Must not have third glass of wine. Must go to bed. Must go to SoulCycle tomorrow.
Heed the needy whispers of your inner self-regulator. The part of us that slaps the cookie from our hand. The part of us takes the vitamin that
smells like fish.
Self-regulation is the self controlling the self.
It’s the helicopter parent inside all of us. The judge that sizes up our behavior, emotions, and thoughts, intervening when we’re not up to par.Self-regulation keeps us healthy, employable, and (mostly) moral human beings. It nudges us to act in our long-term best interests and stay (mostly) emotional stable.
Humans are master self-regulators.
In fact, self-regulation is believed to be a major milestone in human evolution. I can hear the inner caveman critic now, “Must keep cave clean. Must eat lion like a lady.”
We use childlike bargaining chips to regulate our own selves.
As if we don’t see through the negotiation tactics. We reward ourselves with little tokens and trinkets: A drink after the big presentation. Two slices of cake after the gym. Three hours of Netflix after the long day at work.
And we also punish ourselves when we step out of line.
We delay gratification with a sneaky voice that persuades us to stick it out. Staying in hated jobs for the year-end bonus. Detoxing for a week, only to drink all of the cocktails come Friday.
Many “first world” problems stem from self-regulation disorders.
Self-regulation disorders seem to be all the rage these days. Among them are ever-popular eating disorders and obesity, alcoholism and drug abuse, sex addiction, and media addiction.
Particularly among 20 and 30-somethings, there’s more and more flailing uncertainty around how to self-regulate. When to say no. When to say yes. When to eat the damn cookie.
So why the sudden inability to self-regulate?
Where is the confusion coming from? Why have we lost touch with the once reliable guides that supported generations past? Why are we all addicted to something these days?
Because successful self-regulation requires standards.
Standards about what’s right and wrong. What’s attractive and ugly. What’s too many drinks and what’s “normal.” Standards help us measure and monitor our behavior, comparing ourselves against accepted values. Previous generations had the luxury of clearer standards. Norms and morals were established. Conformity was cool. Everyone knew the rules of engagement.
But in modern day society, we’re not bound by those standards.
It’s a free for all, which is a great thing. Many of us are rejecting norms of the past. We’re creating our own playbooks/ But for self-regulation to take place, some mediating force needs to step in. So if not predefined standards, then what?
If we reject standards, we must compensate with our intuition.
Which is easier said than done in a society that prizes logic over intuition. We ignore the compass that simply knows how to self-regulate without any external suggestions, reference points, or judgmental stares.
Self-regulation is treated like a science, but it’s really an art.
It’s the refined, practiced, skillful listening to the cues from your mind, emotions, and body. When to stop drinking, stop eating, stop having sex, whatever it is that plagues you.
So here are three tips to develop the art of intuitive self-regulation:
Many psychologists believe the self must be embodied to be known. That in order to know the self, we must actively live in our fantastic, smelly, clumsy bodies, with an awareness and responsiveness to its needs.
In self-regulation disorders, there is a disconnection from the body. A shame and rejection of physical needs. Reduced sensitivity to body signals. And inevitable self neglect. This leads to overindulging and underindulging of all sorts. There’s no accurate feedback loop to tell you when to leave the bar.
The first way to develop intuitive self-regulation is through embodied practices. In other words, anything that regularly gets you into your body. Do yoga, go for a run, dance, take a walk, have sex. You build intuitive self-regulation abilities when you spend quality time in your earth suit.
2. Emotional Intelligence
Self-regulation is a highly emotional process. So I’m sorry to report that suppressing your emotions is not going to make you a good self-regulator.
In self-regulation disorders, there is an inability to identify, describe, and regulate emotions. Substances or experiences are used for emotional comfort. Emotional sensitivity, negative emotions, and feeling overwhelmed are the default state. When you can’t communicate your emotions, you can’t regulate them. You can’t control something you don’t understand.
The second way to develop intuitive self-regulation is through emotional intelligence. Unfortunately, that means a lot of hard work in processing and releasing emotions.
Do a body scan meditation, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) Tapping, emotional release bodywork to release stored emotions, acupuncture, breathe into tense parts of your body, and learn to process emotions before they get “stuck.”
3. Cognitive Self-Awareness
There’s a lot of thinking that goes into self-regulation. A lot of cognitive processes about what’s happening in our selves.
In self-regulation disorders, there is an overthinking to distort self-awareness. Cognition is overworked to the point of self-regulation resource depletion. Awareness of self is lowered to ignore our reality. Self-sabotage and escapism are common fallbacks.
Without cognitive self-awareness, we have no way to see our plight accurately. We can talk ourselves into all kinds of false realities.
The third way to develop intuitive self-regulation is through cognitive self-awareness. Become an expert of yourself.
So in summary…
You don’t need standards to self-regulate. All you need is your intuition.
Practice embodiment, emotionally intelligence, and self-awareness. Practice it, grow it, flex it.
Then, you’ll know when to put the cookie down.