Unbreakable resolutions as an effective tactic for self-control: lessons from Mahatma Gandhi and a 19th-century Prussian prince

Faculty Advisor
unbreakable resolutions, self-control, self-management, Mahatma Gandhi, Prince Pückler-Muskau, delay-discounting, say-do correspondence, willpower
Abstract (summary)
Despite the relative consensus in the self-management literature that personal resolutions are not an effective stand-alone tactic for self-control, some individuals seem capable of using them to exert a remarkable level of control over their behavior. One such individual was Mahatma Gandhi, the famous Indian statesman. Gandhi often used personal resolutions—or “vows”—to commit himself to a range of challenging behaviors, such as extreme diets, sexual abstinence, and fasting. Similarly, Prince Pückler-Muskau, a celebrated 19th-Century adventurer, landscape designer and travel author, described using personal resolutions to unfailingly accomplish numerous tasks in his everyday life. In this article, we examine the historical writings of Gandhi and Pückler-Muskau concerning their use of resolutions. We describe three defining characteristics of their resolutions, which we will refer to as unbreakable resolutions, and outline Gandhi’s advice for making and keeping such resolutions. Our analysis suggests that the effectiveness of unbreakable resolutions may be primarily due to the temporally extended contingencies of reinforcement associated with their use, and can be usefully interpreted from the perspective of delay-discounting and say-do correspondence models of self-control. The implications of this examination for understanding the concept of willpower and for enhancing modern research into self-control training are also discussed. Based on this analysis, we additionally offer a tentative set of guidelines on how to make and keep unbreakable resolutions.
Publication Information
Powell RA, Schmaltz RM and Radke JL (2021) Unbreakable Resolutions as an Effective Tactic for Self-Control: Lessons From Mahatma Gandhi and a 19th-Century Prussian Prince. Front. Psychol. 12:771141. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.771141
Item Type
Attribution (CC BY)