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I’ve been writing about self-regulation for decades, mostly in the realm of eating—I find the term disregulated more accurate than disordered, and regulated more accurate than intuitive—but also in terms of monitoring emotions and behavior. Recently, I’m pleased to see the terms self-regulation and dysregulation cropping up in more and more articles. The better you understand how to regulate yourself, the better your life will be.

To self-regulate is to adjust behavior consciously, specifically to not allow it, outside of your awareness, to bounce you from one extreme to another. Whether you’re opening or closing your heart, your mouth, or your wallet, the idea is to make decisions only in your best interest. If you want to do/say/eat/spend/work/play, etc. too much or too little, that’s okay, as long as you make the decision consciously. If you want to spend time at either extreme—in what I’ll call an open or closed position—fine, too, as long as you recognize exactly why you’re making this choice and what the consequences may be.

Unfortunately, folks with self-regulation problems often think and act impulsively and make decisions unconsciously. They then end up at either end of the open-closed continuum or swing wildly back and forth between the two extremes as if they were not in charge of this process—eating everything in sight or shutting off appetite and going on a diet; pouring out their troubles to everyone they meet or refusing to share their feelings or secrets; splurging foolishly or logging every penny they spend; vegging out in front of the TV or computer for hours at a time or setting up a rigid schedule that pushes them to be productive all the day long. Okay, you get the picture.

To regulate is NOT to control. Exerting maximum control is at one end of the continuum and letting loose is at the other. Regulation is being in charge. If you drift in one direction, you pull back a smidgen to readjust. You aim to stay within a range, giving yourself leeway, but only as much as you’re comfortable with and capable of handling—no more, no less. You go to extremes only through conscious decision-making that will benefit you—extreme sports, an extra-long vacation, a work marathon to finish a project, a shopping spree, or saving money for a special purchase. You don’t slide mindlessly to an extreme, then gallop back in the other direction to compensate.

If you improve self-regulation skills in other arenas, you’ll find yourself eating in greater balance. Think about how well you self-regulate and work on doing it more consciously and effectively. With practice, you’ll improve in all areas of your life.