"Feed Your Good Wolf"
There is a Native American story called "The Two Wolves." It starts with an old Cherokee telling his grandson about a battle that often goes on inside people.
He says, "My son, the fight is between two wolves. one is evil. It is angry, envious, jealous, sorrowful,
regretful, greedy, arrogant, self-pitying, guilty, resentful, inferior, dishonest, proud, superior, and
The other is good. This wolf is joyful, peaceful, loving, hopeful, serene, humble, kind, benevolent,
ic, generous, truthful, compassionate, and faithful."
His grandson thinks for a while, and then asks: "Which wolf wins, Grandfather?" The old Cherokee
simply replies, "The one you feed."
Regulating Your Emotions
The point of the story is that we all have a choice about how we react to situations: either in a positive
or negative way. The more you practice thinking and behaving positively, the less negativity
can affect you
and the way you behave.
Let's apply the two wolves analogy to the workplace.
Imagine you've just been passed over for promotion. You start to think negatively about your boss, so
much so that it interferes with your ability to do your work. But, after some deep breaths, you tell
yourself positive things like, "Something better will come along," "The person best suited to
this job got it," and, "It's nothing personal." These new thoughts help you to think clearly
again, and allow you to put the situation
Making a proactive choice to feed your "good wolf," and to manage the way you think and act, involves
What is Self-Regulation?
Self-regulation is the ability to keep disruptive emotions and impulses in check, and to think before acting.
It's one of the five elements of emotional intelligence (knowing your emotions; managing your
emotions/self-regulation; motivating yourself; recognizing and understanding other people's emotions,
and managing relationships), a concept developed by psychologist Daniel Goleman.
According to Goleman, Boyatzis and McKee, in their 2002 book "The New Leaders: Transforming the
Art of Leadership," people who self-regulate see the good in other people, and are able to identify
opportunities in different situations. They keep lines of communication open, make their motivations and
intentions clear, and act in accordance with their values. They also work to the best of their abilities, and
are able to keep going when times are tough.
Goleman and his colleagues found that self-regulated people can calm themselves down when they're
angry or upset, and cheer themselves up when they're down. They are also flexible, and adapt their
styles to work with their colleagues (no matter who they are), and take charge of situations when
Emotional intelligence is a crucial leadership skill, because it gives you an awareness of your own
emotions, as well as of others' feelings and needs. Self-regulation is also vital, because it means you
can manage how you react to situations, and express yourself appropriately at all times.
The Importance of Self-Regulation
When we know how to manage our emotions and impulses, we function at our best. It means we act
in accordance with our "social conscience," rather than just doing what we want to do.
For instance, we might help a team member with a piece of work even when we're pushed
for time ourselves.
Self-regulation also prevents us from behaving in a way that could cost us, our team or our organization
in the long run , even when there are short-term benefits. It allows us to delay gratification and
our impulses long enough to think ahead to the possible consequences of our actions. So, for example,
we can turn down invitations to do something fun when we're studying toward a qualification, and are
able to rein in the desire to tell difficult team members what we really think of them!
Being self-regulated means we're able to "bounce back" from negative feedback, which stops us from
wallowing in self-pity and being less productive at work. And, if other people see we're able to keep calm
under pressure, and accept feedback without getting upset, they're more likely to trust us with important
work and projects. It also make us more approachable, and strengthens our reputations at work.
8 Strategies to Develop Your Self-Regulation Skills
The good news is that you can learn self-regulation. Use the following eight strategies to develop it.
1. Leading With Integrity
Managers who are self-regulated lead with integrity. They are good role models, they practice what they
preach, and they create trusting environments. They do the right thing for the right reasons, even when
it means they don't take the easiest option.
People who live and work with integrity are often successful because others respect them. To behave
with integrity, identify your values . These are the things that you won't compromise on, even
if they put you at a disadvantage. (Recognize that you'll sometimes lose opportunities by
behaving ethically, but that you'll win "the long game.") Then, start living these values every
day. Admit your mistakes, take responsibility for your actions, and listen to your inner voice.
People tend to treat you how you treat them, so, if you don't want to experience bad behaviors from
others, don't exhibit them yourself. Equally, if you remain positive and optimistic – even in the face of
adversity – you team members will likely do the same.
2. Being Open to Change
People who self-regulate cope well with change, and adapt their behavior to different situations easily.
Importantly, they think about change positively, and see it as an exciting opportunity
for self-development. (Conversely, people who resist change can experience a great deal of stress,
and other negative physical and psychological effects.)
If you struggle to cope with change, try using the Transactional Model of Stress and Coping to look
objectively at your change situation, and to analyze how you can respond to it effectively. Other tools
like SWOT , Risk Analysis and Impact Analysis can also help you discover new opportunities,
and to manage and eliminate threats.
3. Identifying Your Triggers
An important part of being self-regulated is self-awareness , particularly when it comes to knowing
what your weaknesses are, and how other people's behavior can affect you negatively.
Identify your triggers by making a list of all the times when you've given in to your negative impulses
at work. When you've identified emotions and reactions that aren't useful, replace them with
more positive behaviors.
For example, you might discover that you tend to snap at colleagues when you feel your workload is out
of control, because you have back-to-back meetings. If this is the case, you might want to
appointments in your diary to avoid this situation.
Consider keeping a Stress Diary to identify where you need to improve your stress
management skills, and to understand the levels of stress at which you are happiest and
4. Practicing Self-Discipline
In their 2012 study, "Masters of the Long Haul," researchers Thomas Bateman and Bruce Barry said
that self-regulation is the single most important factor in achieving long-term goals.
People who show initiative or work toward challenging goals often encounter difficulties and setbacks,
but those who are able to keep going eventually succeed.
Develop self-regulation by working on persistence and self-discipline. These are traits that keep you
working hard, even when you are not "in the mood" and your goals seem out of reach. For example,
keeping focused on how you'll feel when you've finished your project might be the best way to avoid
procrastinating, or giving up on a difficult project completely.
5. Reframing Negative Thoughts
People who are self-regulated are able to choose the wolf they feed. If you experience a negative event
or obstacle at work, tune in to your negative thoughts. Ask yourself whether they're reasonable and
to fair scrutiny. For example, did you really not get the job because you're "not good enough," or was it
because your colleague had more experience in a specific area?
Consider using affirmations and visualization to manage your negative thoughts and to control
how you react to similar situations in the future. By rationally assessing the facts, you can
undo the damage
that negative thinking may have done. For instance, saying to yourself, "I can do this, I've done it before"
is much more motivating than, "I can't do this, I'm hopeless!"
Another strategy is to find something positive about the situation. This small shift inperspective can
transform your thinking and make you feel more optimistic about the future. For example, imagine
you've received some feedback that upsets you and causes negative thoughts to spiral.
Take the emotion out of
the equation for a moment, and think about whether there's any element of truth in it. If there is, how
can you improve your performance next time? If there isn't, take the initiative and talk to
the other person to address any misunderstandings.
6. Keeping Calm Under Pressure
For example, relaxation techniques such as deep breathing can help you to calm down – it interrupts
any negative thoughts, and puts you back on a more positive path. Breathe in slowly for five seconds,
then breathe out for five. Focus on your breathing, and nothing else. Do this at least five times.
Remember, the more you practice self-regulation, the more successful you'll be at it.
7. Considering the Consequences
If you find yourself in a difficult situation, or if you're trying to control your impulses, think before you act
and consider the consequences. Remembering what happened when you reacted badly in the past can
remind you why it's important to be self-regulated.
Or, imagine how you look and behave when you're not in control – this will give you some perspective
on the situation. For instance, if you're about to shout at your team member, imagine how
you would look. Is your face red and sweaty? Are you flailing your arms around? How would
you feel working for that person? You'd probably not want to.
8. Believing in Yourself
Another important element of self-regulation is self-efficacy. This is your belief in your ability to achieve
your goals. To develop this, work on your self-confidence . Focus on the experiences in your life
where you were successful, to put your mistakes and setbacks into perspective.
Choose to believe in yourself, and surround yourself with other positive and confident people. The more
you see the success of others whose skills and abilities are similar to yours, the more likely you are to
believe that you can also achieve that success.
Combine all of this positive energy with great stress management strategies, and you'll soon improve
your levels of personal confidence.
Self-regulation is the ability to manage disruptive emotions and impulses, and to think
before you react. It makes up one of the five elements of emotional intelligence, a concept
developed by psychologist Daniel Goleman, and it helps us stop unhelpful behavior, and
keep calm under pressure.
We all have the ability to control the way we react to situations. Build on your skills by
leading with integrity, being open to change, practicing self-discipline, and believing in yourself. Keep calm under pressure by identifying your triggers to stress and reframing negative
thoughts, and always consider the consequences of your actions.