Self-regulation and its importance to you

Self-regulation is crucial to getting things done

What is self-regulation?

The second pillar of emotional intelligence or EI is the regulation of self or, as it is more commonly called, self-regulation.

Regulation in the sense we will use it, means the control of a system or process such that it remains at a desired level or rate. Self-regulation means how we control ourselves, either to ramp specific effort up or down or to maintain effort at a specific level or rate.

Once we become aware of something about ourselves, we can then decide if it is beneficial, neutral or harmful to us. We can then further decide to improve on beneficial areas, take neutral areas and improve them if desired and reduce or eliminate harmful areas of our lives.

Those are the steps then. We become aware of something, we decide to act in some way then we take the action we decided upon. Sounds simple when put like that doesn’t it?

If it is so simple, why aren’t we all completing our goals and taking our selves to our absolute best? We often know what to do but we either can’t start it or sustain it.

Why don’t we act?

Humans are lazy creatures. I’m fundamentally a lazy man. There I said it and I feel better about myself. Like it or not, it is true. Some people are not as lazy as others for sure, but we are all lazy creatures at heart.

Wouldn’t we much rather stay in bed for that extra five minutes? Who wouldn’t rather leave the gym until tomorrow or better yet, next week? The decorating can wait until after the holidays. One last biscuit then I’m all over that diet? Be honest with yourself here, if you won the big lottery prize would you go to work on Monday?

We are evolutionarily conditioned to conserve energy because energy was historically hard to come by. It still is in certain parts of the world. Sure, times and circumstances have changed for many of us and the modern world we inhabit expects us to be dynamic and energetic all the time. The problem is our wiring is largely geared for laziness and economy whenever and whenever possible. Much of our behaviour and thought is automatic because automation uses less energy than concentration and focused thinking. To want to carry out such work and burn the required energy, there must be a big trade-off in terms of reward versus effort.

Much of the time we don’t, won’t or can’t create for ourselves a compelling enough reason to act. We can often decide what we want to do but we often struggle to get started and do it. If we do start, we often struggle to keep going.

What about willpower?

Willpower is often seen as the separator of the achiever from the non-achiever. The almost magical difference between the person who can control themselves and the person who cannot. If we are honest most of us don’t really know what it is, and we cannot really point to it or identify it in any meaningful way. We believe we know when we have it or not, we are certain we know its effects, but we struggle to define it clearly.

In psychological terms it is the ability to delay gratification in the short-term to meet desired longer-term goals. It takes effort, concentration and energy to maintain willpower. It often relies on cool or logical thinking and the avoidance of hot or emotional reactions. Unwanted or non-useful thoughts must be overridden. It can be derailed by various physical and external effects. It is a limited yet replenishable resource which can and does run out, often when we need it most.

So, can you rely on willpower alone to regulate yourself? It’s risky at best. You need to be ever vigilant and on your guard. If you are anything like me, you will be easily distracted by the next new shiny object to come into your field of awareness. My various failed attempts at dieting and hitting the gym attest to this. My willpower often proves weak and simply not up to the task when I need it the most. How is yours?

I want to suggest a better route for all of us.

Automatic for the people

We apply willpower on a task by task basis. Too many tasks take too much willpower which tends to run out anyway. Once one thing flops over and we eat the cookie the rest come tumbling down after it and we are off the wagon yet again. To compound our misery and inadequacy we humans are also cognitively miserly. We like low-energy automatic thinking. Willpower takes concentration and energy. We generally don’t like to concentrate and focus for long if we don’t have absolutely to. Willpower needs help.

So, to reduce the amount of willpower you need to get the job done, I recommend creating as many habits as you can to help you regulate your thoughts, emotions and behaviours. Habits are the ultimate automatic process; both good and bad. Keep the willpower because you’ll always need it.

This isn’t an article about habits, so for more information and some great advice on making and breaking them, I recommend you read the books, “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg and “Nudge” by Richard Thaler & Cass Sunstein.

Make self-regulation easier to do and harder not to do

What I do want to talk about here is making self-regulation both easy to do and extremely hard not to do. What I mean by this is all about manipulating your environment to produce or install in yourself the actions, thoughts, emotions and behaviours which you want to produce or install.

It might be easier to use myself and my experiences as a gym goer as an example.


Suppose I want to go to the gym (this is not a hypothetical – I really need to get back to the gym) to get fit again. I have a poor track record it must be said. Starting early in the morning works for me but I am very good at making excuses not to go. There are always things to do.

The trick is to first begin to manipulate my environment to make it less likely to create excuses. I can set two or three alarm clocks at five-minute alarm gaps. The alarms are tuned with my most hated radio station and I place them physically out of reach, so I must get up and turn them off. I also set out my gym bag and all my bits and bobs ready to go plus my clothes next to the bed. No excuses. I even check the driveway route for my car is clear. No excuses.

I can still welch out here because it is only myself I am letting down. Here’s the clincher. I arrange to meet a buddy to exercise with and we share transport every other day. I don’t want to let them down and they don’t want to let me down. We have instructions to bang on the door until the other one gets ready. Avoiding annoying my lovely wife ensures I will never let it get to this stage.

I’m outsourcing my self-regulation.


What about keeping a lid on angry outbursts at work? Simple get someone you trust to monitor your behaviour and keep you honest. Initiate a hefty fine to go to charity if you screw up. Make a site wide apology the penalty for transgressing. You won’t want any of these events to transpire so again your self-regulation is outsourced.

Make failure to meet deadlines a very public thing – you’ll learn to love hitting them.


What about diets? Buddy up again or join a club. State your goals clearly and publicly so you must hit the target. Throw out all the unhealthy food and drink in your house. Don’t visit fast food outlets. I even heard about someone who took some horrendous “before” pictures and gave instructions for a trusted friend to post them on social media if the target was missed. They hit their dieting goals and then some.

What areas could you apply these ideas to? I believe all self-regulation issues are adjustable in this way. Positive and negative.

Now let willpower work its real magic for you

You took the pressure from willpower by creating habits and manipulating the environment. The good news is you now have that great resource available to you whenever you do need an extra push or shove. That early morning “kick in the tailpipe” to get those tired legs out of bed and into the training gear. The extra push to knuckle down and hit that deadline. The restraint to hold your temper when every fibre in your being is screaming to unload on the jerk in front of you. Willpower can now show you its real power.

Some last thoughts on self-regulation and EI

Knowing something is only half the battle. Taking some effective action based upon the knowledge is the next key step. No action = no results.

If you can’t, don’t or won’t dig deep and take full responsibility for your own actions you will always have problems. If you don’t control what you do or need to do based on your own self-awareness and feedback, someone or something else will take control for you. Trust me, you won’t enjoy having no control.

Understand what you need to do. Decide to do it. Set up suitable conditions to enable you to create a habit for doing it and penalties when you don’t. With patience and practice you’ll only need to use your willpower where it can do the its best work.

Is any of this easy? Absolutely not. Is it even possible? Yes, it is! If I can do it, then anyone can do it. Many other people prove this every day. Prove to yourself you can do it and go ahead and do whatever it is you need to do. People will notice the changes in your ability to get the important things done. Your emotional intelligence and your self-regulation level will get higher and higher as a result.

The next post in this series will look at the third EI pillar which is understanding others.

I hope you have enjoyed this article. If you have, please subscribe to either the blog or my newsletter to ensure you hear about subsequent articles and other useful and informative material.

In the meantime, you might also like to check out:

Emotional Intelligence in the real world

Self-awareness and how to develop it

Understanding others and how to do it

Relationship: The art and practice

Logan Paul Needs EI

Girl using mobile phone for texting or SM with and angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other meant to illustrate the importance of EI or emotional intelligence

EI or Emotional Intelligence is critical in the modern world. One ill-judged comment really can bring your whole world crashing down around you. It certainly did for Logan Paul.

I just read an interesting article on the BBC news channel today which highlights the importance of EI. It recounts the drama unfolding on the internet regarding the ill-conceived comments made by one Logan Paul, a quote “American You Tube star,” and the ensuing online backlash.

I confess I have not watched the video myself – life is too short and I’m too busy – so I am not making any judgements or criticisms of any kind about the actual content or the associated discussions. It is easy to throw accusations and blame around and I’m not above dropping the odd rick now and again myself.

What is fascinating to me here is the lack of EI displayed by Logan Paul when posting this video. What was he thinking? He, and apparently the people who advise him, failed to consider the potential upset the video may have caused others when he sent it to 15 million subscribers. I suspect he is not alone in his misery. I have dropped myself in the proverbial many times throughout my life via poorly judged comments and statements. We all do it from time to time. I am better able to learn from my mistakes nowadays.

What can you and I, and Logan Paul if he ever reads this, do to reduce the likelihood of making such mistakes in the future?

In its barest essence, EI comprises four parts:

  • Understanding of self
  • Regulation of self
  • Understanding of others
  • Managing relationships with others

After much research and experiential wound licking. I always recommend running a pre-flight check of any message before you deliver it.

Let’s apply a potential thought experiment to the Logan Paul scenario (hypothetical of course but it illustrates the process).

Understanding of self – Logan likely understands himself well enough. He knows what he likes and gathers like-minded people around him. This displayed self-knowledge and willingness to share with the world is likely to have contributed to him having 15 million followers in the first place. So far so good. Tick number one for the understanding of self.

Regulation of self – the wheels are wobbling a bit here. Logan needs to put out material for his channel which his audience will enjoy. He has clearly been doing a reasonable job so far. The problem for Logan this time is he has failed to separate what he feels is suitable from what his audience thinks is suitable. What he thinks is personal of course but not all of what he thinks is suitable for sharing. This box should have a tentative cross in it or at the very least a question mark. If he felt world would genuinely benefit from this message he could have tested the waters with some trusted people outside of his crew to get a go or no-go decision.

Understanding of others – this is where the rot should have stopped and would have done if he had run such a pre-flight check. Logan must have felt he had a solid handle on how his followers think. This was clearly not the case. He stomped all over untested ground and fell into the quicksand of outrage. There are certain broadcasters who specialise in dark or risky material. People know this and either love them or loathe them. It appears here, however, that Logan sprung this ego-driven nugget of self-satisfying material on an unsuspecting audience. They likely feel let down and misunderstood as much as simply outraged by the content. Test your material gently and get to know your audience limits before dropping bombshells. There should be a cross in this box and a no broadcast decision to follow.

Managing relationships with others – now an ongoing saga. Due to his lack of audience understanding, poor old Logan has mishandled his relationship with them. I believe he has apologised but for Logan getting through this will be a big test of his character and mental toughness. This avoidable phase is now a work in progress and it will be interesting to see what happens over the next few weeks. Perhaps I’ll put out a part two.

Why not consider running your own EI pre-flight check for all your messages? With practice and diligence, it can become a positive habit and, when it becomes a habit, you’ll find it happens almost instantly for you.

Don’t do a Logan Paul. Your pre-flight EI check could save you a world of hurt.

Here is the BBC video link if you’d care to watch:



Goal-setting the WACKY way

WACKY goal-setting graphic man holding elephant above his headWhy WACKY goal-setting?

If you’re going to use goal-setting in your life then you might as well set big ones. I recommend making them as WACKY as possible. The WACKY’er the better in fact!

Goals and goal-setting are fundamental tools for personal and organisational development. After all, how can you know you have achieved something or even improved your situation at all if you have no target or benchmark to work from?


SMART goal-setting is the most common business goal-setting tool. Acronyms are very common in the business world and SMART goals are generally taken to be goals which are Specific, Measurable & Motivating, Aligned, Reachable or Relevant and Time Driven. This is all well and good in the business world where by and large people want a stretch but not too much of a stretch. The consequences of failure in the modern business world are often high so the taking of chances is not encouraged by many managers. I personally view this as a huge deficiency in many organisations. Permission to try and to fail (and therefore to learn) is not usually given. A whole raft of articles could be written on the reluctance to embrace failure for growth and I’m sure I’ll write one or two more soon enough.

SMART goal-setting doesn’t always mean smart goals

Many people, through their experience at work, are familiar and comfortable with the SMART goal-setting approach. If they form any personal goals at all, they are likely to design SMART goals. When the same timidity and safety driven approach applies to personal goals they are weak, provide a small stretch only and are not that motivating. Are these goals being achieved? If they are being achieved, are they rocking your or anyone else’s world? My answer to both questions is NO!!

Am I completely against SMART goal-setting? Actually, no I’m not. They have their place and work well for tasks that form stages or sub-goals within a big WACKY goal.

Think Bigger

When pursuing goals in your life make them big. Make them huge, awesome, life-changing, jaw-dropping, pulse quickening goals that are worth your effort and time. Aim for the stars – even if you come up short you will still have had a hell of a ride and be higher than most everyone else. You will have learnt valuable lessons and be more than motivated to try again. In my opinion it is far better to regret the things you’ve done than live a life regretting the ones you didn’t try.

My WACKY goal-setting manifesto

This is how I do it – using the catchy acronym WACKY. Catchy acronyms stick in your mind and you can access them easily. Hopefully you’ll then use it all the time and spread the message to others.

I really want people thinking my personal goals are totally WACKY – that’s great. It means they will likely be the goals that others may not have thought of.  I want goals which scare others .  I want to stretch myself – that’s the only way to grow and develop as a person and be able to help others more effectively. That’s always been my driving force. Partial failure of one of my WACKY goals will often be better than most people’s mediocre SMART goals – I’ll learn loads of good stuff and be that much closer to where I want to be. I also take my time to form them and that way I get the real honest “from the heart” stuff – it works for me and it could work for you.

These WACKY goals are generally my over-arching long-range life goals so they will certainly contain lots of mini-goal stages – that’s fine – many small (SMART) steps will add up to a huge WACKY journey. It all makes life very interesting.

WACKY goal-setting defined

So let’s get going with what WACKY means to me.


WACKY goals are wonderful. They are full of wonder. I want filling with wonder, otherwise what’s the point? It has to be something that makes my imagination work hard. I want it to play on my mind and draw me on down that road less travelled.


WACKY goals fire me up. They get me raring to go. No fire up and no raring to go means I’ll find a better goal instead. I want my pulse to quicken when I think about it. I want to talk with animation when I talk to my nearest and dearest. It must create amazement and passion.


I make it big, bigger and bigger again. If it doesn’t make me stop and think “hold the phone, that’s big even by my standards – people will think I’m mad” then I rethink it and just make it bigger. I make it a huge hairy-arsed goal that if achieved will make me think “Yeah, that was a good one”. If people saw my goal in the street they would cross the road to avoid it – it will be a kick-butt ferocious slavering monster of a goal.


I try to make it undeniably unique and special; when achieved it will be well worth the sacrifice and effort. I try always to be a trend setter and not a follower – I therefore try to set grand goals that I and others have not yet achieved.


I have to own my goal with my heart and soul. It’s personal. I’ll pour huge energy into it – failure is not an attractive option. For example, roller skating backwards up Everest is just not my chosen WACKY goal. However, being the best and highest paid professional coach in the world is. My goals have to be my goals and your goals have to be your goals. I’ve learnt over the years to pick goals that really do chime with my core values. My values as an individual and a unique human being are super important.

Over to you

That’s it. This technique of goal-setting has taken me years of study and searching. I’ve worked hard to learn more and refine it. It’s still a work in progress because it is a life-long challenge. No one said it would be easy did they? I urge you therefore to use SMART for the small things but be WACKY for the important ones.

Try and design some of your own WACKY goals for your life. They will take you to some wonderful places.

I hope you enjoyed this article and found it useful. If you did then please like it and share it. Every little bit helps in internet land.