Self-regulation: what it is, examples and exercises


In this article, I'm going to talk about self-regulation. What is self-regulation? How can it be improved, and what are some examples of self-regulation?

Table of contents

Self-regulation is one of the personal skills that allows us to set goals and move towards them. Therefore, it is a self-directing process.

Likewise, it is a capacity that is vital for adaptation to the environment and an adequate personal and social adjustment.

If you want to know more about this ability and how to improve it, keep reading this article: Self-regulation: what it is, examples and exercises.

“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.” 
― Thich Nhat Hanh

1. What is self-regulation

What does self-regulation mean? Self-regulation is essential to adapt to situations and to act according to our objectives. Next we will see in depth what self-regulation is.

Meaning of self-regulation

The concept of self-regulation is defined as the ability to control and manage both thoughts, emotions, actions and motivation through a series of personal strategies that allow both the achievement of objectives and the avoidance of unwanted results.

Likewise, the self-regulatory ability allows the analysis of the environment, giving a response to it and a modulation of this reaction in order to promote an adaptation to the environment. This capacity has great implications for personal development, social adjustment and the general well-being of the person.

In contrast, self-regulation difficulties are predictors of problems in interpersonal relationships and are a risk factor for substance abuse, emotional disorders such as depression and anxiety, as well as the development of impulsive or aggressive behaviors.

The concept of self-regulation is complex, since it encompasses a series of processes and includes numerous executive functions.

Phases of self-regulation

As for the processes or phases of self-regulation, the following are identified:

  • Planning phase: phase in which an analysis of the situation takes place, an establishment of objectives and an organization and programming based on these, as well as a connection with previous learning.
  • Execution phase: that in which the behavior is put into practice or executed.
  • Self-reflection phase: evaluation and assessment of the results obtained. This phase is of great importance because self-regulation is fed back based on the experiences and consequences derived from them.

Components of self-regulation

Within these phases, a series of elements or skills interact that have a role in self-regulation:

  • Metacognition: awareness and ability to reflect on one's own thinking.
  • Self-knowledge: recognition of one's own person, of their qualities, strengths and weaknesses. It is linked to the capacity for introspection.
  • Self-control: Self-control is the ability to maintain focus and direction of action.
  • Self-monitoring: observation and supervision of one's own behavior.
  • Self-efficacy: confidence in one's own abilities to achieve the proposed goals.
  • Self-motivation: own impulse to persevere in what is intended to be achieved, maintaining optimism and enthusiasm for it autonomously.
  • Mental flexibility: ability to adapt behavior to changing environmental conditions.
  • Behavioral inhibition: ability to stop the behavior and replace it with a more appropriate one.
  • Self-assessment: ability to assess and judge one's own performance and learn from it.

2. Self-regulation examples

Below is a series of examples that demonstrate self-regulatory capacity:

  • Example of self-regulation of behavior. A person who thinks that he should take more care of his health in general and wants to adopt healthier habits, so he decides to join a gym, make a weekly plan of his meals, not leave unhealthy foods in sight and gradually reduce alcohol consumption and tobacco.
  • Example of self-regulation of learning. A student who is aware that the subject of mathematics is more difficult and expensive than the rest of the subjects, for this reason they decide to dedicate more time to study, review each class lesson at the end, seek reinforcement or help with mathematics and give yourself a small reward with each test you pass.
  • Example of emotional self-regulation. A person does not have a very good day and is aware of it. That day, a friend tells him a joke, and internally it makes him angry. However, this person knows that he is having a bad day and that is why the joke has affected him more, as well as that his friend has done it with good intentions. For this reason, he decides not to present an angry reaction and chooses to tell his friend that he is not feeling very well today and would prefer that he not make jokes.

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3. Self-regulation exercises, strategies and activities

Self-regulation is a vital process present in various areas or areas of our lives. This competence is basic in the regulation of behavior and conduct in general terms, so its development is crucial for adaptation to the context.

Given the importance of this psychological process, a series of exercises, strategies and activities for self-regulation training are explained below:

  1. Self-awareness: a basic element in the self-regulation process is knowledge about our own person, characteristics, strengths and weaknesses. For this, an analysis of the different spheres of our lives is advisable, evaluating what we would improve or should learn and what elements we already consider to be good. It is also advisable to make a description of our person as detailed as possible, being able to contrast it later with close people.
  2. Planning: in terms of making plans, one strategy is to subdivide goals into smaller objectives. This clarifies the steps to follow, allows evaluating the achievement of these sub-goals, as well as favors obtaining a greater number of small reinforcements or self-reinforcements, that is, own positive evaluations of oneself, which in turn increase the motivation. Planning is an essential function for both initiation and maintenance of behavior.
  3. Problem-solving training: the problem-solving technique consists of finding a solution in a planned way. First, the person identifies the problem and orients himself towards it, analyzing how he perceives it, what degree of control he has over it and how much time he spends on it. Subsequently, the issue is clearly defined, the personal importance of the problem is formulated and evaluated, and what is intended to be achieved through its resolution. Next, a series of alternatives are generated, and their consequences are assessed, in order to choose the one that we consider most appropriate. Finally, a planning is carried out, it is implemented, and the operation of the chosen solution is verified throughout the process, making adjustments if necessary.
  4. Delayed gratification: Delayed gratification is the ability to delay immediate reward and maintain long-term behavior; it implies resisting and giving up temptations. For this, the management of attentional resources is effective through the stimulus control technique, by which those elements that hinder the achievement of objectives and the maintenance of long-term behavior are identified, and exposure to them is avoided.
  5. Self-instructions: self-instruction training consists of the person giving himself or herself internal orders to regulate their behavior. The self-instructions range from self-questioning (What do I have to do? What is the next step? ), self-check (I am going to go through all the steps, or I will check this point because I think it is not correct) to self-reinforcement (I am doing it very well). This technique is useful in the introduction and automation of various procedures and habits.
  6. Modelling: it can be helpful to acquire and maintain a behavior by imitating and learning it from another person who is an expert or has more experience in the behavior that we want to incorporate. The model person can be close or live, or through audiovisual or written support. For this, it is necessary to choose the person who will be our model, to be able to observe and attend to their behaviors with the aim of retaining them in memory and reproducing them. Finally, the repertoire of behaviors is imitated and practiced until it is acquired.
  7. Breathing and relaxation training: these two techniques promote both reflection and metacognition, or awareness of one's own thought. Therefore, its practice can be beneficial for a greater development of self-regulation, as well as reserving time for oneself.
  8. Change of beliefs: identification of those beliefs or thoughts that are limiting in what we propose and a written record of them. Once on paper, a more positive, adaptive and constructive idea or cognition that can replace it is written next to it.
  9. Visualization: The technique of visualization that uses the imagination promotes self-motivation. To do this, the person visualizes in his mind the objectives that he intends to achieve, and the positive consequences derived from it. Thus, there is an increase in optimism and an improvement in mood.
  10. Change of activity: another self-regulation exercise consists of paying attention to the emotions and feelings that derive from the tasks you perform, as well as cultivating flexibility; so we discover that an activity is harmful, we are able to try new options or variations that are more beneficial to us.
  11. Go to a professional person: remember that someone professional can facilitate your training and focus on self-regulation or on those elements of this process that require more work or are more expensive for you.

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