Why Too Much Self-Control Breeds Aggression

We know that we have a limited supply of willpower, but what happens when you exert too much willpower? According to The Journal of Consumer Behavior, it leads to aggression.

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Studies were conducted on people who did and did not restrain themselves to see how they would react to things categorized as angry and not angry. The majority of people who restricted themselves in some way preferred the anger:

The researchers studied different types of self-control and the subjects’ subsequent behaviour. For instance, participants who carefully controlled their spending of a gift certificate were more interested in looking at angry faces than fearful ones. Dieters preferred public service ads that were framed in threats, such as “if funds are not increased for police training, more criminals will escape prison. Subjects who picked an apple over chocolate were more irritated by ads that used words like “you ought to” or “need to,” which sound controlling. They were also more likely to choose to watch a movie with a theme of hostility over other options.

Next time you’re dieting, spending less, quitting a bad habit or controlling your behaviour in some other way, make sure to pay attention to your levels of frustration. We often try to rush changes in our behaviour and it can be very frustrating. To avoid becoming a really angry person, try limiting your self-control to smaller things and add new ones as you adjust. If you overdo it, you might just end up severely frustrated without really realising it. Associating that frustration with a change you’re trying to make is ultimately going to make you think that change is making you unhappy. In reality, there’s a good chance you’re simply trying to change too fast and that’s what is making you unhappy. If you need to make a change in your life, make it slowly or you might end up doing more harm than good.

Self-Constraint Leads Us to Prefer Aggression [Scientific American]

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