8 Ways to Improve Self-Regulation

"Feed Your Good Wolf"

8 Ways to Improve Self-Regulation -

© iStockphoto
DebraMillet

Which wolf do you feed?

There is a Native American story called "The Two Wolves." It starts with an old Cherokee telling his grandson about a battle that often goes on inside people.

He says, "My son, the fight is between two wolves. One is evil. It is angry, envious, jealous, sorrowful, regretful, greedy, arrogant, self-pitying, guilty, resentful, inferior, dishonest, proud, superior, and egotistical. The other is good. This wolf is joyful, peaceful, loving, hopeful, serene, humble, kind, benevolent, empathetic, generous, truthful, compassionate, and faithful."

His grandson thinks for a while, and then asks: "Which wolf wins, Grandfather?" The old Cherokee simply replies, "The one you feed."

Regulating Your Emotions

The point of the story is that we all have a choice about how we react to situations: either in a positive or negative way. The more you practice thinking and behaving positively, the less negativity can affect you and the way you behave.

Let's apply the two wolves analogy to the workplace.

Imagine you've just been passed over for promotion. You start to think negatively about your boss, so much so that it interferes with your ability to do your work. But, after some deep breaths, you tell yourself positive things like, "Something better will come along," "The person best suited to this job got it," and, "It's nothing personal." These new thoughts help you to think clearly again, and allow you to put the situation into perspective.

Making a proactive choice to feed your "good wolf," and to manage the way you think and act, involves self-regulation.

What Is Self-Regulation?

Self-regulation is the ability to keep disruptive emotions and impulses in check, and to think before acting. It's one of the five elements of emotional intelligence (knowing your emotions; managing your emotions/self-regulation; motivating yourself; recognizing and understanding other people's emotions, and managing relationships), a concept developed by psychologist Daniel Goleman.

According to Goleman, Boyatzis and McKee, in their 2002 book "The New Leaders: Transforming the Art of Leadership," people who self-regulate see the good in other people, and are able to identify opportunities in different situations. They keep lines of communication open, make their motivations and intentions clear, and act in accordance with their values. They also work to the best of their abilities, and are able to keep going when times are tough.

Goleman and his colleagues found that self-regulated people can calm themselves down when they're angry or upset, and cheer themselves up when they're down. They are also flexible, and adapt their styles to work with their colleagues (no matter who they are), and take charge of situations when necessary.

Emotional intelligence is a crucial leadership skill, because it gives you an awareness of your own emotions, as well as of others' feelings and needs. Self-regulation is also vital, because it means you can manage how you react to situations, and express yourself appropriately at all times.

The Importance of Self-Regulation

When we know how to manage our emotions and impulses, we function at our best. It means we act in accordance with our "social conscience," rather than just doing what we want to do. For instance, we might help a team member with a piece of work even when we're pushed for time ourselves.

Self-regulation also prevents us from behaving in a way that could cost us, our team or our organization in the long run, even when there are short-term benefits. It allows us to delay gratification and suppress our impulses long enough to think ahead to the possible consequences of our actions. So, for example, we can turn down invitations to do something fun when we're studying toward a qualification, and are able to rein in the desire to tell difficult team members what we really think of them!

Being self-regulated means we're able to "bounce back" from negative feedback, which stops us from wallowing in self-pity and being less productive at work. And, if other people see we're able to keep calm under pressure, and accept feedback without getting upset, they're more likely to trust us with important work and projects. It also make us more approachable, and strengthens our reputations at work.

8 Strategies to Develop Your Self-Regulation Skills

The good news is that you can learn self-regulation. Use the following eight strategies to develop it.

1. Leading With Integrity

Managers who are self-regulated lead with integrity. They are good role models, they practice what they preach, and they create trusting environments. They do the right thing for the right reasons, even when it means they don't take the easiest option....

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