Abstract Thinking = Improved Self Control How thinking outside the box boost your willpower

Lisa Franchi May 13, 2020

 In most cases, we make decisions based on the ‘here’ and ‘now’. Also called concrete thinking, we interpret things we saw based on their literal meaning. Abstract thinking on the other hand, allows us to see different interpretations of a certain object. Abstract thinkers often go beyond the standard points of view and look at things differently, in a much deeper perspective. While it may be hard to do, abstract thinking benefits our mental health in plenty of ways. It makes us think more creatively and make better decisions. It can also help enhance our self control, a new study suggests.

The Study

Kentaro Fujita and Jessica Carnevale, researchers from the Ohio State University believe that the way people subjectively interpret events has an impact on their self control. A growing body of research in psychological science suggests that thinking abstractly allows people to psychologically distance themselves from the pushes and pulls of the immediate moment, which makes them in a much better position to make decisions that would benefit them in the future. Abstract thinking also makes people more sensitive to the broader implications of their behaviour and achieve consistence between their values and behaviour.

Upon analysing several studies about abstract thinking, the researchers came into the conclusion that high levels of construal thinking can help improve one’s self control. For instance, they cited a dieter choosing between an apple and a candy bar as an example. Concrete thinking would push the dieter to choose the candy bar because this person deems it tastier than the apple. But in high-level construal thinking, the dieter would think about the future effects of his choice. On this phase, the dieter shifts from choosing between the candy bar and apple to choosing between hedonism and weight loss. Consequently, he would choose the apple.

Abstract thinking for a stronger self control

Self control, characterised by the ability to resist desire in something which you told yourself before that you’re going to refrain from, or from things that don’t belong to your interest, is an important concept that has been a subject of research for a very long time. All of us have self control however the level by which we are able to apply it in a daily basis varies. There’s no denying that self control is one key to good health. When your self esteem is strong, you are less likely to get addicted to smoking, drinking alcohol, over eating, and engaging in other activities that may be detrimental to your health.

By incorporating abstract thinking, we help ourselves to see a clearer picture of the outcomes of our actions and not just the sudden glory or pleasure that comes with our current choices. The researchers pointed out that studies investigating the link between self control and abstract thinking would potentially address some of the most pressing societal issues such as obesity, debt and addiction.

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