• Well-being: How much self-regulation is good for you?

    by  • May 20, 2013 • Positive Psychology


    Roy Baumeister

    “Self-esteem does not lead to success in life. Self-discipline and self-control do.” Roy Baumeister.

    Do you know there is a limit to how much self-regulation we can do? Research shows we can only do so much of it. It’s a bit like our strength. When we exceed our limit we run dry. And we have no self-control left at all.

    Yet our need to use it is always there. Because we often get things wrong. And need to put them right. So this ability to change how we respond to things is a great help.

    It is self-regulation at its best. It allows us to adapt. To tailor our response to a situation. Bring it into line with our ideals. With moral values. With social norms. With laws. And other standards. So it helps us to fit-in with what others expect of us. And what we expect of ourselves.

    It is also helps us to solve problems. And to be creative. When we change our approach to a problem. We can see new ways to solve it. Also when we change tack it improves our ability to be creative.

    How to get better at self-regulation 

    The more self-regulation you do the better you get at doing it. Even though you only have a limited stock of it. So like your strength you have to use it sensibly. But with practice you can increase your stock of it.

    Research that kept track of people who did a two month physical exercise course. Found that they got much better at self-regulation in other areas of their life. They reduced their use of drugs. Cut down on compulsive spending. Keep their houses cleaner. And washed the dishes.

    In another study of the use of a money management plan. That included keeping a spending diary. Users also got better at controlling drug use. Eating habits. Emotions. And household chores.

    Finally a study of groups of people who practised self-control through improved study habits showed similar results. All of which shows that we can improve our self-regulation ability.

    Overuse of self-regulation

    When we overuse self-regulation. We can run out of it and end up with much less influence over our behaviour. Than we had in the first place. For example, if we use up all our self-regulation to keep a very strict diet. When we have none left. We are likely to give into the temptation to overeat. And undo the good work we have done.

    How to recover self-regulation energy

    When your self-regulation energy is low. You can boost it. With a shot of positive emotion. It can act as a charge. A kind of muscle. Watching a stand-up comedian. Receiving a surprise gift. Or in my case listening to Mozart will do the trick.

    In a number of studies people who got a shot of positive emotion. Did better than those who had negative emotions. Neutral emotions. Or a brief rest period. This is no surprise as research shows that positive emotions can undo the harm caused by negative emotions.

    Tips for improving your self-regulation

    Take small steps to use self-control. For example, make an effort to stand up straighter. To do household tasks like washing up sooner rather than later. Do more physical exercise.

    Doing these simple exercises every day. Will soon strengthen your core reserve of self-discipline. And expand it. Much to your benefit.

    Make a list of good habits you would like to develop. Begin to work on them one by one. The effort you use to acquire the first new habit has a knock on effect. So you will find it easier to acquire other ones. So tackle easy ones first and leave the more difficult ones to later.

    Don’t be too strict with self-regulation. When you are it uses up your supply of it. Build it up like a muscle. And move slowly but steadily on without overdoing it.

    Use positive emotions to recharge yourself. Make a list of things that give you a positive emotional boost. Things like dancing. Listening to music. Watching comedy. Playing with pets. Watching sports. Outdoor activities like walking, running and surfing.  And use them to refuel your emotions.

    Avoid wasting your willpower. Use it selectively. On worthwhile issues. After using your willpower restore your glucose level. Eating fruit, rice or bread is the best way to do this.


    Roy F. Baumeister (born May 16, 1953) is Francis Eppes Professor of Psychology at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida. He is a social psychologist who is known for his work on the self,social rejection, belongingness, sexuality, self-control, self-esteem, self-defeating behaviors, motivation, aggression, consciousness, and free will.



    Coleman, Jessica (2012) A Positive Psychology Handbook.






    We can use positive psychology to improve how we live our lives. So I love to share my understanding of it with others. To help them grow and flourish as I have. The posts on this blog set out to do just that. You need a lot of skill to make a relationship a happy one. So I write about relationship skills. Skills you can learn how to use in your own relationship. To keep it in good shape. To solve problems that may arise in it. And to improve the quality of your relationship. To make both of you happy.