iServi News | 6 September 2019 | Term 3, Week 7
‘Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life’ ~ Jerzy Gregorek
If we can’t self-regulate, life will be really hard. Put another way, self-regulation is a crucial character strength for success. Self-regulation is the capacity to delay gratification by putting off a pleasurable activity and choosing a necessary one that helps us grow, learn and develop.
Here are some examples:
- Ice cream or vegetables?
- Snooze button or get up?
- Snap/gram/tube or study?
- Couch or exercise?
- Netflix or bed early?
- Video games or soccer practice?
- Listening to music or learning an instrument?
- Saying YES or saying NO
Ironically the more we choose the pleasure, instant gratification, no self-regulation pathway, the more pain we will feel and the worse we will perform and function. On the other hand if we delay gratification, self-regulate and do the hard work, the more joy, success and quality of life we will experience.
Have you heard of the marshmallow experiment? Here’s how it goes… Children, aged four to eight years old, were given a marshmallow and told that if they did not eat that marshmallow for ten minutes they would be given another one. That’s pretty rough! A lot of the children ate that marshmallow. Some didn’t. Given none of us has an unlimited supply of willpower (another way of saying self-regulation) we all need to adopt and apply strategies that allow us to engage in healthy habits to reap the rewards later.
So what made the difference between those children that ate the marshmallow and those that didn’t? No, it had nothing to do with willpower. The kids that ate the marshmallow sat and stared at it, thought about it, picked it up, smelt it, licked it and then ate it. As Oscar Wilde would say ‘I can resist anything, except temptation itself’. The kids who didn’t eat the marshmallow did everything in their power not to think about it. They didn’t look at it. They didn’t touch it. They regulated themselves so the marshmallow may as well not have been there. They sang. Spoke to themselves. Played on the floor (no toys, just rolling around) and enjoyed their two marshmallows after the ten minutes were up.
What do marshmallows and this experiment have to do with anything anyway? Glad you asked! The study was longitudinal, meaning they tracked the research participants (kids) over a long period of time. Lets fast forward these children thirty years. Now they are adults. The kids who ate the marshmallows were having a much harder time and the kids that didn’t eat their marshmallows were more successful in every facet of their lives (finance, romance, career, happiness, health and connection).
There are a multitude of ways to improve our self regulation. Here are a few we can help our kids with:
- have a one to five minute cold shower (yes in Winter!)
- make your bed in the morning
- meditate for 5 minutes every day
- do a heap of chores at home
- learn to cook and prepare healthy meals
- reduce screen time
- have no screen days
- learn a musical instrument
- embrace boredom and get creative
- do some form of fitness every day
- walk 10000 steps each day
- drink 2 litres of water
- don’t eat anything sweet
- get up at the same time every day
- get 15 minutes of sunshine first thing in the morning
- take good care of your teeth
- learn a range of deescalation breathing techniques
- do an active progressive muscle relaxation before bed
- use furniture as little as possible (sit on the floor or stand)
- do some form of self-defense (grappling/wrestling/striking)
- go for extended periods of time without (social media/games/sugar)
- journal for five minutes every day
- do some public speaking
Young people can’t be what they can’t see, so the more we show self-regulation and engage in activities that promote self-regulation, the more likely it will be that our young people will thrive.
Mr Steve Morrison