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Developing Self-Regulation

You Don't Have to Push the Button!

Virtue Category: Temperance

In the pursuit of goals and living up to standards, self-regulation is about the strength to independently manage our control panel for thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. Interestingly, it’s one of the least highly endorsed character strengths amongst those who complete the Values in Action Inventory (VIA Survey).

We all have the capacity to self-regulate. Like developing a new skill or building muscle mass, regular practice and repetition are important for exercising this strength.


A Personal 30-Day Challenge: Dry November

Self-regulation (willpower) is one of my lesser strengths. I want to better develop this strength, so continue to be proactive. For example, my partner and I chose an alcohol-free November which soon comes to a close. The true alcohol-free day tally is 32!

Interestingly, right out of the gate, we experienced a few unexpected and challenging situations such as the ongoing ill health of loved ones and the death of a family pet. Normally, with such triggers for emotional upset, we would’ve reached for that glass of wine, beer, or single-malt whiskey but not this time! In so doing, it’s been a valuable lesson in self-regulation.

Better noticing the urges, acknowledging the triggers, challenging unhelpful thoughts, and exploring alternate behaviours worked a treat! Sure, Christmas is right around the corner and the social calendar is full of associated cheer and yes, I’ll be having a few drinks. The difference is, this 30-day challenge helped me develop personal, value-driven guidelines for exercising self-regulation.

“This little bit of self-regulatory exercise seems to strengthen the willpower muscle.”

Some people scoff at “30-day” challenges however at first glance, psychologically it’s more palatable than immediately restricting to “never again”. It also provides an initial framework for learning and developing new habits. After the 30 days, it comes down to personal choice, do you revert back to old habits or nurture the update?

So what’s a 30-day challenge that you can set for yourself? Or start with any number of meaningful days you choose. Keep in mind that this doesn’t automatically mean restricting something! Maybe there’s something you want to do more of?

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