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Seeing the Forest Beyond the Trees: A Construal-Level Approach to Self-Control



Self-control failure is a ubiquitous and troubling problem people face. This article reviews psychological models of self-control and describes a new integrative approach based on construal level theory (e.g., Trope & Liberman, 2003). This construal-level perspective proposes that people's subjective mental construals or representations of events impacts self-control. Specifically, more abstract, global (high-level) construals promote self-control success, whereas more concrete, local (low-level) construals tend to lead to self-control failure. That is, self-control is promoted when people see the proverbial forest beyond the trees. This article surveys research findings that demonstrate that construing events at high-level versus low-level construals promotes self-control. This article also discusses how a construal-level perspective promotes understanding of self-control failures.