This month I want to talk about successful self-regulation. I know this won’t be the first time, and most likely it won’t be the last. Self-regulation and self-control in the context of goal achievement are subjects that are near and dear to my heart. I think it would be good to revisit self-regulation since many of us are embarking on new fitness journeys with the demarcation of a new year.
Self-regulation, will power, and self-control are all terms that are used to describe efforts that are made in order to change the way a person responds to a stimulus. For example, when we want to break a habit or create a new habit, we employ our self-regulatory efforts. A logical response right?
The important thing, in my opinion to understand about self-regulation is that it presupposes there is something to regulate. In other words we have a goal in mind. It is no surprise why so many fitness and motivational experts spend so much time on SMART goals. Without a clear direction of where we are going, we are most certainly not going to get there. If we want to curb a behavior, or create a new behavior for that matter, we have to have an idea to what end we have in mind. In other words, why is it important to postpone something that looks really good right now? Whether it be a new dress, a cupcake, a cocktail, gossiping with a friend, or lounging around and watching TV, what motivation do we have to stop these behaviors and start doing something else? How do we know to self-regulate in the first place? The answer is, we have a goal of something that we want.
What is interesting about goals is that once we establish them, we are also setting ourselves up to feel not only good about achieving them, but bad about not achieving them. Goals in part are a cause of low self-esteem. According to Baumeister, Heatherton, and Tice (1994), low self-esteem is nothing more than our inability to self-regulate in order to live up to the standards that we have created for ourselves. Now, I am not going to address depression, this is something completely different, and potentially a medical issue, but we have all felt bad about ourselves at one point or another. In fact, even the media understands this and many companies such as Dove and Lululemon have created ad campaigns to attempt to send a message that we are all ok just the way we are. But what is fascinating is the thought that our own goals and our lack of discipline to achieve our goals is the root of what is creating feelings of low self-esteem.
So, how do we set up goals, and standards of what we desire, AND implement effective self-regulation. This is really in my opinion the key to getting what we want, once of course we know what that is. I am going to offer an easy solution to this dilemma. In fact, the solution is so simple you may even disregard it a first. But it does not require you to do mental mantras or write in your journal, or put yourself in a hypnotic trance to convince yourself that your goals really are worthwhile. It doesn’t require you to create a vision board, or to post love notes on your bathroom mirror. It only requires one thing and that is very simply, to change your environment. Think about all the ways in which you feel that you have not lived up to your own standards and moved in the direction of your goals, where were you? Change your environment. That is it. If you find yourself waking into a bakery, walk out. If you find yourself lying on the couch, get up. If you find yourself with gossipy friends, walk away. (Seriously, you really can walk away). Do whatever you can to make your environment conducive to your goals, that is my challenge for you this January. I know it seems simple, and it really is. I am looking forward to receiving an email from you, detailing your success, just by making this one change.
Baumeister, R. F., Heatherton, T. F., & Tice, D. M. (1994). Losing Control: How and Why People Fail at Self-Regulation. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.