My dad wanted me a musician so he took me to the piano as a youngster. My first year of childhood was structured around the hours of practice that I had to do each day. I learned so much more from sitting at my piano than just music. I learned about hard work, tenacity, perseverance and … self-regulation.
Self-Regulation, together with Forgiveness, Prudence, and Humility, make up the virtue of Temperance in the VIA character strengths paradigm. It helps us control and regulate our emotions. It can be strengthened by practice, but it can become tired if it is overused.
Research shows that Self-Regulation is not a signature strength for many people. It’s one of my top strengths, though. Self-Regulation gives you discipline and drive. It allows me to manage multiple plans simultaneously and to deconstruct each goal into a series if workable steps according to a finite timeframe.
In my childhood piano-playing days, I couldn’t go play outside with my friends until my practice was complete. When I stopped playing piano and doing ballet—which were my parents’ dreams, not mine—I turned to Air Cadets, a somewhat militarized youth group. Self-Regulation was a key factor in my success in that setting. I used it again during my doctoral programme, when I completed my puzzle of 8000 pieces, and when I was writing my book. Mom on WheelsIt took 10 years to create the book. I also believe Self-Regulation is what gives me my powerful internal clock—no matter what I do or how I organize myself, even if I actually Try to be late, I always arrive early or on time for appointments.
Self-regulation has been a great ally in my life. It provides predictability that the anxious-me enjoys. I know where I’m going and what I need do at any time during my day. I can focus on the task in hand, taking one step at the time, instead of looking up at the whole mountain, which would make my climbing skills doubtful.
Self-Regulation was not my only strength in all these situations. Rarely do we use one strength in any given situation. Perseverance is also pretty strong in me. When I use both, I am like a dog with a bone—I don’t give up very easily. (Maybe that’s why I often refer to myself as having grit, as Angela Duckworth defines it.) When things don’t go according to plan, self-compassion (Kindness) is a great ally. It gives me the perspective to adjust the plan, move on, and not get stuck in anxiety.
Self-Regulation also helped me to “get up” (or should I say … roll over?) After being paraplegic in a car accident, I had to get up every morning. Despite my despair at the time, Self Regulation and Love for My Son got me up and into my wheelchair each day. I had 34 years experience with Self-Regulation and was able to activate it almost automatically. I could keep the depressed thoughts in check when I was with my son, and I showed myself great Kindness for those difficult emotions when he wasn’t.
I would be a nervous wreck if I didn’t have Self-Regulation. However, I know I could use a variety of strengths to compensate. I could use my Creativity to think of alternative ways to achieve my goals, using Bravery, Perseverance, Teamwork and Leadership, Honesty and Humility, Hope and Humor.
Self-Regulation to me is a misunderstood power. It is not painful to use. On the contrary, it provides me with great pride, and makes victory—or the celebratory part of a finished project—even more enjoyable when I can look back at all the effort I put into it. It is all about balance.
Here are some strategies that will help you to strengthen your Self-Regulation.
- Practice makes perfect. Daily exercises will improve your Self-Regulation. If you activate it for a small task every day, you will be able to use it more effectively in other situations.
- Towing another strength with a signature strength can increase its use. Self-Regulation can be used to help you work with others. Curiosity can lead you toward Self-Regulation, because you want to see how it feels to incorporate more of a specific behavior or habit into your days.
- Self-Regulation can be used to identify a behavior that you need to change or manage. Visualize the best outcome, then visualize the most difficult obstacle and plan accordingly.
Join Marjorie Paul Nawrocki, a change-management expert on Tuesday, May 24, at 12:00 pm ET for a WBI/JCC webinar on tSelf-regulation is a useful tool for maintaining mental health. Register here