Research into the unexpected impact of pride on our self-discipline.
Amy Morin Sep 28, 2015
Your emotions play a significant role in your behavior. Being aware of those emotions, and how they influence your choices, can help you take steps to improve your self-discipline.
When you’re feeling bored with a project, for example, you may be less productive. You may stare off into space and grow distracted by just about everything going on around you.
On the other hand, when you feel excited about a project, you may be able to sit down and accomplish your task with intense focus. It’s much easier to exercise willpower—and tune out potential distractions—when you’re happy.
While there has been a lot of research into the link between emotion and self-control, a new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research (link is external) examined the specific role pride plays in self-discipline.
Through a series of experiments, researchers concluded that under certain circumstances, pride increases self-control. But in other circumstances, pride gives people a license to indulge. The difference in whether pride increased or decreased self-control depended on the source of participants’ pride.
Pride boosted self-control when participants didn’t have a previously established self-control goal. Their pride stemmed from feeling good about who they are. If however, participants were already working toward a goal, pride led to self-destructive behavior. Their pride resulted from what they did.
What It Means for You
The more pride you feel about your accomplishments toward your goal, the less likely you are to exercise self-control. Telling yourself, “I’ve done a great job already,” gives you permission to reward yourself. Ironically, even pride over your ability to demonstrate self-control decreases your will.
If you were dining out with a friend, and out of the blue your friend says, “Wow, you look like you’ve lost weight,” your feelings of pride could very well lead you to order a healthy meal. If however, you’d set a goal to lose 20 pounds a month ago, that same compliment could decrease your self-control. Your pride may cause you to think, “I’ve done well eating healthy and my hard work shows. I deserve a burger and fries today.”
Of course, none of this is to suggest that you shouldn’t establish goals that require self-discipline. Instead, be mindful of the ways your emotions can increase or decrease your motivation to stay on track.
How to Use Pride to Your Advantage
Self-discipline may come easily to you in some areas of your life. Perhaps you’ve successfully turned exercise into a daily habit. Or maybe you stick to your monthly budget with incredible perseverance. But there may also be one or two areas in which you just can’t seem to get your behavior under control.
Here are some strategies for using pride to your advantage:
- Be aware of your emotions. Recognize how you’re feeling, and how those feelings influence your thoughts and behavior. Self-awareness is key to self-control.
- Remind yourself that it’s OK to feel pride. Feeling pride about your achievements isn’t bad; it’s what you do with those feelings that matters.
- Don’t allow pride to turn into overconfidence. Recognize how your prideful feelings may cause you to start thinking you’ve earned the right to overindulge.
- Make a list of all the reasons why you should stay on track. Write down all the reasons why you should stick to your goals. When you’re low on willpower, reread the list. That should help balance your emotions with logic.
Pride in who you are, not what you’ve accomplished, is the key to self-discipline.
Amy Morin is a keynote speaker, psychotherapist, and the author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do (link is external), a bestselling book that is being translated into more than 20 languages.