We’ve all been through it – making a reckless decision in a spur of a moment, and then regretting it terribly at a later time. While it’s human to err, making the wrong decisions at the workplace can have serious repercussions for your team, business or career. Intriguingly, the secret to making successful choices is quite simple, and was discovered during a social experiment with toddlers several decades ago.
According to world renowned psychologist Walter Mischel, mastering self-control is the key to being exceptional at the workplace. He conducted a candy experiment which revealed a lot about the human mind. Pre-schoolers were kept alone for a few minutes with a tempting marshmallow within their reach, but were promised a better candy reward later if they didn’t eat the candy. The pre-schoolers who successfully waited for the determined time period and didn’t give in to the temptation of gobbling the marshmallow, in the hope of receiving two as a reward instead, were later observed to be more successful adults. Mischel’s Marshmallow Test and decades of subsequent research have established that an individual’s self-control ability shapes personal and professional success. Knowing how to direct your thinking is more important than ever imagined.
According to Mischel, this is because the ability to delay instant gratification demonstrates that the individual is likely to work harder and persevere through challenging situations to achieve goals, rather than giving up quickly. If you want to improve your willpower, here are five tips.
How to master self-control to achieve professional success:
Let your mind’s « cool system » take over: As Mischel explains, every individual’s mind reacts in two ways. When faced with a particular situation or choice, we either think of an immediate benefit we can gain – which is the hot, impulsive side of the mind, or use the mind’s ‘cool’ system to pan out the long-term consequences. To achieve professional success, learn how to use your mind’s cool system more, overriding impulses or short-term greed to think of a long-term achievement. This will heighten your perseverance when dealing with challenging tasks at work, helping you stick through the work you’re assigned.
Believe in yourself: Yes, even award-winning American psychologist Walter Mischel suggests this. It’s important to believe you can achieve a particular target or goal, because you then mentally steel yourself against any distractions and temptations. Mischel explains how a person’s performance and behaviour is greatly influenced by his own perception; he views an event as joyful or stressful according to his own perception, and behaves accordingly. Therefore, if you strongly believe you can achieve what you set out to do – then you will end up achieving it.
Don’t be a passive victim: This is a very important point. Most people find it easier to play victim – they think they’re underperformers because they weren’t genetically ‘blessed’ with intelligence or can’t progress in their careers because of a ratty boss. If you shift the blame to the external world, you’ll end up being a victim always. To change your life and achieve more success, stop letting circumstances shape your life. Use your own capability to make well-measured choices and decisions in your life – allow the triumph of mind over matter.
Embrace optimism: Research by Shelley Taylor at the University of California, Los Angeles, has shown that optimists cope more effectively with stress. Additionally, they are also better protected better against the ill effects of stress. Evidently, lower stress and greater control of your mind will allow you to sail through a task without struggling under pressure. Also, being confident about positive outcomes of your performance will boost your self-confidence. All of this will contribute to strengthening your mind’s « cool » thinking faculty.
Exit the vicious cycle, enter the virtuous one: If you feel you’ve made reckless decisions in life, which led to failure, it has probably had a large impact on your self-esteem. This means that you don’t believe you can fare better, and don’t even try. If you’re stuck in such a vicious cycle, gather the courage to break away from the self-fulfilling negativity. Make the effort to exercise prudent thinking when making decisions and choices at work. Earnestly believe in yourself and your ability, and don’t give up till you achieve your goal. This will reinforce your self-control and will increase your belief that you can succeed. Exit the vicious cycle that’s pulling you down and build a new virtuous cycle for yourself.
Key takeaways: The ability to exercise self-control is key to professional success. Learn and believe in yourself, think with a « cool » mind and break away from the vicious cycle of negativity and failure.