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Self-regulation: what is it and how can we enhance it?

Self-regulation: what is it and how can we enhance it?

May 2, 2024

Although sometimes we do not realize, in almost everything we do we are managing what we do.

We feel anger and we express it or not depending on the situation, we value whether or not to say something to someone, we choose one way or another to act to reach a goal, we postpone obtaining immediate satisfaction to reach another greater later ... We are talking about self-regulation . In this article we are going to make a brief analysis about what this concept supposes.

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The concept of self-regulation

We can understand as self-regulation or self-control the capacity or the set of processes that we carry out in order to manage ourselves successfully. This capacity allows us to analyze the environment and respond accordingly, being able to change our performance or perspective in case of needing it. Definitely, It allows us to direct our thoughts, emotions and behavior towards the correct adaptation in the middle and the fulfillment of our wishes and expectations based on contextual circumstances.


Self-regulation is not only given at the behavioral level, but we also apply it when we manage our thoughts, emotions and capacity to motivate ourselves (aspect with which it is widely linked).

The set of processes carried out are largely conscious, requiring the ability to self-monitor or guide one's behavior, self-evaluate or give a value judgment to one's actions, feelings or thoughts, self-direct or focus on a goal and self-reinforce or obtain internal gratification before the achievement of it or the performance of the conduct directed to it. Without these capabilities we could not address ourselves in an adaptive way.


Where do we self-regulate?

It is a skill that is not completely innate but that develops and strengthens based on our learning and the circumstances and stimuli that are part of our lives. At a biological level it corresponds to a large extent with the development of the frontal lobe, and especially the prefrontal lobe.

An alteration or delay in such development will cause greater difficulty when regulating one's behavior . But the presence of connections between this area and other structures such as the limbic system, the basal ganglia or the cerebellum is also essential.

Main elements that influence self-regulation

The concept of self-regulation includes a broad category of different skills, among which can be included the capacity for behavioral inhibition, the monitoring of one's activity, mental flexibility, self-evaluation, motivation or the setting and monitoring of plans, forming part of it a large number of executive functions.


The ability to think about one's own thinking or metacognition also influences the capacity for self-regulation , the perception of control over situations, expectations and the perception of self-efficacy. It is facilitated and depends in large part on the self-instructions that we give ourselves and allow us to conduct ourselves. The anticipation of rewards or avoidance of punishments and the characteristics of punishments will also participate in said self-regulation

Disorders and related injuries

Self-regulation allows us to manage our own activity and make it adaptive, with what is essential for our proper functioning in society. The fact that we can not regulate correctly will generate problems such as difficulties at the time of starting or stopping carrying out certain behavior, identifying factors such as the need to change strategies, generalized slowness, lower level of efficiency and productivity and difficulties in maintaining fixed or force the attention focus change.

An example of disorder or problem in which there is a decrease in self-regulatory capacity is ADHD , in which the subject presents difficulties when fixing attention or controlling their own behavior. or autistic spectrum disorders (in which there are difficulties in managing emotions and coping with changes, in addition to social and communicative deficiencies). Alterations in self-regulation also occur in other mental disorders, such as in impulse control disorders, in anxiety or in affective disorders. Also in schizophrenia.

Likewise, problems of self-regulation are also found in those subjects who present lesions in the frontal lobe, especially as regards the prefrontal. In dementia, traumatic brain injuries, brain tumors or cerebrovascular accidents that affect the prefrontal and / or its connections.

How to increase it

In those cases in which the capacity for self-regulation is not very adaptive or has not been fully developed, it may be very useful to carry out different practices to increase it.

In this sense, the type of activities, treatments and therapies to be applied will depend on the reasons for the lack of self-regulation, its consequences or where the main deficit lies. Training and facilitating the use of metacognition and reflection, the postponement of judgment and the generation of alternatives or emotional education is usually advisable. Also the modeling and the use of self-instructions is very useful. In some cases it may be necessary to submit adjusted aids to combat existing limitations .

An example of therapy based on this is the Rehm self-management therapy, typically used in cases of depression. Other therapeutic elements to use could include training in social skills and assertiveness or problem solving, as well as occupational therapy.

Bibliographic references:

  • Baker, E. & Alonso, J. (2014). Theories of educational self-regulation: a comparison and theoretical reflection. Educational Psychology 20 (1); 11-22.
  • Zimmerman, B.J. & Moylan, A.R. (2009). Self-regulation: Where metacognition and motivation intersect. In D. J. Hacker, J. Dunlosky and A. C. Graesser (Eds.), Handbook of Metacognition in Education (pp. 299-315). New York: Routledge.

Self-Discipline | Why It’s Important & How to Master Self-Control (May 2024).


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