Prospective strategies for improving self-control

Name of applicant

Kristian Steensen Nielsen


DKK 925,795



Type of grant

Internationalisation Fellowships


My project will investigate the effectiveness of prospective self-control strategies and their potential for improving people's self-control. Prospective self-control strategies seek to prevent the emergence or limit the strength of temptations, thereby reducing the need for the effortful self-control, which generally has a rather modest success rate. In doing so, I will specifically focus on two prospective self-control strategies: situation selection and goal support. Situation selection involves strategically identifying and avoiding tempting situations (e.g., a smoker avoiding bars that allow smoking), whereas goal support involves pursuing goals in the company of other people who actively support these goals (e.g., an aspiring runner running together with a running 'buddy').


Extensive research has identified self-control as an important predictor of leading a healthy, financially stable, and happy life. Self-control is also a significant predictor of the success of people's behavior change efforts. Yet, the precise mechanisms through which self-control leads to successful behavior change and life outcomes are still not well understood. This also means that our current knowledge of how to improve people's self-control is limited. Recent research has identified numerous self-control strategies used by people who are generally good at self-control. However, research on the effectiveness of individual self-control strategies is still in its infancy and further evidence is needed to properly evaluate their merits.


My project involves a two-part research program. First, I will investigate people's meta-knowledge of the scope of self-control strategies, what self-control strategies they commonly use, and whether they deliberately select between them based on their perceived effectiveness. This will be done through an online survey with a nationally representative sample. Second, I will investigate the effectiveness of two prospective self-control strategies (situation selection and goal support) in ensuring progress on important personal goals. I plan to examine this through an online randomized controlled trial with an experience-sampling design, which permits obtaining causal and longitudinal estimates of the strategies' effectiveness with limited intrusion from memory biases.

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