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The top predictor of success in life: Self control predicts success even better than IQ.

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Increase self control to increase success.

Self control predicts success even better than IQ.

From Charles Duhigg’s excellent book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business:

Dozens of studies show that willpower is the single most important keystone habit for individual success… Students who exerted high levels of willpower were more likely to earn higher grades in their classes and gain admission into more selective schools. They had fewer absences and spent less time watching television and more hours on homework. “Highly self-disciplined adolescents outperformed their more impulsive peers on every academic-performance variable,” the researchers wrote. “Self-discipline predicted academic performance more robustly than did IQ. Self-discipline also predicted which students would improve their grades over the course of the school year, whereas IQ did not.… Self-discipline has a bigger effect on academic performance than does intellectual talent.”

Conscientiousness is the fundmental personality trait most closely tied to self control and it tracks with nearly every type of success across your lifespan.

It’s pretty crazy really:

Money and job satisfaction? – Check.

“Measured concurrently, emotionally stable and conscientious participants reported higher incomes and job satisfaction.

Finding a job? – Check.

“…the personality traits Conscientiousness and Neuroticism have a strong impact on the instantaneous probability of finding a job, where the former has a positive effect and the latter has a negative effect.”

Long marriage? – Check.

“…our findings suggest that conscientiousness is the trait most broadly associated with marital satisfaction in this sample of long-wed couples.”

Healthier life? – Check.

“Among adults over age 45 (n = 2,419), Neuroticism and low Agreeableness were associated with metabolic syndrome, whereas high Conscientiousness was protective. Individuals who scored in the top 10% on Conscientiousness were approximately 40% less likely to have metabolic syndrome…

Long life? – Check.

“Conscientiousness, which was the best predictor of longevity when measured in childhood, also turned out to be the best personality predictor of long life when measured in adulthood.

And let’s not forget good grades and staying out of jail.


Want to persuade someone? Offer them something tempting they’ll say no to. Resisting urges uses up willpower, leaving less for them to fight persuasion with.

1) Use willpower to build willpower.

Just a little bit of practice every day can increase self-control and improving self-control in one area of life tends to improve all areas of life.

2) Automate your behavior.

When something is a habit and you don’t have to make decisions or even think about it, it doesn’t use much willpower.

The more you can make something habitual, the less self-control you burn.

And you can further improve your self-control by planning.

Decide ahead of time how you will respond when willpower is taxed and you’ll be much more likely to default to that. Without a clear plan in your head you’re more likely to succumb.

I believe it.

It makes sense. Self control is easy to say but hard to do. Practice helps. 

One scary thing--self-control is bad for your health if you are in an impoverished environment:

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