Consider any Resolution you've made, or habit you have sought to build. Whether saving more, limiting phone use, or being calmer at work, these all require self-regulation. Self-Regulation was one of my least developed VIA strengths - which was rather depressing to discover - though I could take comfort in the fact that I'm not the only one. In fact, in a study of over 117k adults from 54 nations, Self-Regulation was one of the lowest reported character strengths internationally (Park, et al., 2009).
The purpose of this post is to briefly outline the evidence-based benefits of self-regulation, and help you decide which areas of your life could benefit from better self-regulation. For a reminder of what self-regulation is, see here: https://lifelabs.psychologies.co.uk/manage/beta/posts/51928, but in one sentence: Self-regulation is managing our thoughts, feelings and behaviour in order to achieve our goals.
Whilst this is a little heavy on the detail, I wanted to give you a solid set of references to highlight importance of this humble concept! Maybe one to bookmark and refer back to:
Achievement & Resilience: Self-regulation has long been shown to predict achievement at school, college and at work (e.g. Zimmerman & Martinez-Pons, 1988). It also predicts reduced burnout in demanding work environments.
Why is this? Individuals who can better manage their emotions and attention can focus on the task at hand, monitor their own progress, and manage the pressures and stresses of work and study. Research suggests that better self-regulators tend to have high beliefs about their own competence, more Grit, better coping abilities and better executive function. This means that they can manage their attention to plan appropriately, and manage their emotions in the face of setbacks.
The connection to Mindfulness and Flow is also important here: studies found that Self-Regulation is positively correlated with Mindfulness, and in fact one definition of mindfulness is 'self-regulation of attention'. Early research also suggests emotional and attentional regulation are required to access a state of Flow (Tavares & Freire, 2017). Both Flow and Mindfulness involve cognitive processes which support concentration and working in a positive mental state.
Relationships: Research suggests a two-way relationship between self-regulation and enhanced relationships, interpersonal skills, secure attachment and emotional responses. One key reason for this is higher empathy levels: better self-regulators can step outside their own emotional responses and understand the concerns of others.
Physical & Psychological Health: Self-Regulation is the VIA Strength most associated with positive health behaviours (Niemiec, 2018), and is associated with fewer impulse control issues such as binge eating, alcohol and drug abuse and addiction. Self-Regulation capacity has been linked to Psychological wellbeing in multiple contexts, partly because self-regulation enables people to address, rather than suppress, feelings.
Of course, all of these areas are themselves related. Good relationships impact our physical and psychological health. Better resilience supports our achievements, and so on...
Which areas of your life could benefit from enhanced self-regulation? There's some enlightening theory out there on self-regulation. In my next post I will discuss prevalent theories and how we can apply these to our own self-regulation challenges.