In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
This article attempts to present some of the relevant findings from the field of psychology in relation to self-control, more specifically, within the context of Islamic fast of Ramadan. The introduction gives an overview of the topic leading into the second section which gives a summary of some of the theories of self-control, with a specific focus on The Strength Model of self-control. The third section outlines some of the ways that practitioners have found can be used to improve self-control. The forth section examines some of the significant benefits that have been found to be associated with strong self-control faculties.
As Ramadan approaches Muslims around the world begin preparing for their most holy month. Emotions can range from excitement to apprehensiveness, from joy to pensiveness; it is a month of change and sacrifice. Usual routines are upended, old habits are broken and new behavioural patterns can be formed. One of the terms that naturally crops up when Ramadan is explained is that of “self-control” and “self-discipline”. This article attempts to delve into these terms a little further and shed some light on, our understanding of them, findings of recent research centered around them, as well as their relationship with the quality of life that one experiences’.
Apples and Marshmallows
It is said that in 1666 the humble apple played a lead role in one of the most significant scientific discoveries of the last millennium. While it is now believed that Newton’s telling of this story grew more animated with time, allowing for an increased importance given to the role of the apple, the template for a modest food item assisting in a major scientific discovery was again to be replicated within psychology. Approximately three centuries later, the even more humble marshmallow was to open the door to a line of scientific enquiry that is yielding findings that are of great importance to the science of human cognitions and behaviour.
The Marshmallow Test
Walter Mischel, the Austrian-born American psychologist, devised an experiment to test the ability for children to delay gratification. Initially devised and tested by him in Trindad, Mischel’s “Marshmallow Test” aims to test the strength of a child’s ability to delay gratification by presenting them with a simple situation; you may have one marshmallow now, or you may wait fifteen minutes and have two marshmallows. Follow-up data showed that the children who were able to delay their gratification and hold out for the two marshmallows ended up typically doing better in a range of life measures.
The study has since been replicated many times, across many cultures and ethnicities, and the findings have been consistent; a weight of evidence now shows that the ability for children to tap into their self-control faculties and resist immediate reward in favour of a bigger reward at a later date is a reliable indication of how they perform later in life. Variations of the experiment have also been carried that have slightly adjusted the procedure or the focus and it continues to be widely regarded as a classic experiment within the field, sitting on the shelf beside the likes of Millgram’s Electric Shock experiment and Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment.
Definition of Self-control
Freud was the first known psychologist to write about the ability of humans to self-regulate. Rather than thinking of self-control as a cognitive process, Freud believed it utilized psychic energy (Baumeister & Tierney, 2011). Since then many variations to the term “self-control” have emerged within the literature; effortful control, willpower, self-discipline, ego strength and inhibitory control are among the terms that have been used while its converse has commonly been referred to as impulsivity (Whiteside & Lynam, 2001; Baumeister, 1998; Evenden, 1999; White et al., 1994; DePue & Collins, 1999). Another term that is commonly used within this area is that of delayed gratification.
While these different terms have been employed to describe subtly (and at times unsubtle) differing conceptualizations of self-control (MacKenzie, Mezo & Francis, 2012), researchers agree that they share a common conceptual thread (Duckworth & Kern, 2011). Duckworth and Kern (2011) cite Baumeister, Vohs and Tice’s (2007) definition of self-control as one that accurately describes this thread; “self-control is the capacity for altering one’s own responses, especially to bring them into line with standards such as ideals, values, morals, and social expectations, and to support the pursuit of long-term goals” (Baumeister, Vohs & Tice, 2007, p.351). This definition importantly highlights the socially adaptive nature of self-control. This capacity may have guided us from being isolated individuals, each acting on our own personal desires and impulses, to being able to interact as a group in that we are largely able to consider the wants and needs of those around us before acting on personal thoughts and impulses.
Self-control is one of the cognitive processes that allows for the successful coexistence of different individuals in a classroom, lecture hall or community. As well as their being sociological and economic factors that contribute towards social problems such as theft, drug misuse and fraud, these issues can often be fuelled by break downs in individual or community self-control (Baumiester & Tierney, 2011).
Islam and Self-control
Islam is a religion that is rooted in the promotion of self-control. While most ways of life involve some ritual or teaching that is based on the development of self-control, Islam seems to place a special amount of emphasis on this. From fighting off sleep to awaken before day break every morning to pray, to repeated prohibitions to watch one’s tongue, to strict instructions in regards to guarding one’s chastity and all roads that might lead to a compromise of this, the practicing Muslim is repeatedly facing situations that call upon her/him to exercise their self-control and commit to a mastery over their own selves, and the behaviours they engage in, as well as the thoughts that they entertain.
Ramadan, Fasting and Self-control
The fast that is ushered in by the arrival of Ramadan every year is perhaps the most comprehensive act within Islam in relation to promoting self-control. The month is characterised by daylight hours in which the urges of one’s self are denied; Muslims are commanded to abstain from ingesting food, drink and any other substance, or engaging in sex or sexual acts with one’s spouse, from sunrise to sunset. While residents of areas lying on or close to the equator will typically engage in this fast for a period of twelve hours, with seasonal fluctuations accounting for a variation of minutes, Muslims further north can end up fasting for as long as 21 hours a day during the summer months. Daylight hours are spent continuously denying one’s self; hunger pangs are ignored, dry mouths are not replenished with liquid and sexual cravings are muted.
A Muslim’s utilization of their self-control capacities more often than not goes beyond the denial of these desires. Acts that are usually prohibited are given an even stronger treatment of admonishment. Gossiping, backbiting, lying and speaking nastily to others have the potential of rendering one’s fast invalid. Avoiding engaging in these is an act of self-control, made all the more difficult by the reality that being in a state of hunger and/or thirst can leave one all the more on edge and likely to snap back at something that has irked us. The teaching of the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) to respond to any provocation during the month of Ramadan with the passive and gentle phrase, “I am fasting” is from among the beautiful practices of the month. As well as being an effective means to deescalate a volatile situation, it is another small step towards the mastery of our lower selves, a denial of the inner ego that wants to snap back at any provocation. This is also an act that requires self-control.
As well as self-control in avoiding certain acts, Ramadan is a time when engaging in behaviours can also summon one’s self-control capacities. The discipline needed to stand for long stretches during taraweeh prayers, concentrating on what is being recited and what meaning it might have for you, taps into our self-control. Awaking in the midst of the night to pray Night Prayers (Qiyam Ul-Layl), denying oneself of the alluring feeling to remain in the warmth of one’s bed certainly requires a significant amount of self-control.
2- Theories of Self-control
Over the last five decades of research a number of different theories have emerged that have attempted to accurately formulate and describe self-control. These have varied in perspective and content but have not always been mutually exclusive or contradictory. Higgin’s (1987) Self-Discrepancy Theory describes self-control as the driving force behind our attempts to close the gap between our Actual Self, (how we “really are”) and our Ideal or Ought Selves (how we want to be/ how others want us to be). Both Ajzen’s Theory of Planned Behaviour (1985, 1991) and Bandura’s writings on Self Efficacy (1986, 1991) place great importance in the influence of self-confidence in one’s ability to carry out a task i.e. the more we believe ourselves capable to execute something, the more likely we are to successfully execute it. Other theorists have described cognition as a whole in terms of Hot and Cool Systems (Metcalfe & Mischel, 1999); they proposed that our hot system controlled emotional and reactive responses, including impulse control, while our cool system directed our more reflective cognitive functions. This theory is similar to the dual-system theory of cognition (Evans and Frankish, 2007) that spoke in terms of system 1 and system 2 processes, with system 1 processes governing our automatic, non-conscious actions while system 2 conducting more conscious, thoughtful tasks. The variation of these theories is not necessarily a reflection of conflicting views. Consider how vast and multifaceted self-control, or any other cognitive function, is; these theories often describe different parts of the map and can be reconciled with each other. One of the theories that has emerged recently and has yielded interesting findings is that of the Strength Model of Self-control (Baumeister et al., 1998).
The Strength Model of Self-control
The Strength Model of Self-control has largely been championed by Baumeister and his colleagues (1998). The model rests on the idea that self-control relies on a limited resource, not dissimilar to an energy or strength that is used to alter or interrupt an individual’s thoughts or behaviours. From among the studies carried out by Baumiester and his colleagues, a pair that were undertaken relatively early on (Muraven, Tice & Baumeister, 1998; Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Muraven & Tice, 1998) aimed to determine if self-control utilized a cognitive schema model, a skill model, or a strength/energy model. This was achieved by asking participants to carry out two self-control tasks in quick succession. The logic behind this was that an improvement in task performance, between the first task and the second task, would support a cognitive schema model (as a result of priming for a self-regulatory schema), no change in performance would have supported a skill model (as within a narrow time frame, skills generally remain consistent), and a decrease in performance would support a strength model (as the limited resource required for self-control would have been used for the first task and so there would have been much less for the second). These studies provided evidence in support of the latter model.
Experiments that have been carried out into this area generally follow an experimental design called the Dual-Task Paradigm. This method involves using two separate groups of participants. Group A carry out a task designed to use their self-control strength while Group B carry out a cognitive task that while requiring effort, crucially it doesn’t typically need self-control strength to carry out. After these tasks are complete both groups will then perform the same self-control task and the performance of each individual on this task is measured. What was being consistently reported in the research is that individuals who perform two self-control tasks perform less well in the second task that individuals who perform a task that while demanded their cognitive effort, did not require self-control. Researchers have found ways that self-control strength can be restored and improved, and have also worked towards uncovering just how extensive the reach of self-control can be in terms of the different cognitive and behavioural processes that utilize it seem to be.
3- Improving Self-control
By extending the analogy of looking at self-control in terms of a muscle, various studies have designed and implemented interventions that have successfully replenished self-control strength (Tyler & Burns, 2008; Gailliot, Baumeister et al., 2007; Tice et al., 2007) and improved overall self-control capacity (Baumeister, Gailliot & DeWall, 2006; Oaten and Cheng., 2004a, 2004b). This aspect of the research is perhaps the most significant as it carries the most potential to improve the everyday lives of individuals and is most relevant to the subject of fasting and Ramadan.
Psychologically speaking, Ramadan is a significant time in the year of an individual. Spending one twelfth of the year denying oneself the urge to eat and drink, two of the most readily facilitated and encouraged acts within our usual days, is bound to have an impact on cognition and behavior. This denial is all the more pertinent in an age in which a significant portion of people are always just one click, message or call away from any food of their choosing. Refrigerators and kitchen cupboards are seldom ever close to being empty before being topped up. Alluring advertisements calling on people to try the latest addition to the menu are always but a moment away from peoples’ lines of vision.
Questions that future research should attempt to address include, does fasting Ramadan impact on self-control strength? And if so, in what way? While there seems to be no published research that has directly investigated this area, reflecting on what research is available can help us draw some educated conclusions for the time being.
Replenishing Depleted Self-control
One study carried out by Tice et al.’s (2007) found that by giving one group of participants a gift-wrapped candy they were able to replenish their self-control strength. Tice et al. (2007) also reported finding that self-control strength could be replenished by having participants watch a humorous TV clip. That is, participants who watched something humorous exhibited greater self-control strength than participants who had watched a neutral or negative TV clip. If something as modest as a laugh or a small candy can replenish an individual’s self-control, perhaps a smile in the face of one’s brother or sister can also have a replenishing dimension to it.
Another study by Galliot, Baumeister et al. (2007) took the fact that it appeared that exerting self-control reduced blood-glucose levels and decided to examine whether giving participants glucose improved their self-control strength. They reported finding that ingesting glucose improved an individual’s self-control ability. Consider for a moment that two of the foods that we are recommended to eat by way of the Sunnah, dates and honey, are loaded with glucose. Naturally, these should be enjoyed in moderation (a fundamental aspect of the Sunnah) however their benefit to one’s self-control strength is significant. The wisdom behind choosing dates as the first food to eat once the daily fast is finished is brought to life in the context of this finding.
Improving Overall Self-control Capacity
As well as uncovering ways to restore temporarily exhausted self-control strength, researchers have invested in finding ways to improve our overall self-control capacity. Muraven, Baumeister and Tice (1999) were able to improve individuals self-control capacity, as measured by their handgrip strength, by giving them one amongst three different self-control exercises (diet related, mood related and posture related) to carry out for two weeks. The participants who’d been given one of the self-control exercises performed significantly better in the hand grip task when they carried out their follow up tests.
Two similar studies were carried out by Oaten and Cheng (2006a, 2006b). In their first study participants enrolled in a two month physical exercise program. Upon completion their self-control was measured, by way of task performance at a visual tracking task, and compared to a pre-exercise program measurement of task performance on this same task. As well as finding that task performance significantly improved after the two month program, the study found that improvements in self-control were found in other spheres of the individuals’ lives, namely reducing their intake of nicotine, alcohol and caffeine, eating less junk food, improvements in their emotional control and a reduction in their impulsive spending.
In their second study (Oaten & Cheng, 2006b) participants agreed to undertake a 4 month financial management program in which each participant received an individually crafted and agreed upon financial plan. As well as increasing the amount of money they saved each month (increase in savings rose on average from 8% to 38%), the researchers found that individuals who had gone through the financial management program significantly improved In their performance of a visual tracking task, reported consuming less nicotine and caffeine, improvements in their emotional control, carrying out of household chores and study habits. Participants’ levels of perceived stress, emotional distress and self-efficacy did not change, increasing the strength of the argument that these changes were brought on by an increase in self-control strength.
This highlights the transferability of the improvements. While commonsensically it might seem that a posture improving exercise is in no way related to hand-grip stamina, or that engaging in a physical exercise program would impact upon one’s emotional control however further reflection (and the findings of these studies) highlight the underlying common factor between the two; self-control strength. This is a theme that recurs within the literature in this area – improving one’s self control has a wide range of positive outcomes for us. In light of this, Ramadan and the fasting that is obligatory upon eligible Muslims can be seen as the mercy that it truly is. In light of these findings, it can be postulated that those who engage in a fast do not simply become more effective at resisting the urge to eat or drink, rather, their self-control strength is being increased. As this strength increases, it improves the individual’s ability to execute any task that is dependent on one’s self-control faculties.
4- The Benefits of Strong Self-control
Since Michel’s initial follow-up study (Shoda, Mischel, Walter Peake., 1990) that found that children who had been able to resist cashing in on one marshmallow in favour of holding out for two were later in life found to be better adjusted and more successful, numerous studies have reported on various ways in which possessing strong self-control faculties resulted in favorable outcomes. In their review, de Ridder, Lensvelt-Mulders, Finkenauer, Stok and Baumeister (2012) showed that self-control does help facilitate for an individual to be able to inhibit undesired behaviour and promote desired behaviour; not exactly synonymous with, but closely related to, the Quranic injunction, “promote what is good and forbid what is evil”.
Academic achievement has been attributed to many different factors, from the social to the genetic, from the skill of the teacher to the diet of the pupil. While IQ had been the focus of most attention since the early 1900’s recent studies have examined the relationship between self-control and academic performance. Wolfe and Johnson (1995) reported finding that self-control was actually a more reliable predictor of college SAT scores than IQ, the only personality variable out of 32 that was found to be in that realm of significance. Tangney, Baumeister and Boone (2004) also reported a strong relationship between students’ academic achievement and self-control.
Duckworth and Seligman’s (2005) investigations with two groups of eight grade students (140 in total) found that students who possessed stronger self-control outperformed their peers in terms of report-card grades, standardised test scores, admissions to further education and attendance. Their findings also further supported Wolfe and Johnson’s (1995) finding, reporting that self-control was twice as significant a predictor of student achievement when compared with IQ. This is quite a significant finding and supports the idea that malleable cognitive variables such as self-control, something that has been shown to be improvable, is more significant than variables such as IQ that have been argued to be genetically determined. In short, increasing self-control appears to be a wise investment if one is hoping to help others in securing their academic achievements.
Mischel (2014) famously wrote about his addiction to cigarettes, the obstacles he faced in surmounting this and his eventual victory over his three packet-a-day habit. Michel’s former cigarette addiction is a timely reminder that even those who know a great deal about the theory behind self-control are still as susceptible to being undone by their weaknesses as the remainder of us. More positively, it is an important reminder that even the 60-a-day smoker can defeat their addictions.
Studies such as Muraven’s (2010) continually show that working on improving an individual’s self-control capacity by performing daily exercises significantly improved the chances that the individual would be able to quit smoking. Supporting the strength model of self-control and serving as a caution against overloading one’s self-control faculties, Patten and Martin (1996) reported that individuals who were restricting their food intake as well as attempting to quit smoking did significantly worse than those who were not restricting their food.
Staying in the realm of eating the recent findings of Salmon Adriaanse, Fennis, De Vet and De Ridder (2016) further supported the theory that offers an explanation as to why Supermarkets always seem to ensure that our eyes are drawn to chocolates and candy while we’re waiting to pay on leaving a supermarket by way of surrounding the checkouts with sweet treats. Making decisions has been found to use (and exhaust) self-control strength. Famously Barack Obama is known to only ever wear blue or red ties in order to protect himself from depleting self-control strength and saving it for more significant decisions. By the time we’ve finished making all of our decisions on which products and brands to buy during a shopping trip, we have less self-control to resist giving in to buy a sweet treat. Their study furthered this line of research by showing that individuals with lesser overall self-control capacity were more likely to eat unhealthy snacks. Adequate self-control can help individuals to resist those common urges.
Researchers have reported finding significant interactions between self-control and various measures of physical health. Not only did McKee and Ntoumanis (2014) report that self-control strength significantly predicted whether or not people would be able to lose weight, their results went as far as indicating that it was as strong an influencer as dietary and physical activity advice. In other words, teaching individuals about self-control and how to improve was just as effective as teaching them about diet and exercise and how to improve them. The line between physical and psychological health is not always clear. Consider cigarette addiction; is that a physical or psychological ailment? The following section will summarise some of the findings in regards to self-control and psychological health.
Psychologists have reported that improving self-control quite reliably results in an improvement of psychological wellbeing. One measure of wellbeing, regulation of one’s emotions, was found to improve through giving individuals a self-control exercise regime in Oaten and Cheng’s (2006b) previously cited study. Regulation of one’s emotions is a key aspect to wellbeing and an inability to do so has been associated with various psychopathologies, not least of which depression and anxiety.
While Tangney, Baumeister, and Boone (2004) reported that individuals with higher self-control experienced less anger and aggression, Sofia and Cruz (2015) found that athletes with higher levels of self-control were much better placed to control their aggression in the heat of the game. The latter study found that athletes with higher self-control were less likely to act verbally aggressive (e.g. swearing at a teammate) and physically aggressive (e.g. physically intimidate an opponent). Interestingly, individuals with higher self-control were also found to ruminate less over angry thoughts. Thus self-control seemed to lessen the chances that individuals would act verbally and physically aggressive, both behaviours, as well as lessening the likelihood of even thinking angrily, cognitions. Findings such as these bring to mind the Prophet’s (p.b.u.h.) words, “a strong man is the one who can control himself when he is angry."
Addictions can on one level be viewed as a breakdown of our self-control faculties. Self-control strength has unsurprisingly been found to be associated with an increased likelihood of a cessation of addictions, as well as a decrease in the likelihood of someone descending into an addiction. Self-control has been found to be associated with illicit and licit drug addiction, internet addiction and binge eating. Baumeister and Vohs (2009) shared some interesting views in one of his papers on addiction. Rather than agreeing with the in-fashion idea that addicts are completely overwhelmed by their cravings and urges, Baumeister and Vohs are among those who the research shows that addicts are faced with consistent albeit moderate urges. This line of thinking is a double-edged sword in terms of how one might then view addicts; on one hand it empowers them, they are still captains of their own fate, however, this comes with a degree of responsibility too, one that quite significantly parts from the disease model of addiction. This complex area warrants its own independent article and is too vast to be unpacked here.
The Good Samaritan
The studies that have been published paint a picture of just how critical self-control capacity is to various aspects of individual and social functioning. DeWall et al’s. (2008) study into the effect of self-control depletion upon pro-social behaviour yielded interesting results. In their first study participants were asked to read through 6 hypothetical scenarios in which they had the opportunity to aid a person unknown to them, for example, donating money to help a child with a terminal illness, assisting a lost stranger with directions, giving food to a homeless person and so on. This study found that individuals who had prior to this carried out a self-control task were significantly less likely to offer help than those in the control group. The second study of this experiment increased the transferability of these findings by providing participants with the opportunity to commit themselves to voluntary work. Again the researchers found that individuals who had exerted their self-control strength volunteered significantly less hours than the control group who had not carried out a self-control task. This study also found that replenishing individuals who had performed a self-control task with a glucose based drink significantly increased the likelihood of them committing to volunteer to help an individual in need when compared to participants who had received a sweetened but free of glucose drink. Interestingly, experiment 3 of this study found that self-control depletion significantly reduced the willingness of participants to help a stranger but had no significant effect upon their willingness to help a member of their family. These findings provide important evidence that supports the idea that self-control is related to social behaviours. Bringing these findings into the context of Ramadan, as predicted if the intensive fasting of Ramadan results in an increase in self-control capacity, individuals who fasted should be more willing to engage in pro-social behaviours such as those tested in DeWall et al.’s (2008) study.
Cognitive Bias Susceptibility
Masicampo and Baumeister (2008) carried out a study that highlighted the relationship between self-control and cognitive deliberation. The study found that individuals who had their self-control depleted were more susceptible to The Attraction Effect (a Cognitive Bias), a procedure devised by Huber, Payne and Puto (1982; in Masicampo & Baumeister, 2008) that is used to study different reasoning processes. One group of participants are given two options that differ in important dimensions. Another group of participants are given the two options plus a third decoy option which resembles one of the first two options but is inferior to it in every aspect. It has been found that while participants should simply rule out the decoy, when it is given as an option people are more likely to choose the option that it resembles. Masicampo and Baumeister (2008) found participants who had has their self-control strength’s depleted were significantly more susceptible to this effect than the control group and also found that replenishing participants with glucose reversed the higher incidence rate of falling for the attraction effect. Similarly Janssen et al. (2008) found that individuals who had been depleted were more willing to be persuaded by a weak position when it has been presented to them and again found this susceptibility was eliminated when participants had been replenished with glucose. Self-control strength can protect us from being susceptible to cognitive biases, in other words, being susceptible to cognitive errors and making the wrong decision based on the information that is available to us. The author of this article believes that Ramadan and the self-control boost that comes with it would result in those who have fasted being less susceptible to this bias or others like it, based on this research.
Building on the findings of studies such as Gordijn, Hindriks, Koomen, Dijksterhuis and Van Knippenberg (2004) and Richeson and Shelton (2003), that the act of suppressing stereotypes requires self-control and so induces self-control depletion, Gailliot, Plant, Butz and Baumeister’s (2007) study utilised participant groups with varying motivations and attitudes towards prejudice. They were able to take a group of individual who held prejudicial attitudes and by way of a program of having them focus on pronouncing words more completely (e.g. saying “yes” and “no” rather than “yea” and “na”) for two weeks, they increased their self-control capacities and so suppressing their stereotypes required less energy. In short, increased self-control allowed individuals to filter out more prejudicial attitudes. While the ultimate aim of practitioners should surely be to modify prejudicial attitudes, this study highlights the pro-social effect that can come with increased self-control. Prejudices are an unfortunate reality for the vast majority of individual and societies. Social cohesion is dependent upon individuals’ ability to effectively suppress any prejudicial thoughts, without letting them surface and disrupt the social mood. In this way self-control helps maintain the social peace.
Interestingly, a 2016 study from the National University of Singapore (Humility facilitates higher self-control) reported finding that individuals who are primed to experience humility have higher strength of self-control. Again recalling the Sunnah of the Prophet, his conduct and the humility which he seemed to bring to every situation, it seems that there is a significant relationship between these two faculties. The researchers were able to prime participants of the study to experience humility by asking them to read hypothetical situations in which somebody is acting with humility. Crucially, the vignettes did not mention the word humility or words related to it. Tasks such as this are known as priming and are common within psychological research. While this study did not attempt to investigate whether increasing self-control lead to an increase in humbleness, the relationship between these two cherished characteristics is certainly of interest and this line of enquiry warrants further study.
Since Mischel’s pioneering Marshmallow experiment the field of psychology has continued shedding light on the area of self-control. It’s influence in forming individuals who are good to themselves and to those around them, who are able to function well in society and who are more likely to engage in adaptive ways of thinking and behaving is becoming all the more established. Such individuals are the building blocks that make healthy communities and societies.
Baumeister’s Strength Model has emerged as one of the dominant theoretical frameworks for understanding self-control. By viewing self-control as similar to a muscle, researchers have been able to investigate ways in which its strength can be replenished after being depleted, as well as means to improve its overall capacity. By asking participants to engage in a range of exercises, as varied as correcting elocution and posture, abstaining from sweet foods and keeping track of one’s financial spending, researchers have been able to effect significant improvements to the self-control of individuals.
The benefits of having strong self-control capacities are ever being discovered. Researchers have reported significant relationships between an individuals self-control strength and their academic achievements, their relationships, the likelihood that they’ll be incarcerated, the likelihood that they’d help out a stranger in need, the likelihood that they’d fall foul to a cognitive bias and so on. While further research is needed to understand just how vast the influence of self-control is, what is clear is that it is a trait that offers up many strengths, to the individual and those around them.
Ramadan presents Muslims with an opportunity to boost their self-control faculties. Research needs to be carried out to establish the precise nature of the influence that fasting for a lunar month has upon an individual’s self-control, however, based on the research that has been published to date it would seem reasonable to suggest that fasting Ramadan has a strong and positive impact upon self-control. If an act of self-control as relatively small as ensuring to pronounces “yes” and “no” correctly for two weeks brought with it improved self-control, it is sound to suppose that 29 or 30 continuous days in which individuals continually deny the urge to eat and drink during daylight hours (up to 20 hours a day) would bring with it an even more substantial improvement to self-control strength and overall self-control capacity. To further drive home this point, Muraven’s (2010) reported significant improvements in self-control among a group of participants who abstained from sweet foods for a period of two weeks. As any Muslim will tell you, Ramadan entails long periods of abstinence from all food and all drink. As a weightlifters muscle develops its strength and size based on the load that it carries, it is again reasonable to imagine that as heavy a load as is Ramadan brings with it an even more profound improvement in self-control.
Tamim Mobayed, is an Irish born of Syrian origin, holds a B.Sc. and an M.Sc. in Psychology (from Queen’s University Belfast). He is currently studying to obtain an MA in Islamic Studies, with a focus on Islamic Ethics, from Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Doha, while concurrently studying for an M.Phil. in Psychology from Queen’s in Belfast. He also holds certificates in Person-Centered Therapy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
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