Arts & Sciences

Lent, Self-Control And Some Tips For More Successful Attempts At Lifestyle Changes

Leonard Green is a professor of psychological and brain sciences and economics at Washington University. (Photo: Evie Hemphill, STL Public Radio)

’Tis the season for attempted lifestyle changes and vice-forsaking of all sorts. For the more resolute, perhaps a new 2020 goal has really started to stick after two months of hard-fought discipline. Others, particularly many Christians, are just beginning to give something up for Lent, a 40-day period leading up to the celebration of Easter.

Or at least they’ll try to give it up, whether it be a substance such as alcohol or sugar or, say, a digital denial of the self — like completely staying off Facebook. Many people fail at these attempts, giving in before the 40 days are up.

Why does this happen? The quick answer is that it’s due to a lack of self-control. But if you ask Washington University faculty member Leonard Green, he’ll insist it’s not so simple. In fact he avoids using the term “self-control” at all.

“It typically has an evaluative judgment [attached to it] … we feel that, and we’re blamed by others,” said Green, a professor of psychology and brain sciences and economics. “And I think it doesn’t give view to the fact that there are situational cues and constraints which might lead us to choose that smaller reward rather than go what’s in our long-term best interest.”

He and Webster University’s Zhichun Zhou, an assistant professor of behavioral psychology, have been working on a project about this topic that they plan to present publicly at Webster in April. On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, Green joined host Sarah Fenske for a sneak peek at their findings.

Read more and listen.