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Blackberry's avatar

Why do we (humans) lack so much self-control?

Asked by Blackberry (31878points) February 8th, 2011

We are all aware of the millions of things we could be doing to make ourselves more efficient. I know I could eat better, I know I could spend less money etc. But it’s so hard to do all of these things. Why do you think that is?

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16 Answers

mrentropy's avatar

Lack of discipline.

Blackberry's avatar

But why the lack of discipline?

mrentropy's avatar

Oh, geeze, I wasn’t prepared for that. I figured that would be enough. I’d say it’s because humans are, in general, a selfish group. We want what we want, and we want it as soon as possible.

Thus, if you’re dieting and you decide you really want that banana split then you’re going to get it and to heck with the diet. Discipline, if you have it, would kick in at that point and say, no, you have a longer reach goal you need to accomplish.

So, in short, we’re short term people. I’ll blame it on our primitive beginnings because I’m sure back then it was important to grab what you wanted right away before a dinosaur came along and ate it.

lemming's avatar

But @mrentropy is right about lack of discipline, you have to train yourself to do the right thing, to pick the right answer. The more you do it, the easier it is. But I don’t know what the reason is for why we smoke or eat really unhealthy foods, when we know it’s bad for us and it would be just as easy to not smoke, or eat healthily etc. Maybe some of us are a bit self distructive.

josie's avatar

“Moral” standards have been imposed by the Abrahamic faiths for, well, since Abraham. The problem with them is that they do not recognize human nature.
The fact is, it is NORMAL to be the way you described.
There is something inherently corrupt about a moral code that does not take into account the nature of the creature who lives by the code.
But because these codes are so pervasive, they put people in conflict with themselves nearly every moment of their lives.
Pretty sorry state of affairs IMHO.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@josie : I’m really intrigued by your answer citing the Abrahamic codes. Could you expound on how they don’t recognize human nature? I’m inclined to agree with you, by the way.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

We’re first an animal. That is the way it is…....

josie's avatar

I will start with the following disclosure. I practice no faith at all, but I went to the Presbyterian Church as a little kid, because my mom made me go.
I know little about the Jewish faith other than what I know from my friends who practice it.
I know little about Islam other than what I have seen in the Middle East (from my perspective, it isn’t pretty).
But all these faiths seem to have something in common.
And that is the subordination of man’s desires and ambitions to the will of God.
It appears that God expects us to suppress our selfish interests.
Whether it is written explicitly, or implied, it seems obvious to me that God does not fully approve of the things that we all clearly like.
These include physical pleasure, frivolity, and the desire to be left to live our own lives without some disapproving authoritarian looking over our shoulder.
The whole story of humanity is about the quest for these things.
Even the Communists, the darlings of the 20th Century Left, wanted these things-for the party members.
Everybody else had to eat shit.
The truth is, human beings want to stylize their lives.
It is not enough to have food-the food has to have a certain appearance and flavor, which is variable by the individual.
It is not enough to have shelter-the shelter has to be a “home” of a design and character that suits the inhabitant.
It is not enough to be clothed and covered against the elements-the clothing must have a style that pleases the wearer.
It is not enough to merely have sex-the partners must appeal in some fashion to one another that only they may understand.
Etc. etc. etc.
But the ancient moral codes seem to demand that we all wear a hair shirt. That we must all behave in a way that would please a jealous and capricious God.
Even if we are not, by our nature, that way.
Can you imagine telling a child that being curious and playful is sinful? And yet, that is what has happened to [some] people.
Like I said, a sorry state of affairs. IMHO

Pandora's avatar

Because life would be extremely boring if we did everything the right way all the time. You can eat fruit and veggies all the time but you’ll miss out on trying different dishes. You limit yourself.
You can save all the money you like, but when you die, what good is it sitting in the back for just your next of kin.
You can make sure to always go to work when you are well, but some days you just need some me time to play and enjoy life to release some stress.
You can decide to go completely green and never use toilet paper, but I don’t see how wasting water to clean you but and then clean your hands is any better.
You can vow to always turn the other cheek, but eventually the slaps cheeks will become bruises and the word doormat will be your middle name.
My point is life isn’t always black and white so all we can do is do the best we can and try to enjoy the days we have.

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Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@josie : I think you’re on to something there, but I’m too tired right now to think about it.

All right, I’ll try.

I agree with you that self-control is a standard imposed on us from outside. Now, it has to be stated that those standards often are good things. Take speed limits in school zones for instance. Having a restricted speed in a school zone keeps the children safe.

Age restrictions on many things are probably for the best, too. Like the age restriction on buying liquor, or there’s the age restriction on buying cigarettes. These things should have limits on them.

But there are many things that you mentioned we are taught are bad for us when in fact they aren’t. We’re taught by the Christian church that sex is only acceptable inside their definition of marriage. Some churches even go so far as to make any sexual activity a guilty pleasure, and we’re taught to abhor it for anything other than creating babies.

But your list is better than mine, and I’m pooped, so that’s all from me for now.

ucme's avatar

Speak for yourself Bozo! ;¬}

augustlan's avatar

For me, personally, I think it’s a two fold situation.

One: I’m lazy. It’s usually easier to do what you want to than what you should do. At the very least, it’s more enjoyable.

Two: I want to enjoy my life! We’re only here for a limited time. No matter how well we take care of ourselves, we’re going to die. I’d rather have 60 good years – eating the foods I love, smoking, drinking, living; than 70 self-deprived ones.

That’s not to say I think I’m right, or that I should do these things in excess. It’s just what’s happening inside my head.

thorninmud's avatar

There has been some interesting work on self-control at Stanford, looking at individual variations and contributing factors. They ran the well-known “marshmallow” experiment, where 4-year-olds were given the following choice: A marshmallow and a bell were put in front of them and they were told that they could eat the marshmallow right away, but the researcher said that he was going to leave the room for a few minutes, and if the kid would wait until he returned the kid could have two marshmallows. Also, while the researcher was out of the room, the kid could ring the bell and the researcher would run right back in and give the kid the one marshmallow, but not two.

So the kid knows that if he waits long enough, he’ll double his take. But only about 30% of the kids could hold out for the full 15 minutes. As researchers followed these kids into adulthood, there was a strong correlation between how much self-control they exhibited in the marshmallow test and subsequent academic success. Those who could wait averaged 210 points higher on the SAT and had few behavior problems and more stable relationships.

As researchers looked for reasons for the individual variation, they found that the level of desire for the marshmallow was the same for “waiters” and “non-waiters”. The main factor seemed to be attention control. Those most likely to wait were those who could employ various strategies to put the object of desire out of mind. The “non-waiters” just fixed their attention on the object and couldn’t break out of its spell.

The age group for these studies was at a transitional development stage of the brain. It’s at about this time that the top portion of the anterior cingulate becomes more active. The anterior cingulate integrates signals from several brain regions, rational and emotional, and is instrumental in formulating behavioral strategies. But the top of the AC listens particularly to the prefrontal cortex, which tips behavior to favor the logical over the emotional.

To what extent this shift happens seems to depend on several inherited and environmental factors. Kids raised in cultures that emphasize self-control have a much easier time with this. The American culture sends very mixed messages concerning self-control. We have our Puritanical streak that values restraint, true, but nowadays that message is overshadowed by constant appeals for instant gratification and self-indulgence. Kids watch a lot of TV, and they get a steady media diet of “you need this and you need it now”.

mattbrowne's avatar

Because our unconsciousness is mainly in charge of our brain.

SABOTEUR's avatar

We’re surrounded by so many anti self control influences that it’s become easy for us to justify not being responsible.

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