Cait Poynor of the University of Pittsburgh and Kelly L. Haws of Texas A and M University, the researchers who led the path breaking study, say that the purpose of their research was to find out why some people have more trouble than others regulating behaviors.
Writing about their findings in the Journal of Consumer Research, they said that their study uncovered some important differences in the way people categorized "necessities" and "luxuries".
"The data demonstrates the basic differences among consumers in their tendency to embrace indulgence or restriction goals. Even when pursuing the same goal, high and low self-control consumers create dramatically different categories of goal-consistent and goal-inconsistent options," the authors wrote.
The research team conducted three studies to examine the process individuals cycled through, when trying to make a change.
They say that, first, people select goals, and then they form "implementation intentions", deciding which options and behaviors are consistent with the goals.
"For example, you might make a budget, deciding which items are necessities and which are luxuries, buy a diet book, which tells you which foods you may and may not eat, or organize your weekly schedule to include work sessions and time to participate in leisure activities," the authors say.
"Importantly, results suggest that the goal pursuit process can appear to proceed smoothly but in fact be derailed during this second phase," they add.
The team found that people would get tripped up when their goals required them to overcome their default tendencies.
According to them, the subjects who were categorized as having "low self-control" tended to do better with "indulgence goals", like enjoying purchases more.
On the other hand, those with higher self-control preferred "restriction goals" that led them to categorize fewer items as necessities, the researchers said.
"The most effective self-control interventions may vary depending on one's self-control level and the nature of one's chosen goal," the authors conclude.