Learning to self-regulate

[Edited: Links added]

Disclaimer: I am in the car going to New Brunswick for the World Pond Hockey Championship, posting from a smartphone. This post has no links until I can edit it + it’s hard to proofread etc. If you catch errors, send ’em my way.

Like what seems to be a majority of the population, I am a psychology hobbyist. I try to be a good amateur and learn the right terminology, take a few classes, and get rid of the worst of my misconceptions. If you are a real psychologist, apologies in advance for the mistakes. Let me know where I am mistaken or unclear; I am trying to learn on this blog.

It is a difficult field, even for the pros – analogies compare our current understanding of the mind to physics before Einstein, or, more pessimistic, before Newton. Those sayings don’t capture it, really; brains don’t seem to obey simple, consistent, universal laws that we can derive from lots of observation. People are more complex.

Of course, my interest in psych isn’t some attempt to push the field further and advance the state of human knowledge; it just seems practical! Other trite sayings reference the lack of an owners manual for the brain we get – some elementary neuroscience and psych and development seem as close as we have right now.

In psych, lots of the focus is on ‘outcomes’ of development given particular circumstances and influences. As someone interested in being successful and smart and happy and stuff, I look towards these outcomes as a source of explicit goals for my learning. Why futz around with guesswork if I can try to build up the best environment for myself based on the research, or find a shortcut to the outcome? I agree, no reason at all!

One of the positive outcomes the psych folk look for is self-regulation. The concept covers a wide array of emotional and mental skills – keeping anger in check, focusing on what you want, feeling how you want to feel. Regulating yourself.

I try to work on this. Mindfulness helps – noticing how I am feeling is necessary if I want to consciously change how I feel. Last year I wrote an article for the diamondback about practicing emotions. Basically, the idea was that we learn lots of things in school, but to get to super-saiyan, we’d have to expand our emotional capacity too. Get yourself terribly sad, then enraged, then overjoyed, flush with anticipation, annoyingly proud of yourself, repeat.

While I still think it is a cool idea, recently I haven’t been pushing it so hard. The more I read about the actual goals of the psych folks, the less the sheer emotional capacity seems the actual goal of development. In essence, don’t feel sad/angry/frustrated/lethargic unnecessarily. While I still try to mix my practice up with a range of emotions, I am sticking to the ones that feel good – amusement, self-satisfaction, excitement, hope, security, appreciation, and the like.

A big movement within psychology going on recently and now has been a gradual shift from a focus on pathology, i.e. what’s wrong, to thinking about how even the most stable of us can be happier and more fulfilled. I’ll add links tomorrow with some of the things I’ve been reading about this I added links to this, but for now, sleep!

It’s good for you!