Temper tantrums, withdrawal, anxiety, or rebellion are a handful of outbursts that we, as adults, do in reaction to something we don’t like. But here’s the thing: we shouldn’t. The reality is, we may just be struggling with self-regulation.
So what do you do? Here are a few things to know:
- What Is Self-Regulation?
- The Importance of Self-Regulation
- 6 Effective Strategies for Self-Regulation
Being an adult has its challenges, no doubt. However, the reward is in knowing you’ve done the best you can in your own personal growth. And getting to know more about self-regulation is one place to start.
What Is Self-Regulation?
Self-regulation is a part of one’s executive function—emotional intelligence, to be specific, which is the ability to notice, understand, manage, and regulate emotions. When all four work together, it’s called self-regulation.
You know when you’re infuriated over something and you find ways to calm down instead of blowing up? That’s one of many self-regulation examples out there. Others include being aware of strong emotions, controlling impulses, staying focused, and behaving appropriately in social situations.
According to cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Caroline Leaf, it encompasses emotional, behavioral, bodily regulation, and perspective regulation. In a nutshell, it allows people to manage their emotions and behaviors before acting on them.
Additionally, the self-regulation definition in psychology is quite similar. As per the American Psychology Association, it’s “the control of one’s behavior through the use of…
- Self-monitoring (keeping a record of behavior),
- Self-evaluation (assessing the information obtained during self-monitoring), and
- Self-reinforcement (rewarding oneself for appropriate behavior or for attaining a goal).”
This skill isn’t innate but is teachable—its processes are often stressed in behavior therapy.
And they’re important to learn, especially when the going gets rough.
The Importance of Self-Regulation
The ability to cope with certain emotions, behavior, and thoughts, especially during stressful situations, plays a part in our relationships and overall well-being. Without it, as Dr. Leaf explains, “we basically throw our body and mind into disarray.”
When self-regulation fails, reactions tend to be amplified. A 2011 article in the Trends in Cognitive Sciences journal points out that it fails “when people are in bad moods, when minor indulgences snowball into full-blown binges, when people are overwhelmed by immediate temptations or impulses, and when control itself is impaired (e.g., after alcohol consumption or effort depletion).”
However, people who can self-regulate tend to be more resilient with emotional agility, which, in turn, benefits our mental and emotional health. In fact, one study looking into self-regulation in older adults found that those with this skill had better psychological and physical health than those who didn’t.
While adults can greatly benefit from learning how to manage their emotions, it also serves as a model for their children to do the same.
Why self-regulation is important for children
If dealing with emotions is a big deal for adults, then it’s a huge deal for children.
When they’re upset, angry, or even excited, their actions (or reactions, depending on the situation) may seem overboard, which can be overwhelming for us as parents.
However, our children aren’t to blame. They just haven’t learned how to manage their emotions, especially the strong ones.
When that happens, it’s hard for them to use their executive function skills. And that can make it difficult for them to listen, remember rules, and stay focused on any given activity.
Children with poor self-regulation skills can have emotional and behavioral problems, including being anxious, irritable, impulsive, destructive, or aggressive. One research paper points out, “Adolescents who do not regulate their emotions and behavior are more likely to engage in risk-taking and unhealthy behaviors.”
On the other hand, children who are able to self-regulate make healthy choices for themselves and those around them, according to Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child. They state, “When children have opportunities to develop executive function and self-regulation skills, individuals and society experience lifelong benefits.”
As you may be aware (especially during the pandemic), social interaction is incredibly important for mental health. It will also help your child foster a sense of belonging and safety, be happier, and learn to be a compassionate citizen of the world.
6 Effective Strategies for Self-Regulation
While we may not have been taught how to self-regulate when we were younger, the great thing about being an adult is that we can learn how to do it now.
As Nir Eyal, focus and habit formation expert and trainer of Mindvalley’s Becoming Focused and Indistractable Quest, says, “While we can’t control the feelings and thoughts that pop into our heads, we can control what we do with them.”
Here are some concrete strategies you can put in place for different scenarios.
Self-regulation in the workplace
The office environment is a melting pot where different personalities converge for at least eight hours a day, five days a week. And there’s bound to be some emotional flare-ups.
Here’s how you can check yourself before you wreck yourself:
1. Cultivate self-awareness
It starts with self-awareness, according to Daniel Goleman, psychologist and author of best-selling Emotional Intelligence, in a 2020 interview on Mindvalley Talks with Jason Marc Campbell. He explains, “That means simply tuning into what you’re feeling, knowing why you feel it, and how it’s affecting your performance.”
The more in tune you are with your self-awareness, the better your emotional intelligence. You’re able to appreciate your strengths and weakness. In turn, you can better identify your stressors and use the information to cope with the emotion more effectively.
How does this work in an office environment?
“Leaders who are self-aware can recognize when their emotions have a negative impact on their work or on the people around them,” Daniel explains in his article on LinkedIn. “They are then better equipped to address it in an effective way, such as through creating opportunities for feedback, experimenting with different ways to motivate their team, or being more open to creative solutions.”
2. Be a model for self-regulation
While you can always hope your co-workers will be able to manage their emotions and behaviors, you also have to be aware of your own.
Whether or not you’re aware of it, you’re constantly using body language to express how you feel. When you’re angry, upset, sad, irritated, silent, in love, happy, excited, or whatever the emotional behavior may be, your coworkers will pick up on the cues and respond in kind.
Let’s say you’re already having a bad day, and you find out someone ate your packed lunch, even though you put a note on it that clearly states it’s yours. You’re fuming. And like Friends’ Ross Geller, you just lose it. Your coworkers might try to calm you down, but their social skills aren’t doing much to calm you down.
It’s the idea that Daniel highlighted in the interview with Jason. He says, “The fact is, the brain carries your emotions everywhere you go, for better or worse. And it turns out”—and as research has shown—“the best leaders, the best teams manage their emotions artfully.”
You can watch the whole interview on Mindvalley Talks:
4 Emotional Intelligence Skills for Success | Daniel Goleman – Video
Self-regulation in a relationship
No doubt, there will be times when you have a strong emotional response to a situation in your relationship. Here are some suggestions that can help:
3. Feel your emotions
Emotional self-regulation is a great way to control impulses. It’s one of the things that tapping expert, Jennifer Patridge really hones in on in her Tapping Into Emotional Mastery Quest on Mindvalley.
“Emotions are what makes us beautifully human,” she says. “Our emotions are not to be feared. Instead, they are calling for our love, our compassion, empathy, and acceptance. By hearing the call of our emotions, we are able to nurture them and take care of them.”
Jennifer advises you to allow yourself to feel that emotion. Rate it on a scale from one to 10. Identify it—is it fear, anger, stress, resentment, or overwhelm? And as you do so, use tapping techniques to relieve that emotion.
You can check out this demonstration by Jennifer to understand more.
Jennifer Patridge on How to Instantly Relieve Stress and Overwhelm With EFT/Tapping – Video
4. Use breathwork to regulate your emotions
Breathe in. Now, breathe out.
If you’ve ever done this to help steady your nerves, then you’re probably familiar with what a difference one deep breath can make. It can impact your focus, your mood, and even your day.
As a matter of fact, a 2017 study looked into the effects of diaphragmatic breathing on attention, negative affect, and stress in healthy adults. Its results found “the effect of diaphragmatic breathing, a mind-body practice, on mental function, from a health psychology approach, which has important implications for health promotion in healthy individuals.”
This is the very essence of breathwork. While there are different techniques out there, one in particular that can create a state of harmony and balance internally is SOMA Breath®.
Its technique times your breath to the beat of rhythmic music. Doing so manipulates CO2 in your body to train you to breathe correctly.
Self-regulation strategies for kids
There are many ways to help your child with self-regulation. This includes teachers, peers, and culture. But family plays a key role, especially parents.
Here are some self-regulation strategies for kids:
5. Adopt a conscious parenting style
“We, parents, are the masters of projection,” says Dr. Shefali Tsabary, clinical psychologist and trainer of Mindvalley’s Conscious Parenting Mastery Quest. “We ad-lib, willy-nilly, put onto our children all our own ideations, our ideologies, our belief systems, and our emotions.”
Without a doubt, raising a little human is not an easy job and you may feel like an imposter sometimes. But this is a mission you chose to take on.
As a parent, you want to nurture your child, love them, and give them the best you can offer. And while there are many parenting skills you should adopt, one of the best things you can do for them (and possibly, yourself) is to be a conscious parent.
Just like the metaphor of putting on the oxygen mask before you help your child, conscious parenting is not so much about your child—it’s about your inner child.
It’s about making peace with your own childhood baggage so that you can show up as a better parent and have a more authentic and meaningful relationship with your offspring.
6. Teach them how to be indistractable
When our children aren’t behaving the way we prefer them to or when they don’t seem to want to pay attention, we often look outwards to point the blame at something. It’s technology—iPads, smartphones, and what have you—that gets the grunt of it.
We often cling to simple answers because they serve a story we want to believe—that kids do strange things because of something outside our control, which means that those behaviors are not really their (or our) fault.— Nir Eyal, trainer of Mindvalley’s Becoming Focused and Indistractable
Nir suggests helping our children manage their distraction by feeding them with “psychological nutrients”:
- Autonomy: the ability to act on their own free will over their choices, like allowing toddlers to put on their shoes on their own or encouraging teenagers to cultivate their social skills.
- Competence: the ability to know how to handle situations (socially and emotionally) effectively, such as talking about what they’re learning in school and how useful those lessons are in life.
- Relatedness: the ability to feel important to others and feel that others are important to them, like spending time with friends or people their age.
Help them find a balance between their online and offline worlds, and teach them by being indistractable yourself.
Your Greatness Starts With You
The first (and major) step you can take is to work on your own internal triggers—to understand what causes them and how to heal them. And the experts at Mindvalley can guide you.
If you’re unsure of where to start, you can begin with these quests:
- Tapping Into Emotional Mastery Quest with Jennifer Patridge. The beauty of tapping is its simplicity. And the practice can help you with emotional healing, overcoming adversity, and showing up as the most empowered version of yourself.
- Conscious Parenting Mastery Quest with Dr. Shefali Tsabary. Conscious parenting is all about your inner child. This program will help you raise your level of consciousness so that you can build the emotional intelligence to nurture a deep, meaningful connection with your child.
- Be Focused and Indistractable Quest with Nir Eyal. The problem isn’t the millions of external distractions; rather, it’s the habits you’ve taken on. With Nir’s guidance, you’ll deep dive into your subconscious beliefs, daily habits, and routines that impact your ability to focus and be indistractable.
With a Mindvalley account (which you can sign up for free), you can access the first few quest lessons and sample the Mindvalley trainers’ guidance. What’s more, there’s a vast library of meditations available, so if you ever find yourself in an emotionally compromising situation, you can find meditation to help calm and soothe you.
Keep in mind that emotions are what you feel, not who you are. And being able to manage them is one step to unlocking your brilliance within.