Self-Regulation is the ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods and the propensity to suspend judgment and think before acting. We have emotions about things as they happen, and our emotions may affect the decisions we make. Self-Regulation is a skill we use to manage our emotions in the moment that an event occurs so we can take more thoughtful actions. High self-awareness also enables us to take responsibility for our feelings and to self-regulate when things are not going well.
The skill of self-regulation follows self-awareness because the more developed a person is at knowing what they are feeling the more they will be able to harness and manage those emotions in their actions. However, as more and more people have tried to ignore or over-control their emotions in general without first understanding what they feel with any specificity, it is possible for a person’s self-regulation skill to be more developed than their self-awareness skill. This can manifest itself as being so controlled that a person may be less aware of what they are feeling themselves even than some of the people around them.
If you imagine yourself in a situation where strongly feeling an emotion might be appropriate, you may be able to imagine how feeling the strong emotion can help you accomplish what you are trying to accomplish. For example, if you were to come across a helpless victim being physically attacked by a stronger perpetrator, you might feel anger. If you want to stop the attacker from doing additional harm to the victim, that anger might be useful to you as you intervene in the situation.
On the other hand, if you imagine a different situation where you might also feel intense anger, but where that emotion may not help you behave effectively if you don’t regulate it. For example, if you are leading a staff meeting and one of your subordinates isn’t listening or disagrees with you, you might feel a similar sense of anger. People who have a highly developed skill of self-regulation will be able to, in the moment, take action necessary to exhibit behavior that is most appropriate to the situation and the objective.
Feeling angry and then yelling at an attacker in order to stop a physical attack is appropriate. Yelling at an employee in a team meeting at work is inappropriate. Self-regulating from a yell “down” to an eye-roll might be better but it is still not the behavior which would be most effective, which would be to calm yourself down and then address the situation with the employee in a manner that aligns with the organizational culture you are hoping to cultivate on your team, most-likely by discussing it after the meeting, one-on-one, in private.
Self-regulation is not taking the emotion out of the decision, but understanding how your emotional state is impacting your decision making. This includes postponing the decision if necessary until your emotional state improves.
How are you feeling right now? Once you understand your current emotional state, how might you go about changing how you currently feel?
To improve your self-regulation, you can ask yourself: