I lack self-control around donuts. Donuts are to me what kryptonite is to Superman. They render me weak, helpless, and virtually incapable of escaping their mesmerizing powers. Once I bite into the soft and fluffy baked goodness, all of my self-control goes out the window. On a Friday morning just a few weeks ago I used my expert leadership skills to organize a donut acquisition initiative (basically scrounging up money around the office and sending our gopher…errr…newest team member, to run to the local donut shop). After devouring half the box, I spent the rest of the afternoon in a donut coma, glazed and confused.
Recent research shows that our lack of self-control influences people’s perceptions of our trustworthiness. Researchers at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam conducted four different experiments to gauge the relationship between a person’s self-control and perceptions of his/her trustworthiness. In the first experiment, subjects read a story about a student with money problems who either resisted the urge to spend money for music CD’s or splurged on purchasing a whole stack. In rating the self-control and trustworthiness of the student, the subjects gave the cost-conscious student significantly higher scores on both self-control and trustworthiness than the free-spender.
In the second experiment, couples rated their partner on trustworthiness and specific behaviors related to self-control: goal achievement, reliability, and forgiveness. The most forgiving, reliable, and successful partners were rated the most trustworthy. The third and fourth experiments focused on the factors of temporary depletion of self-control and its influence on trustworthiness. Subjects were less likely to trust someone when he/she had just completed 15 minutes of a strenuous task than someone who had only spent 2 minutes on the task (measured through an economic game involving the subject).
I’m sure I’m not the only one that battles with a lack of self-control. Whether it’s eating too many donuts, losing our temper, running late for appointments, or failing to deliver on commitments, we all have our challenges. Here’s five steps to improve our trustworthiness through better self-control:
1. Don’t make promises you can’t keep — Being a dad has taught me the value of this lesson. If you’re a parent, how many times have you heard your child say “But Mom/Dad, you promised!” I only promise to do something that I know I’ll be able to do, otherwise I try to set clear expectations of what I’m committing to do so that I’ll be able to follow through. It’s a cliché but it’s true and effective—under-promise and over-deliver.
2. Admit your weaknesses — My team knows that I love donuts and they are a particular weakness of mine. So when I occasionally fall off the wagon and go on a donut binge, they are more forgiving and less judgmental of my actions than if I pretended to be a health food junkie and looked down on those who eat donuts. Admit your weaknesses and ask for others to help you follow-through on your good intentions.
3. Forgive yourself and others — People who forgive themselves and others are perceived as more trustworthy than those who don’t. Forgiveness reveals a vulnerable and authentic side of your self that draws people to you. Forgiveness communicates a message of understanding and empathy for someone, oftentimes because the one granting forgiveness has faced the same or similar challenges and has been granted forgiveness from others in the past.
4. Don’t react in the HEAT of the moment — It’s incredibly tempting and easy to lose self-control when you are Hungry, Emotional, Angry, or Tired. If you are experiencing any of those factors, it’s best to pause, assess the circumstances, and choose a course of action that will affirm your self-control and maintain your trustworthiness.
5. Take baby steps — In many ways self-control is like a muscle. The more you use it the stronger it becomes. Research has shown that taking small steps to enhance your self-control can help you resist the more tempting situations in your life. Just like trying to run a marathon without sufficient training is a recipe for failure, trying to tackle the big self-control problems you face without adequate preparation will only lead to additional failures that erode trust with yourself and the people around you.
Have you ever lost trust with someone who exhibited a lack of self-control? Feel free to leave a comment so we can learn from your experiences.