Models of self-regulation

Target State
Awareness of one’s actions

Wagner, Dylan D. & Heatherton, Todd F. (2014). Emotion and Self Regulation Failure. In Gross, James J. (2014). Handbook of Emotion Regulation, Second Edition. New York, London: Guilfort Press. S.615.

Although the details vary, most models of self-regulation can be said to deal with three basic components. The first involves a target state that is to be attained. This can be a goal, such as the goal to quit smoking or to avoid contaminating the palate with cheap wines, but this may also be a set of standards, such as rules of conduct (i.e., whenever possible, avoid drinking and teaching). The second component involves an awareness of one’s actions, often referred to as monitoring. In cybernetic models of self-regulation (e.g., Carver & Scheier, 1981), monitoring involves comparing current behavior with the desired goal state and signaling any discrepancy. Monitoring is a particularly vulnerable component of self-regulation, as a failure to monitor ongoing behavior necessarily entails an inability to catch (and therefore control) unwanted actions. The final component is regulation itself. Upon identifying a thought or an emotion that conflicts with his or her goals, that person must be capable of implementing a strategy to inhibit or otherwise disarm the unwanted impulse. Limited capacity models of self-regulation (Baumeister & Heatherton, 1996) emphasize the ways in which this component operates like a muscle and is therefore subject to improvement through training and also to breakdowns through fatigue. Figure 36.1A depicts a model of self-regulation wherein monitoring, limited capacity resources, and goals interact with the strength of impulses and temptations, ultimately determining self-regulatory success or failure.