Trying to stay focused at work? Want to avoid eating that extra piece of cake? Science now says: try thinking about people with better self-control than you.

The folks at posted a news article reporting that self-control is contagious:

A new University of Georgia study has revealed that self-control—or the lack thereof—is contagious. In a just-published series of studies involving hundreds of volunteers, researchers have found that watching or even thinking about someone with good self-control makes others more likely exert self-control. The researchers found that the opposite holds, too, so that people with bad self-control influence others negatively. The effect is so powerful, in fact, that seeing the name of someone with good or bad self-control flashing on a screen for just 10 milliseconds changed the behavior of volunteers.

“The take home message of this study is that picking social influences that are positive can improve your self-control,” said lead author Michelle vanDellen, a visiting assistant professor in the UGA department of psychology. “And by exhibiting self-control, you’re helping others around you do the same.”

People tend to mimic the behavior of those around them, and characteristics such as smoking, drug use and obesity tend to spread through social networks. But vanDellen’s study is thought to be the first to show that self-control is contagious across behaviors. That means that thinking about someone who exercises self-control by regularly exercising, for example, can make your more likely to stick with your financial goals, career goals or anything else that takes self-control on your part.

VanDellen’s findings, which are published in the early online edition of the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, are the result of five separate studies conducted over two years with study co-author Rick Hoyle at Duke University.

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© Flickr user RLHyde

While it can be hard to accept the idea that emotions are so powerful that they can be spread from person to person and dramatically influence productive behaviors. If you are feeling overwhelmed by distractions at work and need more self-control, reserve time to merely think about someone with better self-control. After all, the habits of many successful people are inspiring. Some feel that by just adopting the same morning routine as an exceptional athlete, writer, or business person will be enough to direct them along the same path to success.

An article on Business Insider shared some thoughts on this and the routines of some successful people. We’ve included some of the more interesting bits.

Scott Adams, the creator of ‘Dilbert,’ designed his morning routine to maximize his creativity.

The first 20 minutes of Adams’ day are exactly the same, every day. Putting his physical body on autopilot “frees his brain for creativity.”

Concentrating his creative hours in the morning makes sense for Adams. “My value is based on my best ideas in any given day, not the number of hours I work,” he says.

Billionaire John Paul DeJoria starts his day the same way, no matter where he is.

DeJoria, the cofounder of Patrón tequila and Paul Mitchell hair products, starts every morning with five minutes of quiet reflection.

“Doesn’t matter where I’m at, which home I’m in, or what hotel room I’m visiting,” he says. “The very second I wake up, I stay in bed for about five minutes and just be.”

Andrew Yang, CEO of Venture for America, keeps his a.m. routine simple.

The first Yang does when he wakes up? Push the dog off him.

Next he’ll check on his wife and son. If his son is awake, he’ll spend time with him before heading to the office. If not, he hits the gym.

If he needs an a.m. pick-me-up, he’ll open a memo file on his phone and record three things he is thankful for. “The things I’ve typed on other days are still there,” he says. “It’s a long list. Always helps.”

If you need help increasing productivity beyond just mental focus, reach out to our consultants at AccelaWork. We are experts in helping organizations improve processes and procedures by empowering stakeholders to make positive change.

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