Although everyday life is often demanding, it remains unclear how demanding conditions impact self-regulation. Some theories
suggest that demanding conditions impair self-regulation, by undermining autonomy, interfering with skilled performance and
working memory, and depleting energy resources. Other theories, however, suggest that demanding conditions improve self-regulation
by mobilizing super-ordinate control processes. The present article integrates both kinds of theories by proposing that the
self-regulatory impact of demanding conditions depends on how people adapt to such conditions. When people are action-oriented,
demanding conditions may lead to improved self-regulation. When people are state-oriented, demanding conditions may lead to
impaired self-regulation. Consistent with this idea, action versus state orientation strongly moderates the influence of demands
on self-regulatory performance. The impact of demanding conditions on self-regulation is thus not fixed, but modifiable by
Demanding conditions are pervasive in everyday life. At the workplace, employees need to
stay abreast of rapid technological innovations and deal with constant pressures towards increased efficiency and productivity.
In educational settings, students must meet high standards of academic excellence, often while performing low-paying jobs
to cover high tuitions and while taking care of their family members. Even among friends, there are always emails to be responded
to, birthdays to be remembered, meetings to be arranged, favors to be returned, along with countless other duties and obligations.
that demanding conditions are exceedingly common, it is important to understand how people can most effectively deal with
such conditions. Unfortunately, psychological theories offer seemingly contradictory insights into this matter. Some influential
theories propose that demanding conditions are likely to undermine self-regulation (Baumeister & Showers, 1986; Beilock,
Kulp, Holt, & Carr, 2004; Deci & Ryan, 2000; Muraven & Baumeister, 2000). However, other theories suggest that
demanding conditions lead people to marshal their self-regulatory resources, resulting in enhanced motivation and self-regulation
(e.g., Botvinick, Braver, Barch, Carter, & Cohen, 2001; Brehm & Self, 1989; Trope & Fishbach, 2000). These different
theories have very different practical implications. If demanding conditions undermine self-regulation, people will be best
off by avoiding demanding conditions. By contrast, if demanding conditions facilitate self-regulation, people may be advised
to seek out demanding conditions whenever they can.
In the present article, we develop an integrative theoretical
analysis of how demanding conditions influence self-regulation. In what follows, we begin by taking a closer look at the basic
ways in which demanding conditions might help or hurt self-regulation. Next, drawing upon action control theory (Kuhl, 1984,
1994a), we propose that the self-regulatory impact of demanding conditions depends on people’s mode of adapting to these conditions.
When people are action-oriented, demanding conditions are likely to facilitate self-regulation. When people are state-oriented,
demanding conditions are likely to impair self-regulation. We then review evidence that action versus state orientation moderates
the impact of demands on self-regulation. Finally, we state our main conclusions and consider avenues for future research.