Self-Regulation vs. Self-Control

Self-Reg for parents, photo of man and son sitting on the grass together

Purpose:

The practice of Self–Reg draws a fundamental distinction between self–regulation and self–control.

Self-Regulation

Self–regulation seeks to identify and reduce the causes of problems in mood, thought, and behaviour.

Self–regulation is always searching for hidden stressors.

Self-Control

Self–control seeks to inhibit or manage such problems only when they arise.

Self–control looks only at surface behaviours.

Origin:

The roots of the distinction between self–regulation and self–control are remarkably ancient, tracing all the way back to Hippocrates and Plato.

Self-Regulation

Hippocratic physicians turned to cupping, diet, exercise, and emetics to restore “humoral balance” in the blood.

Self-Control

Educators and religious authorities worked on character–building to strengthen “willpower”.

At the beginning of the 20th century, both theories gave birth to a science. Hippocratic methods evolved into physiology, while “willpower”–based methods influenced modern day Behaviourism.

Physiology looks at neurobiological systems that maintain a balance between energy expenditure and restoration.

Self–regulation capitalizes on recent advances in the science of stress management.

Behaviourism, on the other hand, looks for ways to contain the surface effects of an imbalance.

Self–control looks at age–old methods of punishment and reward to manage behaviour.

Methods:

Both self–regulation and self–control seek to achieve “effortful control”, or the ability to voluntary manage attention and inhibit or activate behaviours in response to external stimuli.

Self-Regulation

Self–Reg seeks to reduce the effort required to reach effortful control.

Self–regulation is about looking non–judgmentally at one’s impulses, worries, and fixations.

Self-Control

Self–control encourages battling “weaknesses” to exercise effortful control.

Self–control is about being judged, by oneself as much as by others.

Focus:

Self–regulation looks at the social dimension.

Self–control focuses solely on the individual.

Self–regulation makes self–control possible, not the other way around.

Dr. Stuart Shanker is a Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Psychology from York University and the Founder & Visionary of The MEHRIT Centre, Ltd. Stuart has served as an advisor on early child development to government organizations across Canada and the US, and in countries around the world. Dr. Shanker also blogs for Psychology Today
X