Self-regulation is the ability to regulate your own behaviors, actions and choices consistently. Self-regulation is a personal strength and for many of us it is a strength that is, well… a work in progress. The ability to moderate your needs, actions and choices from a whole-person perspective—mind, body, spirit—can be a challenge. The good news is that self-regulation is a strength and if you think of it like a muscle, you can make it stronger with repetition and practice. It is a strength that can be honed, developed and utilized in order create how you want to feel about yourself.
These four tools that I list here will help you to establish, create and build upon your self-regulation. These tools are applicable to any area of your life that you would like to feel more in control. If you find you are not following through like you’d like to in certain areas of your life, it will be of benefit to you to strengthen your self-regulation skills. OR if you find that you are excessively rigid anywhere in your life, this indicates an imbalance as well. Over-regulation and obsession with perfection is not healthy either. Living in an overly regulated space is generally not sustainable and it creates unnecessary internal stress and discomfort.
So how do you go about increasing your self-regulation skills? The following are four practical tools that will help you grow in your ability to self-regulate. These four tools are useful and actionable and will offer you the best place to begin.
1. Create a Personalized Plan
When you create a personalized plan, you set yourself up for success. The ability to regulate your behaviors can be hard. If your goal is to heal your relationship with food, your body and yourself but you don’t have any type of plan for how to make that happen, you will not have anything to regulate. This leaves your goals merely a daydream and you will be stuck in a space of fantasizing about what could happen tomorrow. On the other side of the coin is an overly rigid plan. These could include a restrictive diet plan, excessive exercise plan or other extreme measures. This doesn’t allow you to grow in self-regulation because you are relying on an someone else’s external plan to tell you what to do for often just a limited period of time.
When you create your own personal plan to grow self-regulation, and in sticking with the example of healing emotional eating, losing weight or improving your body image, your plan will need to set manageable guidelines. Your plan will need to have small changes that are actionable and realistic. Your plan will need to offer you space to grow (meaning you will have to learn from mistakes) and make the changes that will allow you to meet your goals and will be sustainable over time. Your plan will need to have opportunities for you to reflect and make shifts and changes as needed. Your plan is yours. Not your friends, your moms, your co-workers, but yours. Your plan will need to fit your personal needs. Your plan will need to offer you space to create growth through self-reflection and self-awareness. Your plan will encourage the shift to create the ability to self-regulate your own needs in mind, body and spirit.
To begin, you need to identify what you want, why you want it. Determine your personal values in life and how you connect these to what you want in order to help support yourself and create the change you want. Then set specific (meaning measurable), doable (they will actually fit into your current life), and desirable (meaning you truly WANT it) goals. Each goal needs action steps that you can take daily, no matter how small, so that you are creating movement and momentum consistently towards what you want. Create a timeline for reflection, reevaluation and what to do when you achieve a goal. Your ability to create this personalized plan for YOU in and of itself demonstrates an ability to practice self-regulation!
2. Recognize Where You Sabotage Your Goals
When you bring awareness to where you are sabotaging yourself, you have two choices. The first is to stop the self-sabotage and the second is to give up. Ok, maybe it’s not that simple. But if the option of stopping the self-sabotage sounds like the more appealing option than giving up (which is equal to giving in to any negative beliefs about yourself: I can’t do it, I’ll never change, it’s too hard, I will fail, why bother, what’s the point, blah blah blah…), it will require some work. This work includes self-reflection and a decision to change your thoughts, beliefs about yourself and your actions. I call this self-saboteur the Deal Maker, if you want to read more about that concept, I have a chapter dedicated to it in my book, or you can read more on my blog here.
For today, what you need to know is that this part of yourself will sound convincing in its effort to foil your plans to make the change in your life that you desire. If your goal is to create greater health, to eat healthy, to move your body more, to lose weight, to save money, to change careers… no matter what it is, if you are not fully committed, you set yourself up for self-sabotage. Some examples of self-sabotaging thinking are “I have to be perfect,” or “I will fail” which only leads to the feeling of why bother or what’s the point. Your internal Deal Maker will try to put off taking action towards your goals and it uses these negative beliefs about yourself to keep the lie and resulting inaction going. Your internal Deal Maker preys on your fears. When you can highlight for yourself the exact thoughts, beliefs and fears that derail you, you can challenge them, work with them, and change the way you respond to them. When you are aware of the roadblocks that show up and you struggle to push through and past them, when you see that you are in your own way, you can do something about them. This is a daily practice. When you can understand where you tend to self-sabotage and see the common excuses and fears that your Deal Maker uses to keep you from taking action, you can recognize that they are not valid. You can recognize that there is another way. This leads me right into the next step: MINDSET!
3. Change Your Mindset
When you change your mindset, you change everything. When you place something into your mindset before you plan to do it and you spend time visualizing yourself doing it, you are FAR more likely to do it. When you leave your plans in a fantasy space, you are FAR less likely to take action. Mindset is a decision that you make ahead of time. Mindset is a shift in perspective and it’s intimately tied to self-regulation and self-discipline. However, it is not discipline that you might think of in terms of punishment or consequences. I am talking about reward based discipline because making progress and meeting your goals feels amazing!
One of the most important elements of creating a focused mindset is the perspective you bring to what you want. If you view hard work as draining, overwhelming, tiring and inaccessible to you, it will only be another barrier to address. If you view hard work as rewarding, building momentum, creating the change you desire and freeing you to live the life you want, then you are well on your way to achieving what you want. When you change your perspective you change your whole life! Take time daily to create a mindset of action. Visualize why you want what you want and connect with the belief that what you want is possible. And this leads me right to the final tool to build healthy and balanced self-regulation skills.
4. Create an Accountability System
The only person you can truly be accountable to is you. When you are “held accountable” to others, it implies the possibility of punishment or reward. When you are accountable to yourself, your personal follow through IS the reward. Your progress IS the reward. Creating a life you love and managing your life in a way that feels as though you are regulating your behaviors in a way that aligns with what you want IS the reward.
All of that being said, being involved in an accountability group can help maintain your momentum. When you have others to cheer you on or share your struggles, you will feel more connected. This helps you tap into energy reserves that come from feeling supported and encouraged. Begin by setting up a review system for yourself so you initially will know what you want to work towards, what it will take to get there, and any struggles (areas of potential self-sabotage) that may arise. Talk these through within your accountability team. Your accountability team could be peers, friends, family, people you meet in a Facebook group, co-workers, someone from the gym or anyone else who has a vision for their life and is ready to stop dreaming about it and ready to make it happen. If you find you could benefit from additional support hiring a coach or therapist will offer this level of support and accountability as well. When you are consistently taking action towards your goals, you are building the ability to self-regulate. When you share that within a pair, group or team setting you inspire others and receive inspiration to make it happen.
Building self-regulation as an internal strength takes time. If you have struggled with this for a long time, know that it will not happen overnight! Change is hard, growing is often uncomfortable, but it is absolutely worth the effort. When you follow these steps of creating a plan, help yourself get out of your own way, develop a focused mindset and a method of accountability, you will see the changes within your life. The first place to start is always with what you want and why you want it. Reminding yourself often of your ultimate goal will help you make the necessary and at times uncomfortable choices that grow your self-regulation. Every time you choose your plan, you choose to not believe negative thoughts, you don’t respond to your internal fears, you take time to create a healthy mindset and you check in with yourself and your supporters, you are growing your self-regulation muscle! Keep me posted on your self-regulation journey!