Let’s face it, exercising self-control isn’t easy. We all know the feeling of giving-in to a piece of chocolate cake after only a few days on a new diet, or impulse-buying an expensive product. Many of us set what marking researchers call “mental budget” – or self-specified allowances for behaviors aimed at curbing some types of behaviors – yet fail to stick to the straight and narrow over the long term. Why are resolutions so notoriously hard to keep?
While researchers have been looking at the question for quite some time, previous efforts have focused specifically on the factors that influence consumers’ decision of whether or not to indulge. Until now, little research has investigated the efficacy of those self-control strategies, and their impact on a consumer’s capacity to resist sweet temptation. Today, new research by Marketing Professor Sonja Prokopec has taken an in-depth look at this second question. She finds that our ability to stick to the straight and narrow has a serious Achilles heel: we get sidetracked too easily!
Change your mindset: Dont think about "why?" think about "how?"
“The central insight presented by our research is that to avoid being sidetracked from our self-control goals over time, consumers need to adopt a concrete mindset when implementing these goals,” she explains. “A change in mind-set can carry a consumer through over the long term, and hopefully help them make their New Year’s resolutions more than just a “to-do lists for week one of the new year”.
So what should you do to stick to goals? It’s not enough to just say that you’re going to stick to a mental budget you’ve set for yourself. In other words, once consumers have created a mental budget to control their consumption, they should focus on how to implement the mental budget instead of on why they need to exert self-control.
Some of the practical ways one could activate a concrete mindset includes the following: keeping a daily diary of consumption, establishing rules to abide by (e.g. having a cheat meal or a cheat day, skipping an after-dinner snack), etc.
“Our research bridges the work on mental budgeting and construal level theory. We find that a concrete mindset, as opposed to an abstract one, facilitates the effectiveness of mental budgets. Indeed, while concrete mindsets help consumers direct their thoughts on a long-term goal, abstract mindsets tend to encourage consumers to focus on alternatives to the undesirable behavior, which is far less effective over the long term.”
This research has strong implications for consumer welfare, in that consumers may be able to use the operations of these processes to their advantage. Setting a mental budget and then activating a concrete mindset may have a powerful influence on their self-control in the long run.