If you want to achieve any goal in life such as health, diet, financial goals or any other goal, you need a high level of self-control. What is the key to self-control? It would make our lives easier if we had one answer to this question.
According to new research, believe it or not, guilt plays a great role in whether we will resist temptation or whether we are more likely to give in next time when we lose self-control. When guilt kicks in? When we confess to someone that we failed to achieve the desired goal.
We all fail here and there when we decide to eat healthy or spend less. What happens after we lose control of our behavior to achieve a desirable goal.
Kelly Haws, a professor at the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University said about his research:
“What we wanted to look at was the consequences of confessing everyday lapses of self-control – the kind of instances where the only person you fail is yourself.”
The group of researchers discussed whether the feeling of guilt over losing control can make a difference and how it works differently and when. The researchers found that confession affects our behavior. Sometimes confession can strengthen our will and we will not collapse next time. While other times, confession can weaken our will to stay on a track.
In a series of five different experiments, the researchers tried to examine a response after confessing the failure or response if we keep it to ourselves. Four experiments were related to food and the experiment was about money. Participants were university students and adults using MTurk platform. Researchers asked all participants to examine an episode of self-control failure. Did they consider disclosing their failure? What was their subsequent behavior? Based on the participants’ responses, researchers created a better understanding of how self-control and guilt affects subsequent behavior.
The researchers found that the interaction of confession and guilt help them explain the subsequent behavior of participants. The crucial factor seems to be the level of guilt. Is the feeling of guilt overwhelming? Or is it only temporary and only an uncomfortable feeling of guilt?
If a person experiences a high level of guilt, the act of confessing the failure predicted that they will have more self-control next time they feel like they might collapse and lose their self-control. From the other side, if a person experiences a lower level of guilt that could only lead to even poorer self-control suggesting that it is even more likely that we fail next time as well.
Two additional factors play a major role here: self-discrepancy (if the behavior is far away from their usual behavior) and public accountability. Did you promise to someone that you will achieve a goal? Will you be held accountable for not achieving a goal?
Kelly Haws said:
“If you just wrote your confession on a piece of paper and tore it up, it wouldn’t work. You need to know that someone else might see it.”
Also, when the feeling of guilt is high enough that it has a direct impact on reducing self-discrepancy. It can only bring us closer to where we want to be and who we want to be as a person. And that can empower and make us behave better next time.
Researchers believe that their results could help different organizations like weight-support groups or addiction recovery facilities. This can help us understand when and how confessing a misstep can help us change our behavior and when it can undermine our efforts.