Is a high level of self-control always an advantage? We tend to admire those who have it and criticise those who lack it. In fact, this really useful ability can have a bad effect on both mental health and success. We tell you when excessive self-discipline can harm you.


Most often, people who are prone to violence sign up for training and programmes to develop self-control. However, research shows that such classes rarely produce the desired results.

David Chester, an American social psychologist, has studied the available scientific evidence and concluded that attempts to develop self-control do not lead to a reduction in aggression – on the contrary, aggression can be a side effect of developed self-control.

Self-control engages the prefrontal cortex of our brain. This area is responsible for higher thinking functions – decision-making, planning and finding a way out of non-standard situations.

People prone to vindictiveness, often long and carefully plan their retribution to “offenders” – this requires well-developed self-control

Individuals who are prone to violence most often have psychopathic or sociopathic tendencies. Nevertheless, they usually successfully develop self-control skills during adolescence and are able to control themselves. The implication is that they use violence consciously, not spontaneously.

So the theory that violence and aggression occur because of a lack of self-control is at least inaccurate. Self-control is only a tool to control one’s impulses and urges. For the vengeful and calculating person, this tool can be a way to inflict maximum harm on others.


Self-control can be thought of as a series of decisions we make, or choices we make. For example, we keep giving up some immediate pleasures for more important long-term goals. Each time we spend our mental energy doing this.

It is because of the constant expenditure of mental energy that so-called decision fatigue accumulates – in this state we can do rash things and thereby cause significant harm to ourselves.

Social psychologist Roy Baumeister conducted an experiment. Two groups of subjects were offered delicious chocolate, could see it and smell its aroma. One group was allowed to eat the chocolate, while the others had to exercise self-control by restraining themselves. In the second phase of the experiment, both groups of subjects had to solve a complex logic problem.

It turned out that the subjects who were not allowed to eat the chocolate put in less effort and gave up more quickly

The scientist concluded that they had depleted their “reserves” of self-control and willpower in the first phase of the experiment, so it was difficult for them to force themselves to concentrate on a task that required mental effort.

In another US-Israeli study, psychologists found that judges, on average, impose more lenient sentences on defendants at the beginning of the day – more likely to grant probation or parole. Researchers believe the reason is also due to a greater reserve of mental energy at the beginning of the day, allowing for more thoughtful and considered decisions.

It turns out that constant rigid self-discipline can sooner or later lead to psychological exhaustion, preventing us from making reasonable and thoughtful decisions.


Self-control is a valuable tool that allows us to achieve goals that are important to us, but sometimes it can be unnecessary. Don’t try to suppress all spontaneous urges: by finding a balance for yourself, you can reap all the benefits of effective self-discipline, avoiding mistakes that could harm you.