When psychologists isolate the personal qualities that predict “positive outcomes” in life, they consistently find two traits: intelligence and self-control. So far researchers still haven’t learned how to permanently increase intelligence. But they have discovered, or at least rediscovered, how to improve self-control.
They’ve come to realize that most major problems, personal and social, center on failure of self-control: compulsive spending and borrowing, impulsive violence, underachievement in school, procrastination at work, alcohol and drug abuse, unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, chronic anxiety, explosive anger. Poor self-control correlates with just about every kind of individual trauma: losing friends, being fired, getting divorced, winding up in prison.
The researchers concluded that people spend about a quarter of their waking hours resisting desires—at least four hours per day. Put another way, if you tapped four people at any random moment of the day, one of them would be using willpower to resist a desire. And that doesn’t even include all the instances in which willpower is exercised, because people use it for other things, too, such as making decisions. The most commonly resisted desire in the beeper study was the urge to eat, followed by the urge to sleep, and then by the urge for leisure, like taking a break from work by doing a puzzle...
Ultimately, self-control lets you relax because it removes stress and enables you to conserve willpower for the important challenges.