Self-Regulation Theory: Definition & Strategies

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  • 0:00 What Is…
  • 1:04 Self-Regulation Components
  • 2:45 Strategies for Self-Regulation
  • 4:06 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Deborah Teasley

Deborah has 4 years of teaching experience and a master's degree in program development & management.

What we want and what we need are not always the same thing. As a result, making the decision that is best for us isn't always easy. In this lesson, we will explore self-regulation theory and how it affects our decision-making process.

What Is Self-Regulation Theory?

Imagine that you are walking down the street. It's a beautiful day outside, and you're on your way to the gym to work out. You are just about there when you pass by the bakery. Instantly, your nose fills with the sweet aroma of cakes and cookies. You slow down to look in the window. The enormous chocolate chip cookies look delicious and you really want one. Then you remember what your doctor said last visit: 'You have to cut back on your sweets! Diabetes runs in your family.' You are now standing right in front of the door. One cookie wouldn't hurt, right? You could just burn it off with extra time on the treadmill. What would you do?

How you answer that question depends on your self-regulation. This term comes from the psychological theory known as self-regulation theory (SRT). SRT is defined as a system of conscious personal management that helps us control what we think, say and do. It assists us in becoming the person we want to be, in both short- and long-term situations.

Self-Regulation Components

What you want to do and what you should do are not always the same thing. Sometimes you may want to lose weight, but then go on to eat an entire pan of brownies. Or you buy that ridiculously expensive new car even though you are only working part-time. These decisions affect your well-being. In other cases, they can also impact the well-being of others. What would be the consequences of flying into a rage every time your mother-in-law made snide remarks about your appearance, or a co-worker constantly ate the snacks you brought to work without asking? How you respond in those situations would not only affect you, but someone else as well.

These are good examples why it is important to understand how you regulate your choices and also have strategies in place to help you make the right ones. Currently, there are four components of self-regulation. They are:

  1. Standards: level or quality of desirable behavior
  2. Motivation: enthusiasm to meet the standards
  3. Monitoring: thoughts or actions that precede breaking a standard; accountability tactics
  4. Willpower: internal strength to control urges that break standards

Some research suggests that it is necessary to have all four components represented in a decision in order for it to be successful, while others believe that they can be substituted for one another to a certain degree. Say for instance you don't have a lot of motivation for your new weight-loss goal. You know it will be best for you, but also really hard to accomplish. Despite not having a lot of enthusiasm, you do have a tremendous amount of willpower. You can see all sorts of delicious desserts but still turn them down because you know it's bad for you. Even though you are missing the motivation component, your sense of willpower makes up for it.

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