In this article I am going to tell you 3 things that successful people do. Before I learnt these principles, my life was a mess. I was continually making bad decisions. And I felt that I was never going to achieve any of the life goals I desired to achieve.
Let me briefly explain my life situation before I learnt these ‘3 principles’.
At age 23, I was very impulsive and my life was in disarray. As I outlined in my article You Dont Have to be Perfect to Live a Satisfied Life
- I struggled to get anywhere on time,
- My house was a complete mess,
- When I drank alcohol I drank to excess,
- I always spoke what was on my mind no matter how embarrassing that might be,
- I would rage when I got angry,
- I had endless lists of jobs to do that I never seemed to be able to complete,
- I always seemed to forget to do things that were important (e.g. remembering my family members’ birthdays).
As a result of my impulsive behaviour, my life outcomes were always bad. My impulsive decisions typically yielded negative consequences. They undermined my ability to maintain good relationships and achieve my life goals.
My life was about to change forever
All this changed at age 28. I began to read the research of a psychologist called Raymond Cattell.
Cattell created the famous 16PF personality questionnaire. This questionnaire dominated the world of personality research for decades. Most behaviours, Cattell argued, could be predicted by obtaining an individual's 16PF scores.
The 16PF measured 16 personality traits. But it was after reading about one of these traits in particular that my life was to change forever. Trait C, the third trait listed on the 16PF, was called ‘Ego-Strength’.
Your 'Ego-Strength' score predicts your emotional stability
Cattell’s research showed that people who obtained a low score on ‘Ego-Strength’ were:
- Unable to tolerate frustration,
- Emotionally impulsive,
- Avoided making decisions,
- Prone to tiredness even after having done very little work,
- Easily annoyed,
- Dissatisfied with life
- Prone to experiencing sleep disturbances,
- Easily upset,
- Highly reactive in response to life stresses,
- Prone to struggle whilst dealing with disappointment
- Generally unable to cope with life.
Raymond’s daughter Heather comments,
Click here to buy from Amazon: Essentials of 16PF Assessment (Essentials of Psychological Assessment)
'…Low scorers say they would plan their life differently if they had it to live over again, that they feel as though they can’t cope when small things keep going wrong and that they have more ups and downs in mood than most people do.’
‘Extremely low scorers may seem immature, easily upset by events, or dissatisfied with people or circumstance, especially with the restrictions of life. They may feel unable to cope with the challenges of life, such as “external forces and demands as well as a variety of internal events, including competing agendas and feelings that are difficult to admit”'
People with strong 'Ego-Strength' have good life outcomes
On the other hand, people who scored high on Ego-Strength were:
- Typically very stable and persistent in their pursuits,
- Emotionally calm,
- Realistic about problems,
- Happy to face realities
- Not prone to getting tired easily,
- Good at solving problems,
- Able to cope well with stress,
- Able to tolerate frustration well,
- Seemingly mature in manner,
- Able to recover from upsets quickly
- Able to handle life’s demands well.
Heather Cattell coments,
‘These individuals tend to cope with day-to-day challenges and disappointments in a more modulated way because of their ability to put their feelings aside and look calmly and realistically at problems.
Would you like to know your Ego-Control score?: CLICK HERE
'They usually tolerate frustration well and can delay gratification when necessary. Therefore they tend to use their energy productively and persevere toward their goals rather than procrastinating, quitting, or acting impulsively when faced with obstacles.’
Even in emotional situations, they try to take into account different viewpoints, interests, and practical issues in solving problems. Thus they tend to be seen as handling difficult circumstances in a mature, resourceful way rather than as being distracted or overwhelmed by them.
to find out.
Could I change my life and start acting like the 'Ego-Strong' person?
It was as though I had been hit by a bolt of lightening. The descriptions and research surrounding individuals who scored low on 'Ego-Strength', read like descriptions of my life. My personal biography was being repeated in the lives of others who appeared to be lacking in their ability to be self-controlled.
It struck me that those of us who struggled to control our behaviour were all failing in life. We were all feeling overwhelmed with our current circumstances. And we were reacting with great volatility in response to every stress and strain life sent our way. We were spending our days in a state of perpetual tiredness. And we were being continually disappointed with our life outcomes.
The big question was this: Was there anything I could do to resolve this situation. Could I turn my life around for the better. I was desperate to find out the secret to changing my life.
I wanted to move out of the ‘loser and fed up with my daily life outcomes’ camp. And I wanted to move into the ‘I have a good handle on my affairs and my decisions have led me to doing pretty well in life’ camp.
What causes 'Ego-Strong' people to have better life outcomes?
Raymond Cattell, also wanted to investigate the differences between the way high and low scorers behaved. He hoped to use this information to help low 'Ego-Strength' scorers learn to behave more like high scorers. He hoped that this would improve their life outcomes.
Cattell had noticed that high scorers appeared to be particularly good at controlling their impulses. With this in mind, he decided to interview high scorers. He specifically wanted to find out how they behaved when faced with a situation in which they feel the urge to act impulsively.
Here is what he found. In response to an impulsive urge, it appears that high Ego-Strength scorers engage in a number of mental processes. Let’s have a look at these processes one by one.
When experiencing the urge to act impulsively, the Ego-Strong person:
- Pause. She stops what she is doing for a moment in order to think. There has since been lots of research concerning the brain mechanisms involved in this process. It appears that some people are more able to distance themselves, emotionally, from the feelings associated with the urge to act impulsively.
Cattell believed that there was a strong genetic component involved in this process. (i.e. Some people are predisposed to be better at doing this). In any event, this capacity to be able to stop what you are doing and think for a moment appears to be the crucial first step in the process of managing impulsive responses.
- Considers the Consequeces. Next, the Ego-Strong person considers the possible negative consequences that might result from the action she is considering. I believe this step to be of crucial importance when attempting to control our impulses.
Cattell gives the hypothetical example of how an Ego-Strong person might manage an impulsive urge. He uses the example of going out for some drinks after work. Imagine the following example:
In order for this example to be relevant, we need to assume that you experience a strong desire to have the third drink.
- You have had two drinks.
- One of your work colleagues offers to buy you a third drink.
Let us imagine that the Ego-Strong individual has a family at home. Her children will be going to bed soon.
If she declines the offer for the third drink, she will get home in time to say good night to her children before they go to bed. She will also have more time to spend with her husband if she goes home now.
- In this situation, the Ego-Strong individual pauses before saying ‘yes’ to the third drink (Stage 1 - She Pauses).
- Then, she considers all the possible negative consequences associated with having another drink. (Stage 2 - She Considers the Consequences)
The Ego-Strong person will consider all of these possible consequences. In contrast, for some reason, the Ego-Weak individual struggles to think about the positive consequences that will result declining the third drink. It seems that the need to respond to her urge for more alcohol, is so strong that it smothers any thoughts about the benefits that will result from declining the 3rd drink.
- At this point she then vividly remembers how she feels when she has to wake up at 5.45 for work the next day after having had too many drinks the night before.
- But she also remembers how good she feels when she wakes up having gone to bed early and not drunk alcohol the night before.
- Chooses the Best Outcome. The Ego-Strong individual now weighs up the pros and cons of resisting or giving in to her impulsive urge. Let us return to the case of the wife who is considering having the third drink. She could,
This would mean that she could go home and be with her husband and children.
The Ego-Strong person considers which course of action will make her happiest at the end of the night? She then follows the course of action which offers the most reward.
This is not just the course that will make her happiest while she is drinking the next drink (or three). Rather, she chooses the action that will make her happiest overall. In order to do this she needs to consider how she will feel both now and later. Particularly tomorrow morning when she wakes up for work!3
- Enjoy the next drink, or alternatively,
- She could call it a night and politely excusing herself.
I joined the ‘having good life outcomes’ team
I decided to try and copy the behaviours of the Ego-Strong individual. Clearly, the reasons why impulsive people act as they do are complex. There can be no simple ‘Follow this six week course to become Ego-Strong’
However, I decided to try and copy the behaviours of the Ego-Strong person. Henceforth, every time I felt like I was about to make an impulsive decision, I determined to:
- ‘Pause’ just like the Ego-Strong person. Then I would try to,
- Think about all the positive outcomes that might end up occurring if I resist acting impulsively. And I would also try to bring to mind the feelings I would feel as a result of the rewards I would get by resisting the temptation to act impulsively.
But clearly, the Ego-Strong person also seems to have a heightened awareness of the feelings that will be associated with the disappointments that results from making a bad decision. So I decided to make concerted effort during my ‘pause’ moment, to bring to mind the negative consequences that might result from my action.
But I decided that the crucial factor would be focusing on the positive outcomes that would occur if I walked away from temptation. It would be the feelings associated with focusing on these outcomes that would provide me with the strength and endure the pain I would feel when walking away from an extremely tempting situation.
Then I would try to make the decision that would bring me the best life outcomes. I would try to do this even if it was painfully difficult
to walk away from the temptation that was in front of me.
My Life Was Transformed
I have a very obsessive personality. My obsessiveness has often contributed to many of my life problems. However, now I decided to channel my obsessive tendencies into my new regime of ‘pausing’ before engaging in any impulsive action.
And secondly, I would channel my obsessive tendencies into taking the time to bring to mind all the potential positive rewards that might result from resisting the urge to engage in the behaviour I was considering.
And it worked. Over the next two years everything began to change.
- My environment became tidier
- I stopped being late for appointments,
- I started addressing my hoarding behaviours,
- I started cleaning my house,
- I stopped flying off the handle with people and bursting into rages,
- I started planning my life so that I would make good use of my time,
- I started paying bills on time
- I started getting birthday cards to family members on time,
- I started to think before I spoke thereby not saying so many embarrassing things,
- I started recognising when I was in unproductive situations and moving myself away from them,
- I started tabling in down time (since I was a workaholic),
- I started prioritising better and getting on top of the backlog of jobs I needed to do in my life
- I started going to bed earlier and drinking less.
Our life satisfaction is the combined effect of all our life decisions
I won’t say that I became perfect at any of these things over night. However, huge changes occurred over the next two years. As a result I started having vastly better life outcomes.
The biggest test of my new resolve came a year later when I made the decision to break up with my long-term girlfriend.
One of our central beliefs at Live Life Satisifeid
(LLS), is that our life satisfaction is largely determined by the quality of the relationships we have with those with whom we are closest. Making good relationship decisions is a central component of strong emotional well-being.
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In fact at LLS we believe that our life outcomes are inextricably tied to the decisions we make on a day to day and hour-by-hour basis. Each article that you will find on this website will be dedicated to thinking about life decisions that we each have to make.
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The decisions we make in each sphere of our lives link together in a complex web. It is my belief that each sphere represents one of the many puzzle pieces, which, when placed together, will determine the quality of our overall life outcomes.
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