The second pillar of emotional intelligence is self-regulation – also known as self-discipline.
Self-regulation is the action-based companion to self-awareness. Your ability to control your emotions, your behavior, and your inner resources are all determined by your self-regulation. And, it is a valuable skill.
A study at the University of Pennsylvania revealed that self-discipline outperformed IQ more than 2-to-1 in determining which students would succeed academically. And, why wouldn’t it? Intelligence doesn’t count for much if you don’t put in the effort to apply it.
Malcolm Gladwell asserts in his book Outliers that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill. It would be tough to practice anything for 10,000 hours without some serious self-discipline. With that in mind, it’s easy to see the relationship between self-regulation and mastery. And with mastery success is typically not far behind.
But self-regulation applies to more than our external behavior. Self-regulation also applies to our internal, emotional behavior. Steven Stosny, Ph.D. explains in his Psychology Today article “Self-Regulation“:
Behaviorally, self-regulation is the ability to act in your long-term best interest, consistent with your deepest values. (Violation of one’s deepest values causes guilt, shame, and anxiety, which undermine well being.) Emotionally, self-regulation is the ability to calm yourself down when you’re upset and cheer yourself up when you’re down.
But, how exactly does one regulate emotion?
Dr. Stosny recommends you start by examining your values. He contends that attempting to manage feelings, devoid of value context, can lead to behaviors meant only to treat negative feelings rather than fix the underlying cause. Stosny posits that behaving in accordance with your values will lead to more positive, balanced emotions.
Consistent self-regulation requires focus on your deepest values rather than feelings. It’s also the best way to feel better. Violation of values invariably produces bad feelings, while fidelity to them eventually makes you feel more authentic and empowered.
So, a practice of self-awareness that includes examining one’s most important values, and identifying positive and negative emotions as they occur, provides you with the information you need to make informed behavioral choices.
Meditation has also been shown to have positive effects on one’s ability to self-regulate. And, since meditation also increases self-awareness, it provides a powerful two-for-one benefit to emotional intelligence.
But, how does one make the leap from knowing what is good for you, to actually doing it?
Personal development guru and business philosopher Jim Rohn offers an answer:
Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines, practiced every day.
This makes sense. Self-regulation can also be said to be practicing simple disciplines every day.
If you need a little more direct guidance, meet Tim Elmore. Elmore is the author of Artificial Maturity, president of Growing Leaders and a former university professor. In his years in the classroom, he has proactively worked to improve self-discipline in his students. Here are a few techniques Elmore found to be effective:
1. Do it if you hate it. This technique is pretty straightforward. Pick a task you hate to do and make yourself do it. But, don’t just do it once. Do it every day. Think of it as altitude training for your self-regulation. If you can do a task that you hate every day, then lesser chores become easier to complete by comparison.
2. Leverage Accountability. If you are actively working to strengthen your self-discipline, ask a buddy to hold you accountable. Elmore explains that you are more likely to stick to positive habits if you know someone may be checking up on you.
3. Visualize success. Elmore points out that our brains work like a muscle – they need periods of work and rest in order to grow. Elmore recommends spending time envisioning a more self-disciplined you, and then rewarding yourself or “resting” with relaxation.
How To Develop Self-Regulation:
• Act in accordance with your deepest values.
• Practice daily meditation to strengthen your brain’s self-regulatory pathways.
• Do tasks you hate daily to strengthen your will power.
• Ask a buddy to hold you accountable for your goals.
• Strengthen self-regulatory “muscles” by visualizing success.

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