Motivation Science

6(4), 309–320. (2020).

de Ridder, D., van der Weiden, A., Gillebaart, M., Benjamins, J., & Ybema, J. F.


Self-control is considered a crucial capacity that helps people to achieve important objectives in the face of temptation. However, it is unknown to what extent self-control is a stable disposition that is unaffected by how often people engage in self-control, or more like a skill that develops and grows over time. In the present study, we employed an electronic diary to examine how regular engagement in self-control practice affects self-control capacity. A diverse community sample was followed for 4 months while they engaged in daily practice of a self-chosen self-control behavior. Consistent with our hypothesis, regular practice led to an improvement of medium effect size in self-control capacity. Critically, the level of improvement was dependent on the actual times of practice during a specific interval, and largely independent from beliefs about self-control or self-efficacy. We conclude that “just doing” self-control is the underlying mechanism of increased capacity for self-control.