The Art of Self-Regulation

Greater insight helps achieve improved self-regulation.

Greater insight helps us to achieve improved self-regulation.

Everyone knows the feeling of eating a bowl of ice-cream or having a glass of wine after pledging to stop. We say we’re going to eat and drink less, exercise more, stop smoking, be proactive, keep out of debt, get to bed at a decent hour—and then we fail completely to keep our word.

Sometimes we surrender to our impulses, cravings, or desires before the ink is even dry on our pledge to reform.

It’s time to learn a trick or two from the art of self-regulation. In keeping with this holiday season, I illustrate this method as it involves sweets and sugar consumption, but the practice can be applied to a wide variety of unwanted or unhealthy behaviors.

Take the case of Jamie. He’s overweight and a candidate for diabetes, yet he succumbs frequently to what he calls his “sugar addiction.” He needs to understand that his problem is not about sugar. His craving doesn’t stem from a physical addiction. We might say, instead, that his heavy consumption of sugar is due to a psychological addiction. That’s because the craving and his weakness in succumbing to it have to do with psychological conflict.

We’re all conflicted to some degree. We all want to feel strong and powerful, yet many of us find ourselves entangled in negative emotions involving helplessness, passivity, and feeling controlled. Life often feels like an everyday tussle between excess and moderation, and we find ourselves in various situations tottering back and forth between strength and weakness, resolve and indecision, and confidence and self-doubt. All the while, we want to feel we have some freedom to break the rules of moderation now and then. [Read more…]

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Our Messy Mix of Aggression and Passivity

We produce both reactive aggression and unhealthy passivity in our psyche.

We produce both reactive aggression and unhealthy passivity in our psyche.

Here we stand, aggressively destroying our planet while passively letting it happen. We simply don’t have a lot of insight into two primitive aspects of our mental and emotional functioning—aggression and passivity.

Certainly we need some amount of aggression—make that healthy aggression—in order to thrive and to secure our place in the world. An aggressive approach to work and sports, for instance, typically produces more pleasure and success than a passive approach.

Yet people are likely to produce reactive or unhealthy aggression such as anger, resentment, and cynicism as much as the healthy variety. Along with overflows of reactive aggression, we also exhibit overdoses of passivity. How else can we explain our tolerance of a growing surveillance state, our acceptance of an oppressive banking system, our weakness for mass marketing and propaganda, and our sedation by pharmaceuticals and an entertainment complex?

Our entanglement in reactive aggression—whether physical, verbal, or in our thoughts—arises out of our unconscious temptation to entertain emotionally the feeling of being powerless. We’re tempted to act belligerently (or cheer on those who do) because we’re determined to cover up a weakness that we’re reluctant to face, namely our emotional entanglement in fear, insecurity, passivity, and self-doubt.

For instance, the desire to possess assault weapons and large ammunition clips, as opposed to a hunting rifle, is all about seizing an opportunity, out of inner passivity, to experience spell-binding sensations of power. [Read more…]

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