Lecture # 4
Based on the lectures and WIllpower book, you might get the impression that the one thing
we really need to think about when we motivate ourselves by setting goals is to make sure we
have enough self control, self discipline and will power. So that we can stay focused on our
goals, overcome obstacles and so that we can persevere and succeed.
• The 2 classes this week will question a simplistic emphasis on generating more and
more self control. Both lectures will ask whether in some cases its possible to overdo it,
to persist for too long and focus too much attention, to draw forth too much self
Today talk about elite women's gymnastics and the goals they have, the self control they
seem to display and whether there could be problems with over control.
Book about the training of gymnasts and figure skaters, how early it starts, how intense and
unforgiving it is, how excessive the coaching can be, how parents can have some crazy ideas
about for their kids.
• This is talking about elite gymnastics and doesn't correspond to recreational
• It's very likely that girls who begin in gymnastics probably have a great sense of
competence in being able to do new things, enjoy being with the other kids thus
making recreational gymnastics a wonderful thing.
◦ Elite gymnastics is a completely different story.
▪ However in the her book, Joan Ryan identifies some gymnasts and figure
skaters who seem to have a balanced approach to this sport and seem to have
good relationships with coaches, and a few of the coaches actually seem to
have the athletes interest at heart. But the majority of the athletes she writes
about are horror stories.
Slide # 3
Baumeister wrote an earlier book called "Self Regulation Failure" Where he argues that most
of the problems that people face in their everyday lives (drug addiction, dropping out of
school) at their root is some kind of difficulty with self regulation. He makes a distinction
between 2 types of self-regulation failure.
1) One is due to under-regulation
2) One is due to mis-regulation
• Examine the self-regulation/self-control of elite gymnasts and ask whether this is a
case where self control can go to far.
• Self -discipline is definitely put forward as an important virtue that we should all strive
for, but there are some psychologists that wonder what we really mean by this and do
we really want to encourage our children to constantly show self-discipline and are
there some costs to self-discipline.
Slide # 4
Story will focus on the 1996 american gymnastics team (dream team/magnificent 7). For the
first time ever the americans actually beat the Russians and Romanians and won the gold
medal in the team competition.
• It was a joyous moment because women's gymnastics is one of the most popular event
at the summer Olympics. (winter= women's figure skating)
• Millions of kids watch the Olympics and many of the girls watching might think to
themselves "I would like to be able to do that". Before the Olympics it was expected that the girl all the way on the right, Shannon Miller(18
years old, considered the greatest american gymnasts ever, she won gold medal overall in
the previous Olympics) would win gold again.
The yellow arrow, third girl from right Dominique Moshianow(13 years old), an immigrant from
Romania was expected to be the surprise star of the Olympics.
• One of the things Joan Ryan says is that we shouldn't call this women's gymnastics
because for the last 30 years its been called girls gymnastics so that the athletes were
getting younger and younger. 10 Years ago they passed a law that you have to be at
least 16 years old. But 4 years ago there was very good evidence that the Chinese
who won the overall competition probably had 2 athletes who were only 14 years old
and who were probably their best performers.
• The thing about gymnastics is that you have a real advantage if you are built like a
missile, therefore if you are thin, lean and highly flexible you will have greater speed
and greater force when flying through the air.
• When you become 12-14 years old and go through puberty it can really throw off your
ability to fly in the air.
• Also the training is so intense, 30-50 hours a week, that many of the girls actually look
younger than they are. Sometimes their menstruation is delayed because of the
excessive physical exercise.
Slide # 5
Girl with the middle arrow, Kerri Strug, was not expected to win any gold medals.
• She is 18 years old (although looks younger)
• Surprisingly the 2 expected stars were not in a position to win the championship for the
Americans. Instead Kerri Strug was in position.
• In the women's team competition there are 5 events and after 4 events the Americans
are leading narrowly against their arch rival.
• All the Americans had made their final vault except for Dominique Moshianow and
◦ Depending on how these 2 athletes would perform the Americans would either win
the gold medal or the silver medal.
◦ Olympics were in Atlanta.
▪ She needed to get a score of 9.4 and received a score of 9.7.
▪ After her first failed jump she had 30 seconds to decide if she would do the
▪ She torn 2 ligaments and sprained her ankle (took her months to recover.)
▪ After the event she said she heard something snap and i can't feel my leg. after
the first jump
▪ The coach was heard saying shake it off you can do it
▪ Her teammates were heard saying shake it off you can do it.
• Because of this courageous and heroic jump she became the hero of the
Olympics, made over 1 million dollars in endorsements over the next three
◦ She is about 30 years old, works in business and gives motivational talks
(25,000$ every time she gives a talk)
◦ Voted sports woman of the year. Slide # 6
Baumeister wrote this but not about Kerri Strug.
• He would say this is probably the ultimate example of strength in self-control
Slide # 7
It's altering one's responses, inhibiting one's responses and doing so because you have some
larger goal or value that you are trying to maintain.
* He may say self regulation instead of self-control.
• Originally Baumeister used the term self-regulation and defined it as such.
• Now he is trying to be more precise, now he uses self-control exclusively in reference
to more deliberate, conscious and effortful forms of self-regulation.
• We can self regulate in an automatic way as described how our bodies might self
regulate our weight without us even being conscious of it. It may slow down our
metabolism and might make us think of food.
• Thus some self-regulation can be non-conscious.
• When we ware talking about deliberate, conscious effortful self-regulation he now uses
the term self-control.
How is someone able to exercise self-control in this type of situation?
• Baumeister would say our greatest capacity is our capacity to deploy our attention. We
can focus our attention away from the present moment, away from what just happened
and towards something else that can help us persevere.
• He uses the word Transcendence.
Slide # 8
Transcendence: to describe a particular way of exercising self-control where you see beyond
the immediate stimulus environment by focusing on more long range goals that are higher in
• These higher processes usually involve
◦ Longer time spans
◦ More extensive networks of meaningful associations
◦ More distal and abstract goals.
If you are in library studying for this course and reading material is tedious and boring, you
are getting tired and want to stop, one of the things you can do is look away from the book
and try to remind yourself why you are taking this class, why you are studying this and what
your future goals are.
• This might help you transcend the momentary impulse to give up on it.
Slide # 9
What would be a typical or natural response after Kerry Strug failed on the first fault?
• Almost everyone would be worried about their leg, if i jump again will my leg fall off,
what type of damage will ensue.
• Also likely that she felt upset at herself, the vault is her best event and her first jump
was not good, so she could be blaming herself.
• She could also be thinking that she let down her coach, team and country.
◦ So there are all types of thoughts that she could be having which would seem
perfectly natural. In order to transcend that situation she has to shut those down and find something else that
will inspire her to try again.
• She is not criticizing herself, how she might of cost her team the gold medal. In stead
she is thinking about what she has to do.
In the Will Power book, Baumeister does say that some people seem to find that prayer
seems to help them transcend a situation.
* Certain kinds of religious beliefs have been associated with exercising greater self-
• Anything that takes you away from the immediate situation and reminds you of
longer term goals and values can help you transcend.
One of the ways they prepare athletes when they are at a competition is they remind
themselves how well prepared they are.
• Kerry reminded herself of this and is probably how she was able to make the jump.
Slide # 10
Mary Lou Retton a former gymnast was saying how outraged she was at how patronizing all
the male callers were. She said that if this was a football player you would be saying how
courageous it was but because it is a gymnast you are saying that it was self-hurtful.
• She talked about the training of elite gymnasts and how common it is to get injuries
and how they train right through the injuries very often.
• She talked about how their pain threshold is so high.
The way the guys were reacting, maybe its patronizing and maybe there is something sexist
about it but when you watch some of these videotapes you feel uncomfortable and you worry
that why is it that this poor girl has to make this jump?
• There is something about being a part of a team, there is some sort of cultural ethics
that almost requires you to jump.
Slide # 11
Was this an example of successful self-control or was it something else?
Baumeister divides self-control failure into 2 different categories.
1) the most common type of failure is due to under-regulation. 80-90% of our self control
problems are due to under-regulation. This means that we are lacking one of the three critical
ingredients that you need to exercise self-control effectively.
• Either you do not have clear specific standards.
• Or you are not monitoring feedback
• Or you are lacking in self-control resources and you haven't planned things out well.
◦ If you have a deficit in any of these 3 areas it will lead to under-regulation which will
then lead to self-control failure.
There is no chance that elite gymnasts suffer from under-regulation.
• Kerry knew she needed a 9.4 and know what that requires. In gymnastics they are
constantly providing you feedback and you always know what your specific goal is. You
can break it down into all the components.
◦ There is no danger that there is a lack of standards. Monitoring:
• You are constantly monitored, gymnastics can be very dangerous so that with the
young girls the coaches are watching all the time.Coaches in elite gymnastics are very
precise and give constant feedback on whether you did it right or wrong. Over 90% of
the comments are about what you did wrong.
◦ It is a feedback rich environment
• One of the best indicators of self-control strength is the ability to delay gratification.
There are individual differences where some kids wait 10 minutes and take the 2
doughnuts and when followed up they have better peer relationships, do better in
school, do better on standardized tests. There is evidence that better self-control leads
to all kinds of positive things later on.
◦ Elite gymnasts are remarkable in their ability to delay gratification so that most of
them don't do the things normal teenagers would do.
Slide # 12
• Besides for maybe binge eating, in terms of delayed gratification you would have to
say that elite gymnasts have no problem with it.
• The rest of us do have trouble with under-regulation, we procrastinate and do other
things which elite gymnasts don't do.
* But there is another kind of self regulation failure.
Slide # 13
We can have this type of self-regulation failure too. But would this fit with elite gymnasts?
• Besides for under-regulation, Baumeister says that there is also Mis-regulation.
◦ You do everything that is necessary but it doesn't work. There is something
misguided or mistaken about what you do.
Slide # 14
Baumeiter distinguishes three types (but we will only focus on 2)
• They are not mutually exclusive so that most of the examples you can think of probably
relates to both of these types.
First type = Misunderstood contingencies.
• People lack in understanding of what is required or what they are capable of and this
leads to an unsuccessful goal pursuit
• Baumeister likes to show that self esteem is not such a great attribute, he thinks that
self control is far more important.
• In a number of experiements he seperates people into low and high self esteem. he
then sets up a situation where poeple do a task and they are told that they failed. May
even be told that they failed in a way that is insulting. (you couldn't do better than
◦ They are then given another oppurtunity to do a seperate self-regulation task where
they have to wager their money on how successfully they wi