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Exercising self-control in one area of life tends to improve all areas of life.
Those in the fitness program got fitter; those working on study discipline got more schoolwork done; the people in the money-management program saved more money. But—and here was a truly pleasant surprise—they also got better at other things. The students who did the study-discipline program reported doing physical workouts a bit more often and cutting down on impulsive spending. Those in the fitness and money-management programs said they studied more diligently.
Exercising self-control in one area seemed to improve all areas of life. They smoked fewer cigarettes and drank less alcohol. They kept their homes cleaner. They washed dishes instead of leaving them stacked in the sink, and did their laundry more often. They procrastinated less. They did their work and chores instead of watching television or hanging out with friends first. They ate less junk food, replacing their bad eating habits with healthier ones. You might think that people who start doing physical workouts would naturally start eating better, but in fact the reverse has often been observed in other studies: Once you start exercising, you feel virtuous and therefore entitled to reward yourself with high-calorie treats. (That’s an example of the “licensing effect,” when you act as if one good deed gives you license to sin.) But in this experiment, the group of exercisers didn’t yield to that temptation. Nor did the group of budget-conscious people yield to the predictable temptation to cut down on their grocery bills by passing up the more expensive fresh foods and other healthy fare in favor of cheaper food. If anything, they began spending more money on healthy food, apparently because of an overall increase in self-control.
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