What you feel vs. What you know -- the domain of self regulation

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What you feel vs. What you know -- the domain of self regulation

Mindfulness is a popular topic in our profession based on the responses we see from articles, webinars, books, and speaker engagements. However, for many, the topic does not resonate well due to preconceived notions or interpersonal concerns related to the subject matter. In this posting, I’m going to explore some of these concerns and share some insights that I hope will assist others who are exploring or having issues with “the domain of self-regulation.”

Please note: I am not an expert in this field, and although I’m a fan of mindfulness-based strategies, my goal here is to provide personal insights only - with no judgments made to anyone's belief, approach, or thoughts on this subject.



I just came back from a symposium where the realm of interrogating one’s emotions was front and center across multiple keynote speakers. I enjoyed and appreciated the content and the exercises provided and found it relevant to our profession. However, for some, the content and activities were, let’s say – uncomfortable.

Although it is not too unusual to see social anxiety grip a percentage of participants during speaker driven exercises, my table was quite social, that is, until the content and exercises went into self-regulation territory. At that point, most of the table reached for their keys to lock their personal “pandora’s box.”

Despite recognizing this, I asked the person to my left, “do you want to share,” and the answer was an expressive “No.” I then looked at the person to my right, and the facial expression stated, “say one word, and there will be severe consequences.” I then turned my gaze toward the speaker to provide my table mates some relief, waited an uncomfortable minute, and then noticed the individual on my left had exited the conference hall with all of their gear.

This response was understandable to me, as my journey into this realm has had challenges as well on both the professional and personal front. After getting home that evening, I reflected on the interactions I had during the day and remembered; I have a blog, one that I rarely use, maybe I should post on this subject. I then did my best to convince myself otherwise, but lost the battle – so here we go.



Most of the individuals I have come in contact with (or have read about) that appreciate self-regulation based strategies do so because they have received value in their personal life from practicing it. Most of those individuals also admit that they were initially reluctant to the idea at first, but then warmed up to it after “giving it a chance” and seeing positive results.

So, why do some reject or pushback on strategies of this type? Well, for one, it is a loaded proposition on face value, consider the following “over thoughts”:

  • What, my reality is not real, and yours is (i.e., your right and I’m wrong)?
  • So, I’m no longer present and aware if I show emotions of any kind?
  • Are you implying that my emotions are not regulated?
  • Who gets to decide “the way things truly are”?

These thoughts by themselves are neither right nor wrong; they are instead, thoughts that require cognitive challenging. Although a correct statement, it is not that simple for those who have endured emotional trauma or abuse, or for those who have deficits in their emotional management toolkit. In either case, these types of thoughts can easily trigger feelings from the past that one is not prepared to address, especially in public forums.

For these individuals, self-regulation strategies can easily become stigmatized as the psyche recognizes it as a trigger-area for uncomfortable or unbearable feelings. To state it another way, consuming this type of content outside of a controlled environment can create anxiety and other symptoms that the strategy is purposed to treat – creating an unfortunate paradox.

I’m not saying that we should stop the self-regulation movement within our profession, I’m instead saying that we need to be empathetic and careful when we deliver content on the subject. Self-regulation is a journey that never ends, and for some, it’s a journey that never begins. Let’s recognize this fact and be sensitive to it.



In the realm of self-regulation, my personal goal is to implement a strategy that mitigates the transference of stress into my life in both professional and personal settings. To accomplish this goal, I must first be mindful; that is, I must be aware and focused on the moment at hand. When this is true, I can then implement tooling to accomplish my goal.

The approach I have adopted encapsulates (at least for me) the quintessential question of self-regulation into a challenge-based response cognitive-tool. This insight is not unique but has served me well in my journey. To wield this tool, you ask yourself the following question when confronted with a concern:

  • Are you about to respond based on what you feel (i.e., your emotions), or what you know (i.e., acquired knowledge)?

Once you ask yourself this question, you can then internally reply with:

  • My knowledge on this subject has a deficit, and my feelings need vetting – I will defer my response?
  • What I feel is fine (being neither right nor wrong), but what I know is the following.
  • What I know is what I feel – it happened.

This millisecond of clarity affords one a “regulated moment in time” where opportunities outweigh the challenges. For most, this approach is simply a choice that one needs to “step into.” However, for some, the dots do not connect without engaging a professional to help them through the process.



This subject for most (and absolutely for me) is a personal one, and I must say it feels a bit uncomfortable posting on it. However, let me close by giving a big “thank you” to the Mindfulness and self-regulation evangelist we have in our profession. You are doing important work not just for the profession, but also for the human condition.

Posted on: October 22, 2019 12:02 PM | Permalink

Comments (3)

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Very interesting., thanks for sharing.

Well written, as always, George! Not everyone is comfortable in these mindfulness and self-regulated conversations that is for sure - and that is OK - we've all had different experiences that have brought us to this moment. I'm sure people who have felt uncomfortable in these conversations appreciate the voice you just gave them! You did a nice job highlighting different perspectives.

Great post, George! I can imagine the challenges the attendees faced at that conference session - sharing ones inner thoughts and concerns requires a high level of trust and psychological safety which is rarely found in large public settings. The recipe you provide is a good one - it does require, however, sufficient self-awareness of the individual to ask the preliminary question when faced with a challenging situation before they let their amygdala rule them. I find that taking a deep breath is a good "pause that refreshes" to enable me to ask such questions...

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