There is a Native American fable called ‘The Two Wolves’. As the Cherokee elder tells his grandson: “The fight is between two wolves. One wolf is evil – angry, envious, arrogant, resentful, dishonest, and egotistical.
The other is good – humble, kind, empathetic, generous, honest, compassionate and faithful.’ His grandson listens, thinks for a while, and finally asks: “Which wolf wins, Grandfather?” The old Cherokee replies, “The one you feed.”
We all have a choice about how we react to situations: positively or negatively. The more you practice thinking and behaving positively, the less negativity can affect you and the way you behave.
Think about the two wolves in a different context – a sports environment, where you have been overlooked for team selection. Now you can start to think negatively about the captain, coach and your team mates to such an extent that it interferes with your ability to perform.
Or you can tell yourself positive things like, “The right player got the nod,” or, “It’s nothing personal.” These new thoughts help you to think clearly again, and allow you to put situation into perspective. They also return control of the situation to you, allow you to self-identify how you can improve, redefine your effort, and refocus on your goal. Making a proactive choice to feed your “good wolf,” and to manage the way you think and act, involves self-regulation.
Self-regulation is the ability to keep disruptive emotions and impulses in check, and importantly to think before acting. People who self-regulate tend to see the good in other people, and are able to identify opportunities in different situations.
They tend not to ‘burn their bridges’, keep lines of communication open, make 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 things get tough. Self-regulation is vital because it allows people to manage reactions to situations and express themselves appropriately at all times. When we can do this, we function optimally.
Self-regulation also prevents us from behaving in a way that could have personal, team or organisational costs. It allows us to delay gratification and suppress our impulses long enough to think ahead to the possible consequences of our actions.
Now it is easy to identify moments when others have failed to self-regulate – YouTube is full of them!
But what about yourself?
Can you think of a time or place when you failed to self-regulate?
Did you go out with friends the night before an exam or big match?
Did you join the bandwagon in hazing or bullying a peer?
How will you identify and respond to risky situations like these in the future?
And how can you use regulation of yourself to influence others?
Self-regulation is the fundamental prerequisite for any form of influence. After all if you can’t trust yourself, how can you expect others to trust and follow you?