How to train self-regulation

How can I train my self-regulation?

In the following overview you find exercises which are beneficial to improve your self-regulation. You’ll find a detailled description and guidelines to use these exercises in below. We understand self-regulation skills like a muscle, which is trained by a regularly use. Training can be more or less intense or challenging. The more you have trained these exercises for a while, the easier they work and you improve your self-regulation from day to day.

How much time do I have to invest?

A daily training brings the best results. The exercices are marked 1-3. The following times are needed by an average user to complete a given exercice:

  1. This exercise needs between one and three minutes and can be trained very easily
  2. This exercise needs between five and ten minutes and needs a very little bit of training
  3. This exercise needs between fifteen and thirty minutes and needs more intense attention and training

Some of the following exercises can be made in a short time as well as for a longer and more intense training. It depends from the time you want to invest and the training level you have reached.

Overview of exercises

This overview shows which exercices help develop a given dimension of self-regulation.

Dimension Exercise
Goal Orientation Define your goals as SMART (1)
SWOT-Analysis (3)
Letter to yourself (3)
Willpower Disturbance Training (1)
Visiting a cinema (3)
WOOP (2)
Affect Regulation Pause during the day (1)
Problem-Solution-Gymnastics (2-3)
Self-Hypnosis 3-2-1 (2)
Self-Perception Breathing exercise (Drawing in thoughts) (1)
Roll the dice to decide (1)
Bodyscan (1-2-3)
Self-Reinforcement Balance of affects (2)
Exercise with coffee beans (1)
Scaling exercise (2)
Self-Integration Future-Facilitation (3)
Self-hypnosis: Relaxation-Induction (3)
Should-Want-Diary (2)
Self-Development Daily Naikan Exercise (2-3)
My personal pool of resources (2-3)
Partner-Interview Self-Leadership (3)
Self-Compassion Restructuring (2-3)
Fast coherence (1-2)
Take sides with yourself (2)

Visiting a Cinema (Brian Alman, p. 20)

When confronted with a problem, take some time for yourself in a quiet place where you are alone for a few minutes. Make it comfortable for yourself, and take a deep breath, so that the breath disperses something in you. Close your eyes and imagine you are in a dark cinema and watching the film of your life…

Part 1: On the Screen

On the big screen you can see the scene that requires your full concentration – perhaps it a scene from your work. Whatever the problem may be, allow yourself to remain open, so that you fully experience what happens in the film of your life. Let the scene pass by. Get a sense of yourself being in the lead role and interacting with the other actors. Listen to yourself, and how you express your thoughts and feelings as they come into your mind.

Part 2: From the 15th Row

After you have had let the scene that expresses your problem run through, change the focus of your attention by imagining yourself sitting in the 15th row of the cinema, approximately in the middle between the screen and the back of the cinema. In the 15th row lies the seat of the critic of your inner film, and this sceptical, judgemental, perfectionistic and controlling part of you yearns to tell you everything he doesn’t like about you and your film: “What’s going on with you…?” “…Can’t you stop this…” “You should know better, this leads to nothing.” Yor inner critic is a substantial part of what goes on in yourself. He has been with you for much too long, so much so that you can’t bring him to silence. When you try to ignore, deny or get rid of him (What it means when you criticise your critic), you make him stronger and keep your seat in the 15th row. It would be better for you if you acknowledge your inner critic, strike up a friendship with him, and let him say what he has to say.

Part 3: From the Last Row

When you are fed up with arguing with yourself, leave the place of your inner critic and take your seat in the last row of the cinema. There, with a comfortable distance from what happens on the screen, but still part of it, you can take a deep breath and hear your true, authentic inner voice. From the last row you can look at the film of your life more quietly, and the critic of row 15 more compassionately. Away from the 15th row you can regard your life more lovingly, creatively and from a wider and wiser perspective. In addition, from the last row you can realize that the challenges you are confronted with are not a problem any more, that which restrains you is but a bridge to healing, and that helps you to develop yourself further.

Take Sides with Yourself (Rick Hanson, p. 88)

Make experience – Bring the positive qualities home to you, when taking sides with yourself. They are already present in the foreground or background of your awareness. Maybe you are already familiar with sensations that lead you to take care of your own needs. If not, create this feeling. Remember a time when you felt congruent with yourself and always followed your inner interests. If this is difficult for you, try to remember how it feels to take sides for somebody else. Maybe you can see yourself as a little, vulnerable child… Can you give care and support to this child?

Enrich experience – Open yourself up to this feeling. Intensify it by letting it flow through body and mind. Hold on to the feeling, make a reservation for it and create a permanent place for this feeling in your awareness. Register the different aspects of this feeling. Imagine how you sit, stand and talk when taking sides with yourself. Adopt the gesture and facial expression of this imaginary scenario.

Absorb experience in yourself – Trace the feeling of taking sides with yourself and let yourself be permeated by it. Make this good experience be a part of you. Give yourself away to the experience. Conform to your inner friendliness and wish yourself the best.

Bodyscan (Jon Kabat-Zinn)

You can practice this exercise whenever, wherever and however you want: when sitting, lying, standing, or during work. This exercise may be done in two minutes or in 20 minutes, whatever works for you. Focus your attention on the different parts of your body, step by step. Let your attention be there for as long as it is good for that moment. Start with your feet:

  • How do your feet feel right now?
  • How is the tension in your feet?
  • How is the contact to the ground?
  • Are there differences between the right and the left foot?
  • How warm or cool is the sensation in the right big toe and how is it in the left big toe?
  • Maybe one foot feels more relaxed than the other?

Give attention to your body, starting with your feet and taking the time you need right now in that moment: your feet, your legs (lower leg and calf, knee, hollow of the knee, thigh), your back from lumbar vertebrae to shoulders, the front side of your body, your arms, hands, fingers, your neck, your head (backside, crest, temporal muscle), your face (forehead, eyes, nose, mouth, jaw).

Do this exercise regularly. The more you practice, the more benefit this exercise will be for your own self-observation and the regulation of affects and tension.

Problem-Solution-Gymnastics (Gunther Schmidt, M.D.)

1. Evoke a resourceful state in your imagination and experience it in all its modalities:

  1. Where in your body do you feel the state most intensely?
  2. Which inner pictures occur?
  3. Which sounds, tones or voices can you hear?
  4. How are your thoughts?

Intensify this state, by putting the ends of your thumb and index finger together and take the hand that fits best for this exercise. Imagine the resource state would be a film that absorbs you intensively, by making light pressure between your thumb and index finger. A film you can influence by pressing the button and that can absorb your attention more and more. Practice this for a few minutes. You will find out how you can evoke this state for certain and let it get stronger and stronger.

2. Evoke a state in your imagination that you usually find difficult and experience it in all its modalities. An example may be a situation that leads you to feel discomfort, tension or stress:

  1. Where in your body do you feel the state most intensely?
  2. Which inner pictures occur?
  3. Which sounds, tones or voices can you hear?
  4. How are your thoughts?

Intensify this state, by putting the ends of your thumb and index finger together and taking the other hand for this exercise. Imagine the problem state is a film that absorbs you intensively, by making light pressure between thumb and index finger. A film you can influence by pressing the button and that can absorb your attention more and more. Practice this for a few minutes. You will find out how you can evoke this state for certain and let it get stronger and stronger.

3. After you’ve practiced evoking these states as described, change them, as you would with a gymnastical exercise. Go into your resource state and stay there for a while, afterwards change into the problem state and stay there for a while. Change the states five to seven times and observe what happens.

4. You can anchor the positive state, by giving a light pressure between thumb and index finger like pressing a button to start a film. And you can evoke the state regularly and definitely, whenever you want. This exercise trains the regulation of affects and leads to resource states

SWOT Analysis

SWOT-Analysis allows one to focus strengths and weaknesses as well as opportunities and threats. When combining the analysis of strengths-weaknesses on the one hand and opportunities and threats on the other hand, specific strategies to devise change can be made.

SWOT Matrix Positive factors Negative factors
Present time Strengths Weaknesses
Future time Opportunities Threats

Question your SWOT matrix:

  • How can strengths be made sustainable and developed?
  • How can present weaknesses be reduced or neutralized?
  • Which possibilities exist to realize opportunities and identify potential?
  • How can identified threats be avoided or made more unlikely?

How can a combination of strengths and opportunities be utilised in order to achieve desired effects and to avoid unwanted effects in order to reduce their impact?

Scaling Exercise

Choose a problem that occupies you, e.g. your competence in dealing with stress. Draw a scale from zero (lowest score) to one hundred (hightest score) and highlight where you see your competence at the present time in relation to your problem. Then choose a goal in the form of a score that you intend to achieve. Your current coping of stress could for instance be low and have a score of “five”. Your goal score could be “eight”.

Write down why your score is five and in doing so be as detailed as possible (“I feel tension in my neck” , “I feel nervous”, “I’m not talkative”) und how it would be at your intended goal score (“I feel relaxed”, “I like to communicate with others”. “My heart beats steady and powerful”). Take note of the differences.

Continue with these questions:

  • How do these differences originate?
  • What is needed so that the goal score can become a reality?
  • Why do I give the score of “five” to the present situation and not “four”?
  • What would be the first little step into the direction of my goal score?
  • How could I manage to go from a “five” to a “six” within the next week?

Balance of Affects (Maya Storch, Julius Kuhl)

Situations can potentially lead to positive or negative emotions or one’s reaction may be indifferent. A person might be happy because of a training course given the workplace and the acssociated learning and developmental opportunities. At the same time regret may occur, because of the loss of one’s free weekends. Find a present or a long term issue that focusses your attention and draw two scales – one for positive and rewarding emotions and one for negative and averse feelings – from zero (lowest score) to one hundred (highest score). Fill in your current positive and negative scores related to your present issue. Take your time. Think about ways to strengthen and improve positive feelings and reduce negative feelings. Repeat this exercice regularly and observe how this exercise influences your working days.

Roll the Dice to Decide (Steve de Shazer)

Decision making problems may be difficult. Despite all the advantages and disadvantages that are well known, the decision-related emotions and holistic experiences are difficult to predict. Take a current decision making problem (e.g. shall I agree to a time limited, highly attractive task or a time absorbing, complementary task in my job?). Take a dice every morning for one week and make a choice. The numbers 2,4, and 6 stand for the decision “I will do this task” and the numbers 1, 3 and 5 mean “I won’t do this task”. During the days observe how you feel about it, where in your body you feel strongest and which thoughts, attitudes and other observations occur.

My Personal Pool of Resources (Storch/ Krause, p. 225)

Draw a visual illustration of your personal pool of resources, following these areas:

  • My objective
  • My aids to help myself remember
  • My physical resources
  • My warning signals and instructions for stopping
  • My social resources

Pause during the Day (Jon Kabat-Zinn, p. 25)

Pause during your day from time to time in order to get aware of your breathing. Five minutes or even five seconds will be enough for that. Loosen up everything and fully accept the moment, including how you feel and how you perceive what happens. In these moments try to change absolutely nothing. Just breathe and let loose. Release the belief that anything should be different in this moment. In your mind and in your heart give yourself the permission to let this moment be exactly how it is. Allow yourself to be exactely how you are. When you feel prepared, move in the direction in which your heart leads you and do so mindfully and decisive.

Fast Coherence (Susanne Marx, p. 71 f)

Goal/ Scope of Application

Fast coherence allows you to quickly bring the rhythm of your heart into a coherent state and, in so doing, converts and reduces stress directly before it has the opportunity to arise. The exercise can be done anywhere and suits every occasion when you feel unwell and works easily and fast.


Step 1 : Focus your attention on the region of your heart in the middle of your chest. If you like, you can put your hand above your heart to support this. If your thoughts diviate, simply focus your attention to the region of your heart again.

Step 2 : While you concentrate on the region of your heart, imagine how your breath streams out and into this region of your body. Breathe in slowly and gently through your heart and slowly and easily out of your heart. Do this as long as you need to until your breath flows calm and smooth.

Step 3 : Go on breathing through the region of your heart. Remember a positive feeling, a situation, in which you felt good and try to feel this feeling again. As soon as you’ve found a positive feeling or a positive attitude hold on to it, while you continue to concentrate on the region of your heart and keep breathing through this region.

Self-hypnosis 3-2-1 (Christian Schwegler, p. 64)

Clarify your goal. Choose a place of power at which you would like to be right now, where you feel really well and where you can refill energy. Describe this place of power using all the traits of the senses ̶ what you hear, see and feel there.

Fixate on an object with your eyes and then name three things that you can see inside the room. Then name three things, that you can hear in the room and then three things you can feel. Afterwards name only two things that you see, two things that you hear and two feelings you have. Then name one respectively and at the end of the third turn close your eyes. Begin to see things with your inner eye that you can see at your place of power, with your inner ear a sound that you can hear, and then to feel what you can feel there. Then two pictures, two sounds and two feelings follow and afterwards the third turn with three impressions respectively.

Now you have arrived at your place of power and from here you can start to work in trance on your goal or simply replenish and find rest. It can be worked through very well at the place of power and there in trance be looking for further resources.

Self-hypnosis: Relaxation-Induction (Revenstorf/ Zeyer, p. 63)

When sitting, sense the weight of your body in the chair, and your feet that touch the ground. And one of your feet rests more solid on the ground than the other. While the arms lie on the backrest, you can rest the hands separately on your knees. And it is interesting to find out, which hand feels heavier and which lighter. With every breathing out you can imagine that a part of it streams and disappears through the arms, the hands, the fingers. You can even begin to sense the prickling in the tip of the finger. Your arms and hands become more and more quiet and lazy and feel as if they were like one gush. The shoulders, the back, the stomach: everything is pleasantly heavy and like one mass. Through the feet it descends into the earth. From the tips of the finger it drops like semifluid syrup or honey. Your whole body becomes more quiet and later on a feeling of indifference develops. It is as if you could leave your body in the chair, because he/she is well rooted there. In your mind you can go to another place, where you feel very very good. You can stay there for a while, before you return to this chair.

Future-Facilitation (Revenstorf/ Zeyer, p. 111 f)

  1. Go into a trance by utilising a method of your choice (see above).
  2. Imagine in detail how a competent person copes successfully with the activity that  you aspire to complete: her movements, her posture, her self-comments, her circumstances. Take her part. Feel like an actor in her role.
  3. Begin with imagining the moment before that at which the first symptoms of a problem occurs. Go though as many steps as possible, those which are necessary to reach your goal – rather than focusing too much on unimportant details. Pay attention to the feelings that occur meanwhile: especially at critical moments (frustration, boredom, anger, panic, and so on). Go further and perceive how these feelings change once you have overcome the trouble.
  4. Return to your normal course of life. You know that you know the procedure now and that you have executed it now many times.

Restructuring (Revenstorf/ Zeyer, p. 126)

  1. Choose a situation that until now has brought you to the point of rage. In your thoughts go into these situations – step by step – and observe which specific irrational thoughts were connected with this excitement.
  2. Express alternative thoughts that are realistic and less wearing.
  • Degradation (“The listeners look like heads of cabbage.”)
  • Distraction (“There are more important things.”)
  • Normality (“Sometimes one is more convincing, sometimes less.”)
  • Challenge (“How can I react in a totally different way.”)
  • Self upgrading (“There are lots of things I’m fit in.”)
  • Positive reframing (“The audience is curious.”)
  • Personal part (“Sometimes I tend to overreact.”)
  • Perspective of others (“The audience wants to protect their point of view.”)
  • Helper of others (“What would make it easier for the others to follow me?”)
  1. Go into a trance with a method of your choice (see above).
  2. Using your imagination go back to the stressful situation and experience it with all your senses. Take as many steps of the procedure as necessary to reach the goal. Take notice of the appearing feelings in the critical moments (frustration, anger, boredom, rage, panic and so on). Then put the alternative thoughts for the assessment of the situation above. Perceive how your feelings change.
  3. Return to your normal course of life.

WOOP (Gabriele Oettingen)

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Should-Want-Diary (T. Rytz, p. 151)

Do you feel sometimes that you have to fulfill too many duties? Do you see lots of requirements you shall have to fulfill? Is it possible, besides these requirements and duties to keep your needs in your eye and in your heart? Or is there no time for that?

The Should-Want-Diary (Ulrike Schmidt) can help you to find out the imbalance between duties and needs and enable you to achieve more self-care and balance. Take a sheet of paper and divide it into three parts: in the first part write your activities, in the second and third part mark with a cross depending on whether you perceive this activity as a duty or as a need.

Make sure that you stay in a powerful state and strenghten your lust for life. Make sure that you have varied “Want”-activities and pay attention to how this influences the “Should”-activities.

Breathing Exercise (Drawing in Thoughts) (Oral Information by Carolyn Daitch)

Draw a square in your thoughts and connect it with the breathing cycle and count up to four at each line:

  • Breathe in and count up to four – line up
  • Breathing space and count up to four – horizontal line
  • Breathe out and count up to four – line down
  • Breathing space and count up to four – horizontal line

Do this procedure seven times and observe the changes in your thoughts and feelings.

Exercise with Coffeebeans (unknown)

Focus your attention on the things that are important for your life, e.g. objectives, positive feelings, intentions, and so on. Take five coffeebeans into your left pocket and whenever the oberserved experience occurs, take one bean and put it into your right pocket. At the end of the day examine how many beans you find in your left and in your right pocket.

Letter to Yourself (unknown)

Write a letter to yourself, in which you make yourself a promise as to which aspect of self-care and self-regulation you intend to look after more attentively and carefully. Take your time to describe the behaviour or the attitude you want to develop or you intend to be more attentive towards as specifically, accurately and detailed as possible. Write down how you will realize your plans, how you will cope with expected difficulties and also which benefit your promise to yourself will bring into your life or into your immediate context. Take the time you need to write down your letter.

Put your handwritten letter in an envelope and fill in your address. Give the envelope to a person of confidence and ask the person to send you the letter six months later.

Define your Goals as SMART (unknown)

S: Specific

M: Measurable

A: Accepted

R: Realistic

T: Timely

Daily-Naikan-Exercise (Gregg Krech, p. 55)

Make a 30 minute Daily-Naikan every evening, before you are going to sleep in the next three weeks. Write down a list and answer each of these three questions:

  • What have I receiced from others today? (ten minutes)
  • What have I given to others today? (ten minutes)
  • Which problems and difficulties have I caused for others? (ten minutes)

Be specific and don’t leave out bits and bobs. (Hint: there is no such thing as bits and bobs). At the end of the week look at your writings and write a little Thank You letter to one of the persons, one who has given you someting special or who has done things for you.

Disturbance Training (Lars Eric Uneståhl, S. 29)

Sit down next to the radio, turn up the volume high and adjust the radio frequency in between two stations so that it really roars and crackles. Train your ability to disconnect the white noise. For example, try to be so intensively captured by an attractive thought or image that you forget the radio sound. As another, more meditative method, you can try to allow the sound to come through, but not having any “receiver” for it to be recepted by. It’s therefore just allowed to move on instantly (compare this with the expression – in one ear and out the other).

Relaxation in Stressful Situations (Lars Eric Uneståhl, S. 34).

The task is to be completed over three days; learn to relax in three different situations where you would otherwise feel stressed easily. Two of these are:

  1. When you stop at a red light. Instead of sitting (if you drive a car) or standing (if you walk/bike) and wait for green, you take a couple of deep breaths, relax and enjoy having a couple of seconds pause.
  2. When you end up in a queue. Apply the same method as above.
  3. You choose the third situation, and again apply the same method as above.

Partner-Interview Self-leadership (Stephan Rietmann)

Human beings communicate simultanousley on different levels – formal, informal, verbal, non-verbal, and in a symbolic way – e.g. their goals, values, attitudes, beliefs, emotions, motivation. This produces impact on partners, collegues and on oneself. The goal of communication is to promote positive and wanted effects and avoid or reduce negative and unwanted effects. To reflect this and to find out opportunities is the object of this partner-exercise. Search for a partner and make a mutual interview, for which the following central questions shall help you:

  • In what do you see your central strengths and human qualities?
  • How do they affect your working area?
  • Which of your inner beliefs are useful?
  • How are they useful in your working area?
  • Which of your inner beliefs may have a restrictive influence?
  • Whereby do you mesure this impact?
  • Think about an important ideal, e.g. important persons of your personal or professional life. Which of their skills have you realized already and which others do you want to realize in yourself?
  • What can reliably bring you out of peace and strength?
  • How is your reaction in such situations?
  • What could be an alternative?
  • How would you describe your motto for life: “My life is…”“?
  • In what do you see the most important challenge of your work life?
  • What would collegues who like you say about you if asked and what would collegues who don’t like you say about you? How do you explain these differences?


  • Which new insights about yourself could you gain from this exercise?
  • Which positive changes could the implementation of these insights produce in your working area?


You will find more information in the following textbooks:

Alman, B. (2014): Finde Deine Stimme: negative Selbstgespräche überwinden und die innere Weisheit entdecken. Carl-Auer-Lebenslust.

Daitch, Carolyn (2007): Affect Regulation Toolbox. Practical and Effective hypnotic interventions for the Over-reactive Client. W. W. Norton & Company New York. London.

Hanson, R. (2014): Denken wie ein Buddha. Gelassenheit und innere Stärke durch Achtsamkeit. Irisiana.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1998): Im Alltag Ruhe finden. Das umfassende praktische Meditationsprogramm. Herder spektrum.

Marx, S. (2013): Herzintelligenz kompakt. Gesund und gelassen klar und kreativ. VAK kompakt.

Oettingen, G. (2014): Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation. Current, A Member of Pengiun Group

Revenstorf, D. & Zeyer, R. (2011): Hypnose lernen. Anleitungen zur Selbsthypnose für mehr Leistung und weniger Stress. Carl-Auer Lebenslust.

Rytz, T. (2010): Bei sich und in Kontakt. Anregungen zur Emotionsregulierung und Stressreduktion durch achtsame Wahrnehmung. Verlag Hans Huber.

Schwegler, C. (2014): Der Hypnotherapeutische Werkzeugkasten. 55 Hypnotherapeutische Techniken für gelungene Induktionen und Interventionen.

Storch, M. & Krause, F. (2014): Selbstmanagement – ressourcenorientiert: Theoretische Grundlagen und Trainingsmanual für die Arbeit mit dem Zürcher Ressourcen Modell (ZRM). Verlag Hans Huber.

Storch, M. & Kuhl, J. (2012): Die Kraft aus dem Selbst. Sieben PsychoGyms für das Unbewusste. Verlag Hans Huber.

Uneståhl, L. E. (2011a): Mental Toughness Training – the decisive factor. Mental Training Sweden AB.

Uneståhl, L. E. (2011b): Hypnosis, Selfhypnosis and Mental Training. Mental Training Sweden AB.