Lecture # 2
How can we overcome our self-control limitations to succeed at our personal goals?
– Last class we said motivation is about how we energize and direct our behavior,
and when we are concerned about motivation we set a goal.
– There seems to be something that happens automatically when we set goals.
Researchers have described a universal action plan that accompanies setting a
goal. As soon as you set a goal you start focusing more attention on stimuli
related to the goal. As soon as you set a goal you prepare yourself to work harder
and give more effort. And as soon as you set a goal you prepare yourself to have
to persevere and overcome obstacles.
The suggestion is that there are certain things that are set in motion by setting a goal.
– A particular type of goal that is interesting is new years resolution, they are
important usually and they are goals where we actually track our progress and are
aware whether we fail or succeed.
– Many people's experience is that they tend to fail far more often then they tend to
succeed at their new years resolutions.
– Why are we so bad at following through with our goals?
– People make 6-7 attempts before they succeed at their NY resolutions.
– It's as if you have to try multiple times before you are bale to change a habit.
(thus it is normative to fail several times before you succeed and change a bad
habit or create a new good habit.)
He also told us about a model of self control failure or self control success, you can use the
model both ways.
He argues that there are 3 critical ingredients if you are going to succeed at exercising self
control in your everyday life and reaching your goals.
1) Clear and specific goals (can't be vague or ambiguous)
2) Monitor our behavior in relation to the goal. (have to carefully observe/ monitor
our progress and behavior and then make adjustments.)
3) Self control strength in order to reach the goal. (we need some capacity to
pursue new habits.)
Baumeister has a lot of evidence that self control is a limited resource and it can be depleted
throughout the day or week. And the same resource is used in all areas of our life. Pursuing a
new goal is like breaking a bad habit and starting a new one and it takes a lot of self control
strength to do that.
In his book Baumeister notes that there is differences between people in the amount of self
control strength they have.
– Some people hardly ever procrastinate while others procrastinate all the time. The
suggestion would be that self-control capacity are probably related to brain
functioning in executive frontal lobe capacity and that they will be individual
– The good news is that it is very likely that we are in the top 10 % of executive
functioning to have made it into McGill (its requires the capacity to exercise self-
control) so on an individual difference basis we as a group are pretty high in self
– There is between individual difference but there is also intra-individual differences .
For a given person there are times when they will have greater self-control strength
than at other times. And this will mostly have to do with how much self-control you have to exert throughout the day in your various activities.
One new finding shows that our self control strength dissipates over the day, thus it's harder
to take on a new task/goal later on in the day. You are more likely to succeed in a new
exercise program if you do it earlier in the day rather than later in the day.
If you ask 5 different psychologists what you need to do to succeed t your goals you may get
5 different answers.
Taylor mentions 4 things:
– 2 are very specific and challenging (part of smart goal formula)
– 2 other things we haven't brought up but reflect his unique perspective as a social
psychologist who is interested in groups and interpersonal effects. He highlights
social support and making things public.
– Baumeister in his book focuses a lot on social support and people who quit
drinking. For AA. social support is an important factor.
SMART vs SMAART
– Its thought that you want an optimally challenging goal, it will inspire and motivate
– You also want to feel ready to actually achieve this goal and this has to do with
feeling a sense of self efficacy - having confidence that you can actually reach it.
– Many of our goals are distal and far in the future, they tend not to provide very
helpful guidance for our every day behavior. When you have distal goals you have
to also create more proximal goals that you arrange in an hierarchy under the distal
Goal Self- Efficacy
– special theory of social behavior, the fact that whats most unique about humans as
a species is that we can look into the future and construct goals to guide our
behavior into the future and pursue valued outcomes.
– In his theory the most important thing in determining how well we will use goals in
our life is whether our goals are accompanied by a sense of self-efficacy. He
defines it as beliefs about your ability to successfully perform certain actions.
– I have self-efficacy if I believe I could perform the actions necessary to achieve
my goal of speaking french.
– Self efficacy is not the same thing as self-esteem.
– Self esteem is a more global assessment of your general worth.
– self-efficacy is very specific to a particular domain and even to particular activities in
– Can have a high self esteem person who feels low in self efficacy.
– Someone with high self esteem can tell you 5 things they are awful at (sing,
dance, draw ..) and if I tried learning any of those things or you asked me how
confident I was on a 1-9 scale I would give a 1 or a 2. So even though i am high
in self esteem I am aware of feeling very low self-efficacy in many different
– The reverse can also be true where someone very low in self esteem might
have high self efficacy in some specific area.
– Self efficacy doesn't exactly match your real ability and real performance. I may
think I'm the absolute worse at singing and dancing but if we all drew pictures and danced it might turn out that I am actually at the 25th percentile.
– Also If you take conversational ability, we don't really know if we are good
conversationalist or not but many of us might think that we are. And if you had
some way of measuring if someone was a good conversationalist you might find 2
friends who had exactly the same level of conversation ability but one of them might
think he is a marvellous conversationalist while the other is doubtful.
Bandura's research would suggest that if you have 2 people who actually have the same
ability but one has high self efficacy, that person has a great advantage and that person will
probably become better and better at that particular activity and that skill.
- when you have high self efficacy three things happen
1) You focus your attention more effectively
2) You exert more effort
3) You have much more optimism in the face of obstacles
– These are the same 3 things that happen when you set a goal. But if you set a
goal and also have a sense of self-efficacy it potentiates these 3 things and
makes us even more alert and makes us give even more effort and give even
more optimism in perseverance.
– Thus when setting goals, self-efficacy is something to think about, most of us
should choose to set goals in something that we have a fairly good sense of self
Sometimes need to set a goal at something you are bad at!
– How can you increase your self efficacy? (challenge is to figure out if there is any
way to make yourself feel as if you can do it)
– 1) Compare yourself to someone similar to you who has succeeded in what you
want to succeed in. Thus comparing yourself to someone similar who has
– 2) Think of a similar activity that you have succeeded at and work through how you
did that and then say to yourself that you can do this goal too.
– So think of a similar other or think back to a similar activity and you will be able
to boost and elevate your self-efficacy and give yourself more of a chance.
She only set 2 goals and they are very specific and measurable and go together very well yet
she still fails. Argument today is that framing your goals in a smart way and generating a
sense of self efficacy are certainly very important and necessary if you are going to succeed
at our goals, but it is not sufficient. In most case people will still fail at there goals even if they
– The reason is because we have this limited self control capacity and we