Summary of Why Self-Discipline Is Overrated

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Speaker, author and former educator Alfie Kohn’s essay offers compelling reasons to question the virtue of self-discipline. Have too much self-discipline, he argues, and you’re a compulsive automaton. Have too little, and you’re easily sidetracked and wild. Both can be a problem, but the reason educators and parents vilify the latter is because it presents more of a problem for them. For the disciplined individual, too much self-control may limit the fun they have and their innate impulsiveness. getAbstract recommends this summary to parents, educators and anyone who often feels that whatever they are doing, they should be doing something else instead.

In this summary, you will learn

  • Why self-discipline doesn’t always serve the individual who practices it,
  • Why a preoccupation with instilling self-discipline reinforces the status quo of the education system and
  • When creative self-distraction is more useful than self-discipline.

About the Author

Alfie Kohn is an author and lecturer in the areas of education, parenting and human behavior.



The concept of self-discipline was popularized by the famed “marshmallow experiments.” Researchers told children that they could either have one marshmallow immediately or two marshmallows if they waited an undefined amount of time. Ten years later, the children who were able to wait scored higher on SAT tests and measures of cognitive and social skills.

Educators and parents are often obsessed with the idea of self-discipline because to them it means that their charges will do the right thing without constant supervision. They therefore set about “installing...

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