Self-Control: The Key To Success In Life

Self-Control: The Key To Success In Life

Friday, 07 September 2018


Contributed by NIE Global Education Innovation Initiative

What will help our children grow to become successful citizens with good values and character? Does it require a new way of teaching or a transformation of our education system? An ongoing University of Otago study that spans four decades points to the answer of self-control.


Prof Richie Poulton, Director of the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Research Unit at the University of Otago of New Zealand, believes the answer to a successful life is already in all of us: self-control. Selfcontrol, as the phrase implies, allows an individual to be in better control of oneself rather than to be controlled by external circumstances. And the good news is that everyone can harness and cultivate this behaviour.

Prof Poulton and his colleagues at the Dunedin Research Unit have been conducting their holistic longitudinal research project since 1972. With more than a thousand participants to date, the study seeks to uncover what are the possible predictors of success in life. Participants, who were children when the research first started, provided strong evidence that self-control has led to success in adulthood in areas such as education, physical and emotional health, happiness, wealth, job satisfaction, family happiness, reduced obesity, reduced crime, reduced social welfare dependency, and other areas. Those with more self-control have achieved greater success in life than those with less self-control.

Self-control may be known by many other names like self-regulation, and there is a clear distinction between self control and submission, as explained by Prof Poulton. To him, self-control is not about becoming more compliant. It is actually the reverse. Each of us is special, different and unique. We can maximize our potential if we do not let our passion and emotions control us but to be in control of them to direct our capacities toward a particular set of goals. Prof Poulton feels that self-control should receive more attention, especially in education. Although it is good to cultivate self-control early in children, adults can learn to develop self-control later in life—just that it might take longer to cultivate the behaviour.

Prof Poulton shared his study on self control in two lectures at NIE under the CJ Koh Professorship in Education programme. 

This article was first published in the September 2018 issue of NIE’s quarterly newsletter,  NIEWS. Click here to read more.