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March 5, 2019

The Art of Self-Regulation – #MTtalk Roundup

Yolande Conradie

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"The battle for self-control over an intense, undesired habit consists of an endless series of skirmishes, in which our urges and our better angels clash several times each day.”

― Matthew D. Lieberman, American author and neuroscientist

About This Week’s Chat

When my sister and I were children, my parents used to plan and book our family holidays well in advance. We'd sit in our bedroom and talk and dream about what we were going to do, as if the forthcoming vacation was the most exciting event we'd ever experience!

We would also save up "holiday money" from our pocket money every month. It was fun keeping money aside without knowing what we were going to spend it on once our holiday began.

A Big Decision

I was 10 years old when my parents took us to a lovely resort with hot springs in a scenic, mountainous part of South Africa (where I live). Apart from the magnificent pools, there were also hiking trails, organized games and horse rides.

My sister had ridden a horse before, but I hadn't. My parents weren't too keen on letting me ride for the first time ever at a holiday resort as part of a bigger group.

But one day, my sister and I decided that we would use some of our saved-up holiday money to pay for a horse ride. That afternoon, while my parents were taking a nap, we slipped away.

We're Riding!

The stables were busy that afternoon and quite a big group of people had gathered for an afternoon of horse riding. Luckily (although I didn't think so at the time), the stable helpers gave me one look and decided that a Shetland pony was the biggest animal I would ride that day. My sister, on the other hand, being five years older than me, got to ride a "proper" horse.

Feeling rather disappointed, I got on the pony and went to a separate ring with other children on ponies. The older riders were guided into a big ring where they could get a feel for their horses before heading out into the fields.

A Not-So-Happy Ending

Every now and again the horse riders would come past us as I watched with envy from the small ring. First they walked, then they cantered. And then, as the horses broke into a gallop, I saw my sister losing her grip on the reins.

Not being an experienced rider, she wasn't able to get hold of her reins again or control her horse with her legs. She had no control over where the horse was going, and it was heading to the gate. How she managed to stay seated for as long as she did I don't know, but when the horse reached the gate it came to a dead stop and gave my sister a free flying lesson.

The Art of Self-Regulation

If you can't regulate yourself and your emotions, it's like riding a horse without reins. You can't steer it away from disaster and you can't control where it goes. And once it gathers speed, it becomes difficult to stop. These situations often end with one or all parties feeling bruised, unhappy and dissatisfied, just like my sister and I after our horse riding excursion.

When you can't self-regulate, you don't know whether you can trust yourself to do the right thing. This can also wreak havoc on your relationships with colleagues, partners and children.

During last Friday's #MTtalk, we discussed various aspects of self-regulation. Here are the questions we asked and some of the responses:

Q1. What does "self-regulation" mean to you?

Self-regulation influences many areas of our lives. We love the honesty in your answers!

@aarum101 Self-regulation is for me, in one word, maturity (in every aspect). And it's hard to do when you are very emotional (that's one of my defects).

@tweetgayusri Choosing healthy food from a fatty buffet.

@MurrayAshley Self-regulate: to be able to control your reaction to a situation, irrespective of your knee-jerk emotion – also known as "easier said than done."

Q2. What does a lack of self-regulation look like? Is it necessarily about losing your temper?

@jojacob_uk Not necessarily losing your temper. Maybe hijacked by any emotion?

@PIPability Constant confusion on priorities. Unorganized. Maintaining a constantly busy state of mind. Not getting things done. High levels of stress and panic.

Q3. Why do we hold some people more accountable than others for their self-regulation?

Judging different people differently for the same behavior can be the result of cultural beliefs and societal norms. Here's what some of our participants had to say:

@sittingpretty61 We usually expect people in authority to demonstrate a higher level of self-restraint than the average person. Children need to develop the art of self-regulation from role models, like their parents.

@MarkC_Avgi Do we? Perhaps so… but it will depend on the position they are in. In my opinion, everyone should be held accountable for their self-regulation, but those in positions of authority, or whose actions may harm others, should be held more accountable.

Q4. What purpose does self-regulation serve, at work and in life?

@bentleyu With self-regulation there's time to process and reflect on who we are, what we do, where we are, how we act, why we act, when to act. It allows us to contextualize feelings, behaviors, reactions, thoughts, etc., and to realize their impact.

@s_narmadhaa Knowing when to shut up can save our relationships with colleagues.

Q5. What happens when you do not self-regulate? What impact does it have on relationships?

A common theme that emerged is that a lack of self-regulation deals a major blow to trust in a relationship.

@itstamaragt When you don't self-regulate, it can impact the longevity and quality of relationships. It can break trust and assurance between you and the other party.

@ZalkaB Some consequences are irreparable and can not be reversed. And our hastiness, impulsiveness or fiery-headedness can have a long-lasting effect and can make or break relationships, partnerships and teams.

Q6. What are the risks of over-regulation?

@Midgie_MT Possibly not showing any emotion for any situation, which might make people think you do not care.

@Limha75 Sometimes, emotion is needed. I’d hate to over-regulate if someone is telling me something sad or tragic. A great colleague recently said to me that good leaders aren’t afraid to be vulnerable.

Q7. When do you find self-regulation the most challenging to implement?

One of our regular participants, @GenePetrovLMC, shared the acronym HALT, which stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. It resonated with all of us!

Q8. What self-regulation strategies work best for you?

@MikeBarzacchini Not sure if it’s purely a self-regulation strategy, but meditation practice helps me prioritize and focus.

@Yolande_MT I try to respond to things, people and situations according to my values, not my emotions.

Q9. How do you handle a situation when your normal self-regulation strategies are not working?

@carriemaslen When something is escalating and my normal self-regulation strategies are failing me, I try to leave the situation and approach it the next day.

@MicheleDD_MT I’ve learned to recognize the signs (physical and emotional) and find a way to tactfully remove myself from the situation.

Q10. How might you help someone (employee, colleague or friend) to self-regulate appropriately?

We learned that people don't want to be told to calm down, stop, or take a breath. Some other ideas include:

@harrisonia To help someone to self-regulate appropriately, I'd ask if they want/need this kind of help; offer to be their backup accountability partner; and make a list of things that trigger them, or actions to bring to their attention.

Thanks to @SailorsBen for sharing this helpful analogy: "There's a hill with exits on it. The trick is to recognize the hill earlier and earlier in the slope, rather than when it's too late to stop. I've been slowly learning how to diffuse anger at its root, instead of at the last exit."

To read all the tweets, take a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat.

Coming Up

Regulating yourself is necessary to live a balanced life. Next time on #MTtalk, we're going to talk about balance, and we'd like to know what you tend to neglect when you feel stressed and overwhelmed. Please vote in our Twitter poll to tell us what you think.


In the meantime, here are some resources relating to self-regulation:

Dealing With Rude Customers

8 Ways to Improve Self-Regulation

Asking for Help

Emotional Intelligence

How to Manage Defensive People

Controlling Your Emotions at Work

Working in a Public-Facing Role

Developing Self-Awareness

Helping Your People Develop Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Labor


Five Ways to Deal With Rudeness in the Workplace

How to Be Tactful

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