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The ability to control behavior is one of the most valuable skills a person can possess. Sometimes referred to as will power or self-regulation, this capability allows us to control impulses, make plans, suppress unwanted thoughts, and in general manage personal and social behavior. Better self-regulation can lead to improved relationships, facilitate better mental health, and increase career success. Just as important, learning to marshal our physical, emotional, and physical energies in order to achieve meaningful goals and tasks without needless and exhausting depletion of our personal resources can provide powerful and welcomed momentum toward success. From almost any perspective, better self-regulation is desirable and useful.

That’s the good news.

The unfortunate news is failures in self-regulation are commonplace and hit at the core of many of our personal, social, and mental-health problems. Poor financial decisions, premature disengagement from important goals, obesity, sexual infidelity, poor health, addiction — all of these and many more — can be related to poor self-regulation. The problems related to poor self-regulation are globally epidemic. For example, in a 2007 article in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Steven Schroede made the convincing argument that 40% of premature deaths are attributable to poor self-regulation.

Regardless of your buy-in into extent of poor self-regulation, it is not hard to accept that if we all had more self-regulation, we might all be able to experience increased physical vitality, health, emotional wellbeing, and achievement performance.

In the next month, I will be exploring self-regulation from a personal viewpoint. In other words, how self-regulation operates in our daily lives and how the dynamics of regulation can be recognized, learned from, and improved upon.