Self-regulation: the key to success

If we want to exercise more, eat healthier, spend less time watching Netflix, self-regulation is crucial. This ability also depends on our social environment and our economic security, as the GDI study "Prevention in Transition" shows.

Selbstregulation Rennen
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The following text is an excerpt from the GDI study “Prevention in Transition”, that can be downloaded from our website.

The pandemic has primarily disrupted existing habits. For the most part, this has been in a way  detrimental to health, as the behaviours con- cerned are those where an unhealthy change is  easier. It is easier to stop jogging than to take it up. Negative change, therefore, is often more a drifting off than a conscious decision. Yet, as we have seen, disruption need not only be negative. But it takes more conscious co-ordination to make positive changes to habits or just to maintain habits despite drastic disruptions. This is  where the aforementioned favourable factors such as social integration, mental health, or prosperity come in.

While each favourable factor has its own unique effect on the resilience of habits, there is some overlap. They are all linked to the ability of self-control and self-regulation. This is the ability to consciously control and reflect on one’s own behaviour and to plan it in the long term, rather than to act only on short-term impulses. For all favourable factors, research has shown a link to self-regulation:

  • Someone who is stressed or depressed has a reduced capacity for self-regulation and en- gages in less long-term thinking.
  • Social integration is not only conducive to healthy behaviour by promoting mental health and thus preventing stress and depression. A study by Wendy Wood and colleagues also found that we pay more attention to our own behaviour in the presence of other people and  thus act in less automated ways. We reflect more on our behaviour and adjust it to our  ideals when such behaviour is also being observed by other people.
  • Financial worries, for one thing, have a negative impact on mental health. For another,  such worries use up a lot of mental resources, so that people cannot also reflect on their behaviour and plan for the long term. The cognitive impairment caused by acute financial  worries is comparable to the effect of a sleepless night or a reduction in IQ by about 13 points.
  • Education is linked to the capacity for self-regulation, such that people better able to control their behaviour have more academic  success, while conversely the ability to self-reflect is reinforced by education. Thus, the capacity for self-reflection is part of Lehrplan [School curriculum in Switzerland].
  • The capacity for self-regulation also increases with age but may decrease again from the age of 60. At the same time, younger people have fewer stable habits, as their life-world is still subject to continuous change.
  • The link between gender and self-regulation is not clear. It is true that stressors are more demanding on women mentally. However, on the whole, women show more self-discipline (explaining, among other things, their  greater academic success). This matches the finding that while women were more stressed by the pandemic, this did not lead to an increase in unhealthy behaviours. 

What, then, does it mean that self-regulation is a crucial factor? Can it be promoted? Learn more from the GDI study "Prevention in Transition":

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