Self-regulation & Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence or EI & self-regulation

What is self-regulation?

Self-regulation is the second pillar of emotional intelligence or EI. Hopefully, you’ll recall that emotional intelligence comprises four pillars: self-awareness, self-regulation, understanding others and managing relationships. You could check out my “Emotional Intelligence is vital” post for more insight.

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. For you, self-regulation literally means how you control yourself in your current situation. You can either ramp specific efforts up or down or you can try to maintain your effort at a specific level or rate.

Self-regulation? Who cares?

Self-regulation - a smiley face and traffic lights

You should care!

We’ve already looked at self-awareness, but self-awareness is only your starting point. Your new awareness enables you to decide if it’s beneficial, neutral or even harmful to you.

You can then decide to take some form of action. For instance, you can improve on beneficial areas. In similar fashion, neutral areas can be ignored or improved upon as desired. Likewise, any negative or harmful areas can be reduced or even eliminated entirely. The last one may take time and hard work, but the investment of effort is essential for growth.

The self-regulation workflow

If you know me well, you’ll know I love a good workflow or process.

The Emotional Intelligence self-regulation workflow. This is monitoring, awareness, decision, action and feedback.

These 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 you easily and consistently completing your self-development goals and taking yourself to your absolute best? If you’re like most people, you often know what to do but you either can’t start it or you can’t sustain it.

Why the inaction?

Newsflash! Humans are lazy creatures. Left to our own devices we tend toward laziness, like it or not, it’s true. Some people aren’t as lazy as others for sure, but we’re all lazy creatures at heart. We’ve evolved to be lazy. We think and act in lazy ways.

Self-regulation. Figure in a hammock on a tropical beach thinking "Work? What work?"

We all have lazy thoughts and impulses. Wouldn’t you rather stay in bed for that extra five minutes? Why not leave going to the gym until tomorrow or better yet, next week? That decorating can wait until after the holidays can’t it? One last biscuit then I’m all over that diet?

We humans are even lazy in the way we think (or don’t think) sometimes. Deep thinking takes deep effort. Life is busy enough, am I right?

If you’re honest with yourself, don’t you often or always go with whatever instant solution or idea pops straight into your head? You rely on stereotypes and the automatic repetition of previous good solutions whenever you can. This approach generally gets you through your day and with minimal effort.

It is worse than you think too. Because humans like us are also prone to many biases, when we use automatic thinking, we can make many mistakes. This doesn’t always help you in your self-regulation and improvement journey.

Further reading

To go much deeper here, I can recommend you read the fascinating book, “Thinking, Fast & Slow” by Daniel Kahneman.

You’re up against your own status quo?

You are conditioned by evolution 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 your mental and physical wiring is largely geared for laziness and economy wherever and whenever possible.

Self-regulation. Auto option is easy and the manual option is hard

Much of your behaviour and thought is automatic because automation uses less energy than concentration and focused thinking. Consequently, 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. The benefits must heavily outweigh the much preferred and lazy status quo.

What gives?

Self-regulation. There's a barrier between Decision and action.

Most of the time you don’t, won’t or can’t create a compelling enough reason to act. You can often decide what you want to do but you often struggle to get started and do it. If you do start, we often struggle to keep going. The problem happens at the decision-action boundary.

What about the wonders of willpower?

Self-regulation. Stick figure holding a trophy with the words Will Power on it.

Willpower is often seen as the separator of the achiever from the non-achiever. As a result, it can be viewed as the almost magical difference between the person who can control themselves and the person who cannot. Above all, willpower is the super-power with which you can smash through the decision/action barrier, right?

Not so much in reality.

If you are brutally honest with yourself (more EI self-awareness in action), you don’t really know what willpower is do you? You cannot really point to it or identify it in any meaningful way, can you? You believe you know when you have it or not, and you are certain we know its effects, but you struggle to define it clearly.

Why is willpower not enough?

In very simplistic psychological terms, willpower is the ability to delay gratification in the short-term to meet longer-term desirable goals.

Self-regulation. Two choices - now or later. Later is ticked.

Here’s the problem. Because it takes great effort, concentration and energy to maintain willpower you can become tired. In addition, willpower relies on cool or logical thinking and the avoidance of hot or emotional reactions. Consequently, unwanted or non-useful thoughts must be overridden, which similarly takes effort.

Willpower can therefore be derailed by various internal, emotional, physical and external effects. It’s a resource which can be replenished or restored, but its capacity and sustainability between recharges is limited. Willpower can and does run out on you, often when you need it most.

So, can you rely on willpower alone for self-regulation? It’s risky at best.

You therefore need to be ever vigilant and on your guard. However, if you’re anything like me, you’ll 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 certainly attest to this. My willpower often proves weak and simply not up to the task when I need it the most. How’s yours?

A better self-regulation strategy

Here’s another wonderful workflow because workflows work:

Self-regulation. Another workflow - this one is identify target, identify barriers, mitigate barriers and hit target

The more workflows there are the happier I am. This is a simple step process which will help you preserve your precious willpower for other duties.

First work out your self-regulation target & barriers

Because of your constant monitoring, you’ve become aware of an issue. Consequently, you’ve decided to act on it, which is great. You’ve tried to go from “identify target” straight to “hit the target.” This is how most people attempt it, and therefore most people fail to hit their targets consistently.

Self-regulation. This workflow only shows identify target going to hit target with a sad face due to failure

However, before you dive in and act, consider these additional strategy steps:

Self-regulation. ID barriers and Mitigate barriers back in the workflow

Identify some potential barriers and excuse generators. Now you can look to reduce and/or mitigate them. You might also even eliminate them entirely at this stage.

How do you best achieve this wonderful strategy? You create deliberate habits to take the stress off your poor long-suffering and generally inadequate willpower.

Now deliberately automate your self-regulation plan

You must apply your willpower on a task by task basis, because too many tasks take too much willpower. Willpower which tends to run out anyway. It’s a finite resource. Once one thing flops over and you eat the metaphorical cookie. Meanwhile, the rest of the card house comes tumbling down after it and you are doomed to start again.

To compound our misery and inadequacy we humans are also cognitively miserly. You like low-energy automatic thinking. Applying willpower takes focus, concentration and energy. You won’t generally like to concentrate and focus for long if you don’t have absolutely to.

Your willpower needs help in the form of deliberately created effective habits.

Create deliberate habits

Self-regulation. The complete workflow with a happy face at end

So, to reduce the amount of willpower you need to get the job done, I recommend creating as many deliberate and ingrained habits as you can. Habits can certainly help you regulate your thoughts, emotions and behaviours.

Deliberate habits are your barrier mitigations. Deliberate habits are the ultimate automatic process; both good and bad. Keep the willpower because you’ll always need it. Break things into small chunks and mitigate them one chunk at a time.

Further reading

This is only a brief article so, for deeper information and some great advice on effective habits, I can 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

The real trick is in 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 do want.

It might be easier to use an example:

Self-regulation. Stick figures on a treadmill and lifting weights

The gym and I

I’m in an ongoing battle with my lazy self over my physical fitness. I go regularly, but I am always keen to talk myself out of it. I know that starting very early in the morning works best for me, but I am very good at making excuses not to go. There are always more enjoyable things to do.

The most important trick for me is to first begin to manipulate my environment to make it harder for me to create excuses. I set two or three alarm clocks at five-minute alarm gaps. The alarms are tuned with my most hated radio station. I place them physically out of reach so I must get up to turn them off.

I also set out my gym bag and all my bits and bobs ready to go by the front door. Plus, my gym clothes are laid out right next to the bed. Moreover, I’ll even check the driveway route for my car is clear. No easy excuses.

There are so many options

If I find I am still struggle in the future there are options. For instance, I could build in additional accountability measures . Perhaps buddy up with someone for example. I could introduce a personal fine system (given to charity) or some other unpleasant penalty for not achieving my targets . For instance, something like washing my car would do the trick for me. The potential options are many and varied.

I’m outsourcing my self-regulation. I’m making it easier to do the right thing.

Now let willpower work its real self-regulation magic for you

Self-regulation. Stick man superhero with a cape with Will Power written on chest

You will take the pressure from willpower because you will have created effective automatic habits and manipulated your environment. Because of this, the good news is you will now have more of that great resource available to you.

Use it whenever you need an extra motivational push or shove.

That early morning “kick in the arse” 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 yell at the jerk in front of you.

Willpower can now show you its real super-power.

Some last thoughts on self-regulation and EI

In conclusion, knowing something is only half the battle. Taking some effective action based upon the knowledge is the next key step.

No action = no results.

Self-regulation. No action = no results

In short, if you can’t, don’t or won’t dig deep and take full responsibility for your own actions, you will always have problems. Because, 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.

As a result, 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.

Self-regulation. No excuses

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 is vital

Self-awareness and Emotional Intelligence

Understanding others and how to do it

Relationship: The art and practice


Emotional Intelligence is vital

Emotional Intelligence or EI is vital

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional Intelligence or EI is a term used commonly in the business and professional world. You might also hear it called EQ or Emotional Quotient. Whatever the terms used, people are always banging on about it, aren’t they? You’ve probably heard them saying such things as, “You need more emotional intelligence” or “We need to hire for emotional intelligence.” It’s said with so much conviction you feel you must be the only one who doesn’t get it. Stress not. You’re not the only one. Far from it in fact. If they are honest, most people would admit they don’t get it. If you’re any sort of professional manager in any modern organisation, you’ll hear about it a lot. It therefore makes sense to get a good handle on it.

In relation to EI then, there are four types of people in the workplace. The ones who have high EI already often assume everyone else already understands it; they therefore feel no real need to explain it. There are the ones who don’t have it and couldn’t care less about anyone else anyway. Then there are the ones who do get EI and are keen to inform and help others and there are the ones who want to get it but don’t know where to start. This whirlwind tour article is for the last two types and especially the last type.

What is Emotional Intelligence anyway?

The definition of Emotional Intelligence we’ll use:

In a nutshell, I define having well-developed emotional intelligence as:

“Possessing a well-developed ability and willingness to closely and honestly monitor our internal emotional states and take full control of them and full responsibility for them. At the same time, we need an ability and willingness to monitor the emotional states of other people and to take full responsibility for carefully managing our relationships with those people.”

That’s it really. Were you expecting more? It is easy enough to define but takes a lot of effort to get right. So many people don’t get it right because they can’t be arsed to put the work in. It’s an ongoing commitment toward excellence.

One of the most important words in that definition is “willingness.” If you can’t be bothered with the work and effort, then please stop reading this right now and search elsewhere for the lazy route. There is no magic-bullet and no easy answer. EI is indeed a learnable skill; but the process of learning takes effort and commitment. You really do need to be motivated.

A down and dirty look at Emotional Intelligence

Again, the article is a whistle-stop tour of the four elements of EI and is designed to provide some awareness to get you started. I have produced four more articles to expand on each section.

Take emotional intelligence very seriously. Nurture it and develop it in yourself and others.

Why does Emotional Intelligence matter to you anyway?

Emotional intelligence is vital for everyone. It defines how well you know yourself and control yourself and it defines how well you get on with others. If you’re any sort of modern people manager or leader, you’ll be expected to possess an elevated level of emotional intelligence. You should ideally be constantly looking to improve it. You are also expected to identify and nurture EI in your staff and teams. The measure of your emotional intelligence level is known as your Emotional Quotient or EQ. This measure of EQ is now considered more important than the traditional measurement of intelligence or IQ.

Decision makers
Calm under pressure
Able to lead
And more

From an organisational perspective, emotionally intelligent people are seen as more influential, better team leaders, more politically astute, calmer under pressure, better decision makers, less stressed, more creative, more self-confident, more self-driven and more able to drive others. They see people with these attributes as the rising stars and the people with the most potential. You’d like some of this right? Absolutely. The answer is to become more emotionally intelligent.

The good news is that emotional intelligence can be learnt and developed by almost anyone. If you do this you will possess a remarkable set of transferable set of skills and mindsets. Elevating your EI levels will have a positive benefit throughout the whole of your life.

The effects of Emotional Intelligence in the workplace

Here’s the problem. Many of the professional people I encounter in my coaching and training work have a poor understanding of their own emotional intelligence levels. They also have a poor understanding of what is meant by Emotional Intelligence as a concept. This is a real concern as the negative effects can be highly detrimental and costly. Get it right however and the positive benefits are huge.

The organisational effects of low Emotional Intelligence

Managers and leaders with low levels of emotional intelligence tend to handle people poorly and have little understanding about other people. They tend to create high stress levels, high staff turnover rates, low productivity and low quality of output.  They can even create elevated levels in sickness and HR legal problems. At work, this costs you or your business real money. They generally, but unfortunately not always, do poorly themselves.

Managers with low Emotional Intelligence increase stress, increase staff turnover, lower productivity, lower quality, increase sickness and even cause legal issues.

The organisational effects of high Emotional Intelligence

Good managers and leaders with high levels of emotional intelligence tend to do the exact opposite. Such managers and leaders can make you or your business real money. They are generally more successful in their own right as well.

Managers with high Emotional Intelligence create harmony, increase craetivity, increase productivity, increase happiness and make more money

On a personal level a high level of emotional intelligence enables us to negotiate life with more ease and success. We understand ourselves well, we can curb our excesses and we can play to our strengths. We can build solid relationships and people both like us and want to be with us. Life is generally better with high emotional intelligence.

Life is usually more enjoyable and successful with high Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence in a nutshell

There are four main components or pillars to EI:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Understanding others
  • Managing relationships
The 4 pillars of emotional intelligence are self-awareness, self-regulation, understanding others and managing relationships

That’s it, plain and simple. These four elements cover pretty much everything you do in your life and work regarding interpersonal interactions and self-development. All well and good but what can you do in the real world now you know this? What does this mean for you?

There is a lot of complex theory, ideas and downright nonsense flying about regarding emotional intelligence. I’ll make this information as plain and straightforward as I can and keep it on a practical level.


Self-awareness is the first pillar of emotional intelligence

This is the first pillar of emotional intelligence and it is the key to it all. You are the centre of your universe. If you can’t, don’t or won’t dig deep and fully acknowledge and accept your true, warts and all, self then the rest of your life will be inauthentic at best. Even if you learn to get on well with others, your lack of knowledge or ownership of your own core being will leave you with a sense of incompleteness and imbalance. In my experience others can sense this fundamental lack in you and they will treat you differently as a result.

It can be scary diving into our self

This search for true self-awareness takes courage, commitment and massive honesty. I’m not suggesting you go and sit cross-legged on top of a mountain to meditate for years on end. I am suggesting you begin to identify your true strengths and weaknesses, your true values and beliefs and your true desires and fears. Work with a coach, friend or trusted adviser if you need to. Seek honest feedback and accept it with gratitude. Do whatever you need to do to learn more about the true you because it will allow you to move forward.

Is it easy? Absolutely not. Is it even possible? Well, I’m still searching for my true self, so I can’t answer that one for you I’m afraid. In truth, you may never find the absolute true you but if you try hard enough you will find enough truth to work wonders with.


Self-regulation is the second pillar of emotional intelligence

The second pillar of emotional intelligence is the regulation of oneself. Once you begin to discover and uncover this true version of yourself, you will then begin to realise certain behaviours, thoughts and emotions which are somewhat less than helpful to both you and others. You may discover beneficial traits and thought processes which you might not have realised you had. In order to improve your emotional intelligence, you will now need to work on regulating or controlling any unhelpful attributes and ideally boosting your more helpful attributes.

There is always something to work on

Once again, this is easier said than done. Do you have a lack of focus or attention? How about procrastination? What about really needing to lose weight or get fitter? Are you a perfectionist? Maybe a little too passive-aggressive perhaps? Are you lonely? Perhaps you lose your temper easily? Do you need more assertiveness? What about your fear of conflict? How are you going to address these and any other issues you might have?

What really stops you doing what you know needs to be done? Is it time? Is it money? Or is really laziness? Perhaps it is all three or even none of the above. Only once you become aware of your deep true self, which we looked at in the previous section, can you work on the true core issues?

Understanding others

Understanding others and what makes them tick is the third pillar of emotional intelligence

The third emotional intelligence pillar is developing an understanding of others. When you get right down to it, other people can be confusing and strange. It can be hard enough to try and figure out what makes us tick but once other people get involved in any part of our lives and work, it can get very messy and complicated. Life would be technically easier without other people, but it would be a lonely and essentially pointless existence. We need other people and generally we like other people, so it makes sense to understand them.

The big problem is that everyone is as unique in their way as you are in yours.

There is always some good news

The good news is, although each one of us is truly unique, we can also be usefully categorised and bundled in quite general ways. These broad-brush definitions and classifications are not truly accurate, but they are incredibly useful ways to inform our own thoughts about and behaviour toward the other people we interact with. They could be said to be intentional and well-meant stereotypes. With a little study and practice you can become very adept at recognising these broad categories. At this point you can then adapt your communication and behaviour to get the best from any encounter with them.

Even if you don’t like other people very much, learning to understand what makes them who they are can greatly elevate you as a communicator and leader.

Managing relationships with others

Managing relationships is the fourth pillar of emotional intelligence

Managing relationships with others is the fourth pillar of emotional intelligence.

“No person is an island, entire of itself; every person is a piece of the continent.” John Donne said this, although I have changed the quote a little for reasons of gender correctness – the 16th and 17th century world of John Donne was markedly different too our enlightened utopia.

Relationships really do matter

The truth of his statement is unaltered. You need to build solid and effective relationships with other people in all areas of our lives and work. All of us need to develop strong personal and professional networks. We also need to be able to operate effectively as key elements in the networks of others.

When the first three pillars of emotional intelligence are firmly in place we can then begin to create and successfully manage such relationships and networks.

Our friendships, family connections and working relationships can define us. Modern life is nigh on impossible without them. Even if it were possible to live entirely alone and isolated, for myself at least, it would be a miserable and pointless life.

Begin at the beginning

The order the emotional intelligence elements are in place is the order in which to then develop them for best results. Firstly, make sure that every element is in place then try and balance them in terms of level. If you are poor at managing relationships for example and relatively happy with the other key elements, then start by developing your ability to manage relationships. Completeness and uniformity of ability is the first step.

Start with balance

Secondly, once the elements are in place and broadly level, you can begin to consider bringing the level of all four up to as high a level as you can without overdoing any one area.

After balance then raise overall levels

There will always be a tendency to lead and lag on elements in any such endeavour but don’t stick to your favourites or strong areas at the expense of others. Using the relationship element again, if you hate talking to new people or even talking to friends and colleagues, don’t let it hold you back. Do not simply become a very self-aware observer of others. Be brave and break through your barriers. Make connect with them somehow. Seek tuition, coaching or support and force (or regulate) yourself to get out there and do it anyway.

This is a basic introduction. It is a practical overview at best. There is always more to learn and absorb. Like life itself, developing emotional intelligence is a journey of discovery.

Next steps

Educate yourself

I’m going to be blunt here. Leaders are readers so educate yourself and become informed. Learn all you need to know about emotional intelligence and its implications. This applies to all your life.

Dare to be different

Life isn’t a spectator sport

Don’t wait to be spoon fed. Too many people do that so stand out from your crowd and get the knowledge. If printed books are not your thing then get audio book versions. If video is your thing then seek out the information on or YouTube. Go on a course or hire a coach. Whatever you do make sure you get the information you need.  You owe it to yourself and your staff to be the very best leader and manager you can be.


I recommend you start with the work of Daniel Goleman who popularised the rise of EI with his book Emotional Intelligence then seek out the myriad of associated online resources.

Learn, experiment and grow

Once you have the theoretical knowledge, start to experiment and grow. Begin to apply the knowledge practically in the real world. Make mistakes then reflect, learn and move on. Try new things out. Seek coaching and training and try them out again. Seek feedback. Increase your own emotional intelligence and help others do the same. The effort is worth it.

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:

Self-awareness and Emotional Intelligence

Self-regulation and its importance to you

Understanding others and how to do it

Relationship: The art and practice