Why Self-Regulation is Key to Professional Success?


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What is self-regulation? A very nice definition I found on the internet (blessed it!) is this: “Selfregulation is the ability to monitor and manage your energy states, emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in ways that are acceptable and produce positive results such as well-being, loving relationships, and learning. It is how we deal with stressors and, as such, lays the foundation for all other activity.” (Check here for the source).

The importance of self-regulation

Most of my professors at the University used to say that self-regulation may be the highest cognitive function of human intellect. Probably it is the most important one. Without it no other cognitive function can produce an optimal level of the performance that you want to achieve. A way to describe it is that it resembles to the conductor of a well-tuned symphonic orchestra.

The best way to understand how self-regulation works is to talk about self-discipline. Someone with a very good self-regulation function exhibits high levels of self-discipline. Thus, she can set a carefully chosen daily routine. This routine comprises behaviors and actions that are destined to boost her performance and build the desired results for her goals and plans. For example, when the self-disciplined person sets a routine of sleep, and says that she will begin her day at 7am, she will do all the necessary steps to make that happen as more concisely as possible.

In other words, she will prevent herself from sleeping very late in the night; she will avoid eating heavy meals before sleep; she will avoid been carried away by late-evening TV watching or tablet reading. A self-disciplined person is able to resist all temptations or distractors that can make here derail from her actual goal.

The invisible net of higher performance

Self-discipline is the invisible net that connects all the dots of high-cognitive function together, so that they produce a great result. It is the decisive factor that helps you positively materialize the creative intentions you have in your mind. It manages that by raising your cognitive functions, such as language, memory, thinking, strategizing, problem-solving etc. into a higher level of consciousness and alertness.

Why is that crucial? Because, if you don’t have a uninterrupted focus of what you want to do, your mind is easy to be distracted, and drifts away. Actually, it is so easy to get distracted by both external (environment) or internal (thoughts, emotions or body sensations) stimuli. This is what makes self-discipline so necessary to keep you constantly on the course of your creative program and goal-planning.

Successful people show very high degree of self-discipline and self-regulation. Athletes, entrepreneurs, college students, renowned artists, prolific authors, investors, educators, etc, none of them has succeeded by accident or without having a clear action plan. Not only have they carefully carved this plan, but they also have been consciously engaged to materialize it with perseverance, diligence and the outmost focus and attention. They do know, when to start; they know when to stop; and they know, if it is necessary to adjust some parameters of their plan and action, as to better respond to new factors.

Self-regulation under the microscope

None of this would have happened without self-regulation. It is actually a predictive factor of success. There have been some quite interesting psychological experiments arguing this. A classic one is Walter Mischel’s “Marshmallow Test”, where toddlers were introduced in an experimental room (with a 1-way mirror glass), where an experimenter showed them some snacks. Then he/she informed them that they would leave the kid alone in the room for a few minutes. They were informing the kids that, if they hadn’t eaten the snacks during the experimenter’s absence, they would receive the double reward afterwards. Again, if they had eaten them during this absence, no more would be provided to them.

A significant part of the kids exhibited self-disciplined behavior; they actually waited the return of the experimenter in order to receive the double reward. These were the “high delayers”, whereas the kids who immediately ate the snack were the “instant gratifiers”. Mischel and his assistants had a follow-up survey few years later. They ascertained that the “high delayers” had better academic performance and performed better in their lives than the “instant gratifiers”.

Of course, this experiment has raised quite a lot of controversy. I will not analyze it here, though.

Nevertheless, the key for a useful reading of its results is that you can activate self-regulation via the appropriate motivation. That, which really motivates you to do it, is strong enough to make you more self-disciplined, meaning more engaged and more decided to adopt all the necessary behaviors that will lead you to your desired outcome.

Examples of self-regulation

Now, let’s return to your success. Why is self-regulation so important for it? It suffices to mention few things that self-regulation does for you.

Here we go; it helps you:

-focus your attention to an aspect important for your work and refocus to the next one when it’s necessary;

-begin working because you know it is necessary for progress;

-be persistent and patient until you succeed what you want;

-decide to stop working, when you realize that you feel tiresome and, thus, you become unproductive;

-plan carefully your daily program of actions;

-execute that program at your best every day;

-change the program whenever an obstacle appears without losing sight of your goal;

-choose the best strategy to deal with a problem concerning your goal;

-keep a healthy balance between your professional and personal life;

-protect your personal boundaries, when someone attempts to cross them;

-be aware of the emotions you experience;

-use the message of each emotion you have experienced. Act according to that in order to better your life and guide your goal-making;

-be optimistic about your plan, but with realistic actions;

-reward yourself and others for an achievement;

-be aware of your thoughts and your actions, so you are focused, intentional and effective at your work;

-be able to ignore distractions that take you away from your work or disorganize you;

-help you be a good regulator or leader of a working team;

-inhibit any impulsive reaction or inappropriate response. For example, speak with much diplomacy to a client despite the fact that they have been insulting, or politely explaining to a colleague the error you found at her part of work.

-have a productive discussion with other people, with taking turns and speaking with arguments, without monopolizing the process;

-taking control, when it’s necessary.

Techniques to boost your self-regulation

Imagine what would happen to your work, if you can’t be persistent towards your goal, or if you impulsively react to any of the stressful situations, or if you are unable to choose, which the best possible decision is and step for your plan ahead.

That would be a total disaster! You wouldn’t be able to set a feasible plan for your goal. Even if you finally did, you wouldn’t be able to stick to it and make it happen.

Maybe by now you are wondering whether you have self-regulation or not.

Self-regulation is an innate property to all human beings, but to some it may be more developed. It’s not clear yet if this is due to nature or nurture. Nonetheless, there are scientific evidences that there are certain brain conditions that can lead to a lesioned self-regulation behavior, such as brain-stroke, brain injury, hypoxia, senile conditions, brain tumor etc.

So, unless you are suffering from such a condition, there is a lot you can do to improve your self-regulation. There are certain successful techniques to raise your self-regulation, and everyone can profit from them. Here are some of the most popular and useful ones:

-practicing meditation and gratitude;

practicing mindfulness and mindfulness-based yoga;

-changing those of your mindset patterns that are negative to more adjusting and efficient ones;

raising your emotional awareness: what are the emotions your experience, and what to do based on that information;

-creating a structure and planned daily routine that helps you raise your productive and stick to it;

-improving your environment by eliminating distractions: turn off the TV, relaxing lighting, decluttered space, etc;

-having fitness exercise on a regular weekly basis;

-reading books on a daily basis.

What’s next?

If you find that all of these techniques aren’t enough to raise your self-regulation, you can always address yourself to a mindfulness specialist, a cognitive scientist or a neuropsychologist that will set a training program for you.

Now, having read all the tips above, what is your opinion about the role of your own self-regulation to your success? Do you feel that it is raise enough to assist you with your goal’s realization? Or do you believe that there is space for improvement?

I would love to hear about your own self-regulation challenges and wins. If you want to share them with me, send me an email at info@uplifepsychology.com !

Last modified: June 14, 2021

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