Self-regulation refers to our ability to override and alter our responses. Regulation means change, especially change to bring our behavior into line with some standard such as an ideal or goal. We attempt to constrain unwanted urges in order to gain control of the incipient response. But why fight this urge? What benefit do we get from regulating ourselves? Why do we change our behavior so as to follow rules, match ideals, or pursue goals? Maybe to feel more socially acceptable or achieve some goal or reach a destination. Whatever the reason might be, this post is just trying to highlight what I believe are crucial ingredients to effectively self-regulate oneself.
As the definition indicated, regulation means change so as to bring into line with some standard, and hence effective self-regulation requires a clear and well-defined standard. Ambiguous, uncertain, inconsistent, or conflicting standards make self-regulation difficult. This standard can be merely logical or reason based standards or standards outlined by religious teachings.
It is difficult if not impossible to regulate a behavior without keeping track of it. The person performs a test by comparing the self (or the relevant aspect of self) to the standard. If the self falls short, then self-regulation requires initiating some operation to change the self in order to bring it up to what it should be
The enforcement mechanism a.k.a willpower. Operations aimed at changing the self are difficult and therefore require some power. However, I believe that this mechanism has limited stamina. Like how most of do more mistakes or feel less effective when we are tired or fatigued so is our willpower when we constantly try to self-regulate ourselves. In other words, willpower is going to fail us as an enforcement mechanism when it becomes temporarily depleted.
Specifically, motivation to achieve the goal or meet the standard, which in practice amounts to motivation to regulate the self. Even if the standards are clear, monitoring is fully effective, and the person’s resources are abundant, he or she may still fail to self-regulate due to not caring about reaching the goal. Remember how we control drinking in front of our spouses or bosses or parents-in-law no matter how much we love alcohol or have an urge to drink.