A fundamental aspect arguably undermining any coherent notion of personal success includes incorporating effective self-control. By implementing self-control, one may develop the capacity to counteract impulsive tendencies, such as spending time on electronic devices, by focusing on habits with long-term benefits, for instance, study. 

Research presented in academic literature has suggested that the use of cognitive and situational deployed strategies can effectively enhance self-control – this essay will be looking at two methods, one cognitive and the other situational. Using proximal subgoals for goal setting is one critical self-deployed cognitive strategy involving the ability to take active short-term steps to achieve long-term desired personal outcomes. Another promising strategy includes the situational-other-deployed intervention of defaults (default intervention), which could potentially turn procrastination into productivity through habitual ‘default’ routines. Through the practice of proximal goal setting and the default intervention, it is proposed that one may be able to better control the avenue of their life. 

Setting specific and challenging goals is a vital strategy for enhancing adequate self-control as it enables one to work towards a desired outcome. Goals allow visual representations to be formed, directing energy and attention towards certain behaviours to optimise individual results (Heath et al., 1999). Three studies have shown that using proximal subgoals may foster a sense of progress and thus boost self-efficacy (Amabile & Kramer, 2011; Nunes & Drèze, 2006; Stock & Cervone, 1990), suggesting that objectives attainable in shorter time frames may be relative to achieving long-term goals (also called ‘distal goals’). The implications of this literature suggest that for individuals, setting shorter-term, more ‘attainable’, goals can aid the achievement of long-term distal goals which may not seem achievable in the moment. Ultimately, the use of proximal goals can promote a feeling of accomplishment in the short term, and thus provide individuals with the determination to pursue and work towards long-term desired outcomes. 

On the other hand, defaults are a situational deployed strategy for effective self-control which pose a promising approach for ensuring individuals are meeting personal achievements. Defaults are decisions made without an active choice, often viewed as the status quo (Samuelson & Zeckhauser, 1988). Essentially, defaults are the pre-selected choice for an outcome that requires an active course of action to break. Various academic literature has reported settings in which this intervention has been effective, notably for increasing organ donation rates, as outlined in three studies (E. J. Johnson & Goldstein, 2003; Gimbel et al., 2003; Abadie & Gay, 2006), suggesting extensive evidence bases for this practice. For individuals, the findings in this literature show that using the default intervention in everyday life may assist one in setting goals and achieving them. For instance, setting an alarm for 7am every morning where the alarm is situated at a walking distance to turn off. Through this practice, one would have to actively walk to the alarm to press the snooze button, in which case they would likely wake up anyway. This is just one way in which the use of defaults in everyday life could counteract forms of procrastination into productivity. 

Overall, the use of proximal goal setting and the default intervention pose as convincing strategies to implement for effective self-control. The use of proximal sub goals to achieve long-term distal goals presents the opportunity for individuals to attain tangible, desired outcomes in shorter time frames, whereas the default intervention may position one to make choices that will enhance their productivity. Ultimately, it is encouraged for individuals to try implementing both strategies into their everyday lives for the optimisation of self-control. 


By Jacinta Speranza



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Amabile, T., & Kramer, S. (2011). The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review.

Gimbel, R. W., Strosberg, M. A., Lehrman, S. E., Gefenas, E., Taft, F. (2003). Presumed consent and other predictors of cadaveric organ donation in Europe. Progress in Transplantation, 13(1), 1723. doi: 10.1177/152692480301300104. PMID: 12688644.

Heath, C., Larrick, R. P., & Wu, G. (1999). Goals as Reference Points. Cognitive Psychology, 38(1), 79–109.

Johnson, E. J., & Goldstein, D. (2003). Do Defaults Save Lives? Science, 302(5649), 1338–1339.

Nunes, J. C., & Drèze, X. (2006). The endowed progress effect: How artificial advancement increases effort. Journal of Consumer Research, 32(4), 504–512.

Samuelson, W., Zeckhauser, R. (1988). Status quo bias in decision making. Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, 1(1), 7–59.

Stock, J., & Cervone, D. (1990). Proximal goal-setting and self-regulatory processes. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 14(5), 483–498.