self-regulationHow well do you ‘self-regulate’? Or asked in another way, are you someone who can demonstrate self-control in order to help you live a more happy, flourishing and prosperous personal and work life?

One of the topics I’ve covered this year in my Master Degree in Applied Positive Psychology is Self-Regulation or as it is sometimes referred to as ‘self-control’.

Some Positive Psychology researchers such as Roy Baumeister, refer to self-regulation as like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets.

When Liz (my wife) and I decided to get married back in 1984, we were both cigarette smokers (please don’t judge us). We’d both smoke about 10 to 20 cigarettes a day, and had done so since we were about 18 or 19 years old.
We had a number of reasons (motivation) to stop smoking. Financially we recognised it was a good idea. Our health also was of prime concern as we intended to have children. Role modelling also was part of our decision making process, as was the fact we were buying our own home (not renting) and didn’t want cigarette smell through the house.

On reflection Liz and I related very much with James Prochaska’s spiral model of the stages of change, especially relating to sometimes ‘giving in’ and reverting to a smoke “just this time”… but the outcome was, because of our intrinsically motivated reasons being sufficient, to have not had a cigarette since 1985.

I think what’s really important is what Martin Seligman describes as GRIT “the never-yielding form of self-discipline.”
For Liz and myself, we’ve put it down to our intrinsic motivation that took us beyond the many who enlist self-discipline at first, but then yield to the temptation. We also can see the connection between our growth mindsets, that a lapse in self-discipline did not define who we were… and that we saw ourselves as being non-smokers. And, the support we received from each other had a significant impact on us being able to apply the self-discipline to stop smoking.

From that moment of being able to flex our self-discipline muscles to give up smoking to the point of success, perhaps there is some truth in our self-discipline muscles getting stronger, because we were (and are) able to apply it to managing our finances, diet, exercise and our relationship in general etc..

However, I pose the question whether it is our self-regulatory muscle getting stronger, or whether it is our intrinsic motivation being fuelled by our clarity around our sense of self and clarity around our intentions, promises, actions and results in pursuing a happy, flourishing and prosperous life together?

So as you enter this weekend, probably a great time to ask yourself, are you clear on your intentions for the people you impact in your life, and are you clear on your intentions for yourself in your personal and work life? Without clarity of intention, it won’t matter if you’ve got self-regulation or self-control, because you won’t be clear on when or more importantly WHY you ought to be applying them.