78 Self-Control Examples

self-control examples and definition, explained below

Self-control involves an individual’s conscious, deliberate suppression of impulses, drives, or urges that, if acted upon, could lead to undesirable consequences (Eisenberg, Spinrad, & Mart, 2018).

In essence, self-control signifies the human capacity to override an inner desire, avoiding instant gratification for the sake of long-term goals (delayed gratification) or social norms. 

Self-control can range from resisting the temptation to devour a decadent dessert when on a diet, to managing anger upon provocation, or even to resisting an impulsive purchase when on a restrictive budget.

Psychologists tend to associate strong self-control with positive personal and life outcomes. For example, research by Moffitt et al., (2011), in a longitudinal study spanning several decades, showed that individuals with higher levels of self-control during childhood were less likely to develop health problems and had better financial stability in adulthood.

In other words, your ability to exercise self-control from an early age could dramatically shape your life outcomes.

However, while the virtues of self-control seem pretty straightforward, there’s another side to the coin. Excessive self-control can lead to what scientists call “ego depletion” — a state where you’ve exerted so much mental effort trying to control your behaviors that you reach breaking point, and go on a ‘binge’ (Hagger, Wood, Stiff, & Chatzisarantis, 2010).

Self-Control Examples

1. Exercising instead of sleeping in
Choosing to exercise rather than sleep in is an example of self-control because it involves consciously fighting the natural inclination to stay comfortable and restful in bed. The individual deliberately suppresses the immediate pleasure of lying in bed for the long-term health and wellness benefits that come from regular physical exercise. This action embodies the sacrifice and discipline often required to practice self-control. 

2. Resisting chocolate cake on a diet
When a person on a diet successfully resists the temptation of a delicious chocolate cake, they are practicing self-control. The immediate gratification of eating the cake, which is likely high in sugar and unhealthy fats, is rejected in favor of longer-term health goals. This self-regulation can contribute significantly to a person’s overall well-being and success in following the dietary regimen.

3. Saving money for the future
Choosing to save money instead of making unnecessary purchases demands a lot of self-control. The immediate satisfaction of buying something new is deferred in favor of future financial stability or potential investments. This act reflects an understanding of the value of delayed gratification and a prioritization of long-term goals over immediate wants.

4. Studying instead of watching television
Choosing to study when you could be watching television is another case of practicing self-control. By putting the need for academic progress and knowledge acquisition above the immediate joy of entertainment, the individual is exercising self-control. This choice, while sometimes difficult, can contribute to academic success and personal growth.

5. Walking away from a heated argument
Choosing to step away from a provoked disagreement demonstrates self-control, as it involves tempering emotions and avoiding the impulse to engage in verbal conflict. This action not only prevents the potential escalation of the argument, but it also exemplifies the individual’s ability to manage their emotions. Exercising self-control in such situations can lead to healthier interpersonal relationships.

6. Limiting screen time
Limiting one’s time spent on digital devices, despite the allure of continuous entertainment and social interaction, is another manifestation of self-control. The immediate pleasure of screen activities is controlled to reduce potential negative effects such as disturbed sleep patterns, eye strain, or decreased physical activity. This decision showcases the individual’s ability to prioritize overall wellbeing over immediate pleasure.

7. Not gossiping about others
Refraining from participating in gossip, despite the immediate satisfaction it may provide, is a clear example of self-control. By choosing not to spread rumors or share private information about others, the person exercises restraint and maintains respect for other people’s privacy. The practice of this kind of self-control can contribute to a more respectful and harmonious social environment.

8. Avoiding impulsive shopping
Resisting the urge to make unnecessary purchases, especially when faced with attractive offers, signifies self-control. Bypassing the immediate gratification that comes from buying new items, the individual prioritizes their financial stability and security. This act of restrained consumer behavior underscores the person’s ability to control impulses.

9. Delaying gratification
Delaying gratification, waiting for a greater reward in the future rather than experiencing an immediate one, epitomizes the practice of self-control. This could involve resisting an initial, lesser reward to reach a more significant goal down the line. It displays a strong sense of discipline and the ability to prioritize long-term benefits over short-term satisfaction.

10. Listening rather than interrupting
Choosing to listen attentively when you have the impulse to interrupt is another form of self-control. By not giving into the urge to immediately express your thoughts and instead respecting the other person’s speaking time, you’re practicing restraint. Demonstrating such control contributes to productive and respectful communication.

Additional Examples

  • Holding back from yelling when angry.
  • Not responding to online trolls.
  • Following a strict diet plan.
  • Finishing tasks before playing games.
  • Keeping calm in traffic.
  • Taking regular study breaks.
  • Managing time effectively.
  • Keeping promises.
  • Avoiding unhealthy foods.
  • Limiting social media usage.
  • Resisting urge to procrastinate.
  • Avoiding excessive caffeine.
  • Not overeating at a buffet.
  • Practicing patience in queue.
  • Not snapping at annoying people.
  • Refraining from swearing.
  • Maintaining regular sleep schedule.
  • Not binge-watching series.
  • Letting someone else speak first.
  • Ignoring distracting notifications.
  • Not taking the last cookie.
  • Ignoring the urge to gossip.
  • Taking deep breaths when stressed.
  • Avoiding junk food.
  • Saying no to peer pressure.
  • Forgiving someone who hurt you.
  • Not laughing at inappropriate times.
  • Going to bed early.
  • Not snacking late at night.
  • Declining unnecessary social engagements.
  • Setting boundaries at work.
  • Completing chores before relaxing.
  • Sticking to a budget.
  • Not honking in traffic.
  • Refusing extra dessert.
  • Accepting criticism without arguing.
  • Choosing water over soda.
  • Adhering to a reading schedule.
  • Limiting video game time.
  • Ignoring the elevator, taking stairs.
  • Controlling temper with children.
  • Resisting urge to complain.
  • Fasting intermittently.
  • Conserving water and electricity.
  • Staying faithful in a relationship.
  • Walking instead of driving.
  • Not cheating on a test.
  • Resisting office gossip.
  • Maintaining good posture.
  • Not engaging in heated political debates.
  • Waiting for your turn.
  • Resisting urge to lie.
  • Declining an unhealthy invitation.
  • Keeping secrets when entrusted.
  • Reading rather than watching TV.
  • Working on improving bad habits.
  • Reusing, reducing, and recycling.
  • Taking care of personal hygiene.
  • Meditating regularly.
  • Not blaming others for your mistakes.
  • Giving others the benefit of doubt.
  • Not judging people hastily.
  • Practicing gratitude daily.
  • Ignoring distractions while working.
  • Turning down a second helping.
  • Waking up at a consistent time.
  • Not checking phone during conversations.
  • Prioritizing tasks over entertainment.

The Marshmallow Experiment: A Famous Test of Self-Control

The Stanford marshmallow experiment was a series of psychological studies led by psychologist Walter Mischel at Stanford University in the late 1960s and early 1970s (Mischel, Shoda, & Rodriguez, 1989).

This influential study in psychological research on self-control aimed to scrutinize a critical facet of human psychology — the capacity for delayed gratification, a key aspect of self-control – among young children..

In the experiment, a marshmallow was placed before young children, who were approximately 4-5 years old. These children had been given a difficult choice — they could either consume the marshmallow immediately or wait approximately 15 minutes without eating it, for which they would be rewarded with a second marshmallow.

The challenge, in essence, measured the children’s ability to exercise self-control.

The temptation was physical and immediate (the visible marshmallow), but the reward required patience.

The study found that some children gave into the temptation immediately, while others managed to wait and receive the second marshmallow (Mischel et al., 1989). The researchers inferred this ability to wait as an indicator of self-control.

As the researchers followed up with the participants in their later years, they found that children who were able to wait longer in the marshmallow test generally grew up to be adults with better life outcomes as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, and even body mass index (Schlam, Wilson, Shoda, Mischel, & Ayduk, 2013).

However, more recent discussions around the Stanford marshmallow experiment have cautioned against oversimplifying self-control and repeatedly pointed out the potential influence of various external and contextual factors. For example, Kidd, Palmeri, and Aslin (2013) argue that the reliability of the environment, rather than inherent self-control, played a critical role in whether children decided to wait for the second marshmallow. In this perspective, self-control is not a fixed trait but is malleable, shaped by specific contexts and experiences. 

Accordingly, while the Stanford marshmallow experiment marked a vital starting point for considering self-control and delayed gratification, its reductionistic view has been increasingly scrutinized by subsequent research.


Eisenberg, N., Spinrad, T. L., & Mart, E. (2018). Prosocial development: A multidimensional approach. Oxford University Press.

Mischel, W., Shoda, Y., & Rodriguez, M. L. (1989). Delay of gratification in children. Science, 244(4907), 933-938. doi: https://doi.org/10.1126/science.2658056 

Moffitt, T. E., Arseneault, L., Belsky, D., Dickson, N., Hancox, R. J., Harrington, H., … & Hagger, M. S., Wood, C., Stiff, C., & Chatzisarantis, N. L. D. (2010). Ego depletion and the strength model of self-control: a meta-analysis. Psychological bulletin, 136(4), 495. doi: https://psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.1037/a0019486

Kidd, C., Palmeri, H., & Aslin, R. N. (2013). Rational snacking: Young children’s decision-making on the marshmallow task is moderated by beliefs about environmental reliability. Cognition, 126(1), 109-114. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2012.08.004 

Schlam, T. R., Wilson, N. L., Shoda, Y., Mischel, W., & Ayduk, O. (2013). Preschoolers’ delay of gratification predicts their body mass 30 years later. The Journal of pediatrics, 162(1), 90-93. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpeds.2012.06.049

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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

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