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Self-Regulation Strategies

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I've been signed up for HighBrow for a bit now, reading a number of short courses. The courses are quick-read, once-daily emails sent in the morning, for a five-minute read during the day. The site was recommended to me by Rob B and Susan R, both acknowledging the courses can be hit or miss.

I've been recently going through the Boost Your Emotional Intelligence, hitting on the Self-Regulation entry today. In particular, it discusses how will-power is muscle-like in that you can wear it out (daily, actually), and using it makes it stronger. There's a section I want to keep, the one on regulating emotions.

When we think of self-regulation, we usually think of resisting impulse. But we also regulate our emotions. You already have strategies for doing that, but here are others you can add to your repertoire:

  • Breathing deeply. Taking slow, deep breaths helps keep emotions in check, calms the body down, and prevents you from turning into the Hulk. Watch this video to learn how to breathe correctly.

    I forget this one all the time. I have noticed, however, when I'm about to become angry, the moment I shut down. I'm glad that I am able to shut down instead of attack, as was my previous reaction. That I am aware of the instant when I switch from being pleasant and helpful to angry and aggressive, is a good thing.

  • Taking your mind off it. Distracting yourself from your problems, just for a while, helps you re-approach them with more clarity and perspective. But only if you pick the “right” distraction. If you're angry, reading or going for a walk can calm you down; venting, shopping, or eating can make you feel worse.

    This is a technique I have started using frequently. When I'm frustrated or angry, or worse, when I'm relaxed and some horrible memory pops into my head and stresses me out completely, I've started pondering solutions to hard problems I've been working on. I have a tree netting mechanism for preventing squirrels from eating all my almonds by June that I've been working on for a bit, with the current problem navigating interleaved branches from other trees. Of course, killing the squirrels might be the best solution, but it doesn't feel like the "right" solution. Pondering particularly hard math problems have been good, too.

  • Challenging your thoughts. Buddha, Epictetus, Shakespeare, and most psychologists agree: it's not objective events that make you sad and angry, it's the thoughts you have about them. Because not all your thoughts are rational, disputing them is good for you.

    This one is a great one. Realizing that interpretations of events is what causes so much pain, I've tried asking myself, "So what?" when I'm upset about something. The Antidote is such a great book for learning about a number of techniques like this one, for challenging the opinionated thinking that prevents objective, and often more rational, thinking.

  • Getting a good night's sleep. Sleep recharges your brain, and when you miss out on getting some shuteye, you're less likely to be in control of your emotions. Get tips for getting a good night's rest.

    Sleep. So elusive. The older I get, the darker and quieter I want the room I sleep in, the less I seem able to find.

  • Practicing self-compassion. We don't always succeed at regulating all our impulses, thoughts, moods, and emotions. And that's okay. Don't beat yourself up about it! Be kind to yourself and do better next time.

    And then we come to this one. I'm still working on being gentle with myself. If I do nothing else better, may I do this one well.

I'm enjoying this particular Highbrow course. It is relevant to me and where I am right now in my personal growth, which helps the enjoyment.