01 Nov 2021
Keep in check: How self-regulation can be the key to getting ahead

Keep in check: How self-regulation can be the key to getting ahead

In our personal and professional lives, having the ability to self-regulate is a valuable part of our wellbeing toolbox.


Because being aware of and effectively managing our emotions, thoughts and behaviours can not only help us remain calm and rational, but it also helps us remain focused on our desired goals.

And this is something that is as important in business as it is in our personal lives.

But what is self-regulation? It’s the ability to manage your behaviour and emotions in the pursuit of a long term goal.

"Self-regulation is one of the most important skills we can develop, that has the potential to impact across all areas of our lives and our overall wellbeing," says Annabel Hill, Psychologist and Injury Management Specialist at QBE.

How we react emotionally and behaviourally in response to certain situations depends on a number of factors, including our biological makeup, our current mental and physical health, our ability to empathise and be mentally flexible, our life experiences, temperament, our self-limiting beliefs, and our cultural backgrounds. Being aware of how we respond to different situations is important, as we can then resist impulsive urges that may be detrimental to our overall goals.

"By having an increased awareness and understanding of how you respond in certain situations, and how you can self-regulate that response, you’re enabled to be better prepared to respond to the ups and downs of life, and remain focused on what’s important," says Hill.

Today, we’re living in a world with many stressors – from the continual demands placed on us by technology to the global pandemic we’re living through – and it’s important we have the tools and resources to filter, process and respond to our environment in a way that supports both our goals and values, as well as our mental health and wellbeing.

Emotional and behavioural self-regulation

We respond to life’s challenges behaviourally and/or emotionally and being aware of how we instinctively respond is important – particularly if that response has a limiting effect on us, or where it can be harnessed to create a greater benefit.

Self-regulation of emotions is defined as 'a process by which individuals influence what emotions they have, when they have them, and how they experience and express them'.

Being aware of our emotional response to a situation can help us reduce, strengthen or maintain our positive or negative emotions depending on the needs or goals of an individual.

Behavioural self-regulation, meanwhile, is the ability to notice and manage our feelings and our initial response, in a way that enables us to engage in positive behaviour in order to achieve our goals. For example, still engaging in a positive way at work despite feeling tired or not 100% emotionally.

"This enables you to feel one way but still act in accordance with your values, and by doing this we’re managing our initial impulses and engaging in value-driven behaviours to achieve our goals," says Hill.

Of course, in order for us to have influence over our emotions or behaviours, we need to be aware of how we’re feeling and acting. By being in tune with this and being flexible in our thinking in terms of how we interpret incoming stimuli, we can begin to self-regulate our emotional and behavioural responses.

Developing self-regulation skills

Of course, the skills required to self-regulate successfully need to be nurtured and developed, and fortunately there are a number of ways in which we can do this.

"Most of us live in a reactive mode, so it’s important to develop our awareness – and this takes consistent practice," says Hill.

"Start by spending a short period of time once a day taking your physical, mental and emotional pulse, or building a mindfulness practice into your every day. The more you do this, the more likely you’ll be able to engage those skills in times of stress."

It’s also important to be aware of your physical response to stress, as this can often be the first cue that we are becoming dysregulated. Emotions are reflected in the body – so, for example, when we are stressed we may experience muscle tension, stomach aches and feeling jittery. The ability to down-regulate this physical stress response is an important part of self regulation and can be facilitated via practices such as relaxation exercises, grounding exercises, deep breathing and meditation.

Woman at home drinking from a mug"Our breath is a great regulator of our nervous system," says Hill, "so by developing a conscious daily practice, even if it’s just five deep breaths linked to an activity you do each day – for example, before brushing your teeth – you can bring your focus to the present moment and help develop your capacity to self-regulate."

Acceptance is one of the core processes of mindfulness and being able to accept how you are actually feeling – rather than judging how you think you should be feeling – helps you tolerate and process the emotion you’re feeling, while being able to address and resolve the situation at hand.

Hill says learning how to self-regulate, and being aware of how you’re feeling emotionally and physically is a critical skill to develop.

"The better our ability to self-regulate, usually means we’re also more aware of our responses and the impact that they can have on those around us," she says.

Ultimately, being able to effectively self-regulate means you are going to be in a more balanced state, and consequently in a better position to remain focused on your goals and less susceptible to the stressors we will inevitably face throughout our lives.

So, not only will you be able to support your own wellbeing, but you will also be in a better place to offer support to family, colleagues and customers, too.

To learn more about the self-regulation strategies and techniques you can practice and develop to positively impact your every day, watch Annabel Hill’s webinar, available in our broker resource centre, Q Academy.