June 9, 2021

Self-Regulation: A Complex Character Strength

Let’s talk about self-regulation. Self-regulation refers to the ability to control your emotions and regulate your behavior. People with high self-regulation believe they can be effective in what they want to pursue and are likely to achieve their goals. They can bounce back reasonably well after disappointments and setbacks. At their best, they can exercise discipline and self-control with emotions, impulses, and health habits. 

Individuals with ADHD often report challenges with self-regulation. Many will experience struggles with regulating attention, emotions, controlling impulses, creating routines, establishing healthy habits and fulfilling their “true potential.” A central element of self-regulation is about being disciplined. It is also about making decisions about what you eat and drink. It essentially relates to how you manage your behavior.

Here are some ideas to strengthen your Self-Regulation skills.


Consider these questions as you reflect on your own strength of self-regulation:

  • How does self-regulation play a role in the successes of your life?
  • How do you control your impulses? What techniques do you use?
  • Which areas of your life are most challenging for you in terms of your own self-regulation and impulses?
  • What areas of your life would be improved if you applied greater self-regulation?


Think about times in your life when you have used self-regulation to your advantage? Were there times in your life when you were practicing good healthy habits? Take a few minutes to recall those moments and jot them down. Use these to be proactive for the next occasion where better self-regulation will change the outcome to a better one. 

Taking Action

  • Practice mindfulness by taking control over how you pay attention to things throughout the day.  Start by doing a 5-minute meditation. Focus on your breathing or an object in the room. Listen to a guided meditation with your eyes closed. Go for a walk and take in what you see, hear, and smell along the way. Develop a yoga practice. Any of these practices can be useful in gaining control of your attention. Start with one activity and practice it for a few days, and then a few weeks until it becomes part of your weekly routine.

  • Begin to create healthy habits around sleeping, eating, and exercising. You will be able to control your emotions and keep your impulses in check after a good night's sleep. Healthy sleep can reduce ADHD symptoms that include emotional overload, overwhelm and fear.  Sleep helps with cognitive functioning so we can make better decisions throughout the day. Healthy eating and hydration can help the body build healthy cells and promotes good gut health, adding fuel to the brain. Exercising has a variety of benefits for the mind and body.  It helps with focus and can help manage stress and depressive symptoms. 

  • Dealing with those emotions that are negative can be difficult to regulate especially amid turmoil or reactivity to a situation. It is easier to shift a negative emotion in a proactive way by using positive strategies or associations that help shift our focus or start our journey on an upward climb. The tools of Gratitude and Compassion (for ourselves as well as others) are great practices to incorporate into our toolbox for our everyday rituals. When we focus more on what we are grateful for instead of ruminating on what we do not have, we strengthen ourselves against emotional (over)reactions because we are shifting our perspective on what really matters. And giving our appreciation and gratitude to those around us is providing a stream of positive feedback that works to help their emotions stay positive as well. Using Compassion is also a critical self-regulation tool to subdue the impulse to overreact in stressful situations. And it is more likely to promote empathy and cooperation which will feel good and encourage us to keep up the good work.

Try experimenting with different ways you might blend gratitude and compassion into your daily rituals and see what works for you. And pay attention to when self-regulation abilities could be at their lowest. After a day of work and a multitude of decisions, our self-regulation abilities are diminished. Save those frustrating or stressful situations for earlier in the day when you have more energy and your tank is out of the red zone. 

Victoria Roche, MSW, PCC
ADHD Coach | Center For Living Well with ADHD, LLC

More about Victoria

Cool Resource

Make a Gratitude Jar for your family! Any jar will do but you might want to personalize it with decorations or inspirational sayings. Have everyone add a small note of what they are grateful for on that day. Then at the end of the week, have everyone draw one note and read aloud. Keep the jar somewhere where it’s a visible reminder of the routine, such as the kitchen table. A great method for a happiness boost and a wonderful family ritual to treasure!

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Saturday, June 19
10:00 am Central Time

In this class explore four saboteurs that are most likely to derail you from your best intentions. Learn helpful strategies and ADHD-tuned approaches to avoid these saboteurs as you go about your day to experience more productivity and accomplishment. 

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