Self-Control: The Secret Ingredient of High Performance & Well Being


Samin Saadat
Executive Director

“I am at work, sitting down, and working on a report. While I am analyzing data, I get a Slack message from our marketing team: “Hey your article is up on LinkedIn, check it out”. I open up my slack to see the message when I notice that I also have a message from my co-worker — “Can you please remind me where you saved the problem-solving template? I need it before my meeting at 11:00”. I go ahead and upload the template for her. While the template is being uploaded, I go to LinkedIn to check out the article. I am super excited that my article is getting a lot of views and I get carried away on social media. I get a calendar notification that I have to run to a meeting in 10 mins. I stress out and drive “unconsciously” to my meeting. I get back to the office, feeling so tired, but not accomplished at all. Sure I will be more productive tomorrow…

Now it is time to go home. While I am cooking, I am face timing with my family members while I have a Ted Talk in the background. After eating a meal and not even remembering what I ate as I was distracted by the news on my phone, I grab my book. It is finally time to relax a bit. While I’m reading my book, I get a message, I pause, put the book down, pick up the phone, respond to the message, and then 20 mins later I realize that I forgot to send an important email to my colleague this morning. I end up going to bed feeling stressed and unfulfilled.

How is this story related to high Performance & well being?

At Jalapeno, we work with many different individuals at different levels of organizations to ensure they are reaching their full potential and maximizing team productivity. There is one common theme among all individuals: they perform poorly and become disengaged NOT due to lack of ability, but instead, because of:

  • Poor planning
  • Poor problem solving and decision-making skills
  • Poor time-management skills
  • Failure to stay focused
  • Competing or conflicting activities and goals
  • Lack of self-discipline
In short, individuals fail to achieve goals and perform poorly due to the lack of ability to monitor and adjust their behaviour to the demands of the environment. In other words, individuals fail to perform due to a lack of self- control.

Developing these critical skills is becoming more and more crucial in our fast-paced world, with many distractions and instant gratifications.

Let’s dig deeper with some fun exercises:

You have only 5 seconds to think about the following questions. Try to determine as quickly as you can if the following argument is valid:

  • All roses are flowers
  • Some flowers fade quickly
  • Therefore some roses fade quickly

Did you say “yes”, this statement could be valid?? That is the intuitive answer; however, if you pause and rethink about the statement, you will see that it is actually NOT valid.

Let’s try again.

In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake? 24 days or 47 days?

Did you think 24 days? The correct answer is actually 47 days. You will be surprised to know that you are not alone. More than 50% of students at Harvard, MIT and Princeton gave intuitive- incorrect answers. What about those that answered correctly? Well, we can make the assumption that the intuitive incorrect answer came to the mind of these individuals; HOWEVER, they somehow managed to resist the intuition. ( Thinking, Fast and Slow )

These are just a few examples of how we operate on intuition with limited self-control. It does not matter how smart you are, the majority of people go through their day to day experiences on autopilot and intuition mode with intuitive responses and very limited self-control.

What is self-control and why is it so critical?

Self-control is defined as the ability to change yourself by controlling and regulating feelings, thoughts and actions to achieve personally significant goals. This is a major vehicle for personal growth and therefore, for well-being. (Rothbaum, Weisz, & Synder, 1982)

Many studies, as well as our own Jalapeno cases, state that having all the resources, the right goals and the right motives are all very important, but NOT ENOUGH. The key to higher well-being and goal achievement is to develop the ability to regulate our behaviour over time, make adjustments, overcome challenges, control side-tracking temptations, and stay focused on a task. The key is self-control.

However, self-control is NOT easy, if it was, we would all be happy and fulfilled in our lives. Self-control is unpleasant and hard, particularly in today’s fast-paced environment we live in, with many instant-gratifications.

If you think back to the scenario I took you through earlier on, we live in a world full of different stimuli and we are often doing multiple things at once.

Michael Rich, as Associate Professor and Executive at Harvard Medical School, explains that “[our] brains are rewarded not for staying on task but for jumping to the next thing”.

This fits well with how most of us live our lives. The interesting thing though is that many brain studies show that our brain becomes surprisingly active during downtime. Periods of rest are critical in allowing the brain to synthesize information, make connections between ideas and even develop a sense of self.

As Dr. Rich says “downtime is to the brain what sleep is to the body”. The problem is that our brain is constantly stimulated and has ZERO downtime. How often do you allow your brain to rest?

The primary point is that developing self-control will be a characteristic of the “fittest to survive and thrive” in the future world and our brain needs downtime to develop such a critical skill.

However, there is a downside to be in self-control mode all the time. It is hard, exhausting and demanding. Ask any dieters and they will most likely confirm this! We have limited capacity for self-control.

But, what do we mean by this?

In our next article, we will be addressing this question along with a few psychological research findings and practical tips on how to guarantee your higher well being and fulfillment in the near future through self-control. Please click here to see the next article.

The human brain, behaviour and interactions with their environment never fail to intrigue Samin Saadat . After spending long hours in psychology labs at UBC and completing her Masters at the Sauder School of Business, she entered the workforce and observed a gap between what research suggests and what companies actually do to increase productivity and profitability. Now, Samin is on a mission to bridge this gap through Jalapeño Employee Engagement — leveraging technology and professional human services to bring research findings to life to help companies save invaluable dollars and to help individuals enhance their quality of life.