The Echoes of the Mind – Will


“He that can have patience can have what he will.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

Will is the exercise of self-control in achieving an objective. But self-control is essential to more than meeting goals. Resisting temptations and not acting impulsively are also acts of will, equal in importance to any productive achievements.

Without inhibitory control we would be at the mercy of impulses, old habits and stimuli in the environment that pull us this way or that. It isn’t easy. Indeed, we usually are creatures of habit. And our behavior is under the control of environmental stimuli far more than we usually realize. But having the ability to exercise inhibitory control creates the possibility of change and choice. It can also save us from making fools of ourselves. ~ American psychologist Adele Diamond

As the Bible tells it, the first sin was giving into temptation. Adam and Eve could not resist the forbidden fruit from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” particularly after a sales pitch by a serpent “more subtle than any beast of the field.” When God came to inquire, Adam blamed Eve: typical.

Humans are not the only ones for whom self-control is a formula for success in life. Female song sparrows prefer to mate with males who have a sizable song repertoire. Male song sparrows with good self-control learn more songs. More generally, self-control is critical to animal fitness, especially those with hierarchical social systems.

Self-control requires executive functions that infants lack. A child’s ability to delay gratification improves with maturation.

Early indications of self-control are often a harbinger. Low levels of perseverance, conscientiousness, and other elements of self-control in children as young as 3 years herald physical health problems, failed marriages, financial woes, substance abuse, and criminality in adulthood.

Though willfulness has an innate aspect, a youngster’s self-control is shaped by experience. An environment that offers reliable rewards inculcates patience; the converse also applies.

If you are used to getting things taken away from you, not waiting is the rational choice. ~ American psychologist Celeste Kidd

American girls generally exercise a higher level of self-regulation than boys. This is a cultural product of relative parental indulgence toward boys. In Asian children, there is no gender difference in youngster self-control.

Lack of self-control is symptomatic of mental illness that manifests in a variety of ways, including anxiety, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and violent aggression.

“Poor self-control over aggressive urges is a widespread problem.” ~ American social psychologist Thomas DensonĀ et al

As with most of life, self-control is a matter of perspective. How people construe temptations and situations influence the degree to which they exercise self-control.