Positive Interventions: Bulking Up on Self-Regulation, Self-Efficacy and Emotional Intelligence

While environment can assist in creating a positive intervention, it must begin on the level of self with belief, attention, (volition) and effort.

In our first reading, Baumeister, Gailliot, DeWall and Oaten (2006) discuss two major points about self-regulation.  First, that self-regulation is a limited resource and like a muscle it can be depleted and it can be strengthened as well.  And second, while everyone has a capacity for self-regulation and an ability to increase that capacity, there are individual differences.  In regards to the first point, ego depletion was not caused by fatigue in their studies and, surprisingly, it wans’t caused by diminished self-efficacy.  Positive feedback did not reduce the effect of ego depletion.  Self-regulation can be improved by habit formation, increasing knowledge and understanding, increasing liking from familiarity and automatization.  The ‘bulking up’ of the muscle did not even have to be the specific content area they were trying to improve.

In their studies, having participants focus on their posture for two weeks had the biggest impact on improving specific areas.  Starting an exercise program led subjects to limit cigarette smoking, drinking alcohol, spending, and television viewing.  Again, in their studies self-efficacy showed no change.  In regards to individual differences there were two distinct scenarios: one where the link between traits and behavior emerge more strongly with ego depletion and the other where they weaken with ego depletion.  With the former, citizens conform to society’s rules and when they are depleted they revert to their natural disparate inclinations.  With the latter, some people regulate their behavior (say with dieting) more than others, therefore when they are depleted they act more similar to other people (eating what they wish).  A less supported argument in the article is that there is an increase in passivity with ego depletion.


In our second reading, Brown, K.W. and Ryan, R. M. (2004) (citation?) use a self determination theory perspective to discuss fostering healthy self-regulation via intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.  They described the spectrum of motivations – from amotivation, to the four types of extrinsic motivation (external regulation, introjected regulation, identified regulation and integrated regulation), to intrinsic motivation.  Then they go on to discuss how social context can foster or undermine autonomous motivation and “how individuals can best access and harness self-regulatory powers from within” (Brown & Ryan, 2004, p. 106).  While it is important for different social contexts (i.e. corporations, parents, schools) to create an experience of autonomy, competence and relatedness in order to foster self-regulation, it is how individuals can employ self-regulation that I will focus on for this theory paper.  Self-determination theory focuses on fostering internalization and integration of a specific value and adaptation to extrinsically motivated behavior.  One way to do this is to strengthen the muscle of mindfulness.  Individuals who are more mindful in activities also experience more autonomous motivation to engage in activities (Brown & Ryan, 2004, p. 117) (link to other article) and mindfulness creates “an opportunity for choices to be made that maximize the satisfaction of needs and desires within the parameters of the situation at hand” ( …as cited in Ceci & Ryan, 1980).  (or quote about. ‘redirection of such processes’) all of which can be increased through daily practice.


James Maddox explores self-efficacy in our third article:  what it is, where it comes from, and why it is important.  Albert Bandura defines self-efficacy as “people’s beliefs in their capabilties to produce desired effects by their own actions” (Maddox, 2002 as cited in Bandura, 1997, p. vii).  Maddox goes on to tell us a large list of what self-efficacy is not:  a perceived skill, prediction, causal attribution, self-esteem and a personality trait to name a few.  The definition came from the context of social cognitive theory.  We have self-reflexive capabilities that set the stage for self-regulation; the environment has reciprocal influences; self and personality are created and changed through social interactions; and we can self-regulate (Maddox, 2002).  Self-efficacy is developed in two ways:  through symbolic thought and a capacity for self-reflection; and it is influenced by responsiveness of environments.  Most pertinent to my theory of positive interventions is why self-efficacy is important.  Maddox links self-efficacy to five domains:  psychological adjustment; physical health; psychotherapy, performance experience and self-regulation.  It is the latter two that I will focus on.  Performance experience is the most effective tool for fostering self-efficacy.  “Seeing is believing,” as the saying goes.  And self-efficacy connects to self-regulation in three ways:  when we have goals to monitor our progress; self evaluative reactions to performance which influences goals that are set and determines activities, effort and persistence; and self-efficacy beliefs which influence efficiency and effectiveness.


Salovey, Caruso and Mayer discuss the scientific underpinnings of popular psychology’s most favored topic:  Emotional Intelligence (2004).  The authors have divided the skills of emotional intelligence (EI) into four categories:  perceiving emotions; using emotions to facilitate thought; understanding emotions; and managing emotions in order to enhance personal growth and social relations.  In regards to positive interventions I will focus on the second and final categories above.  People who score high on the ‘using emotions’ section of the MSCEIT use emotions to enhance reasoning as opposed to the other three categories which reason about emotions.   are able to harness emotions for problem solving, reasoning, decision making, creative endeavors and are also able to use emotions to attend to what is important and focus on what they do best in a given mood.  Managing emotions, Salovey, et al. say, is the most “superordinate skill” (2002, p. 448).  With this skill people must have self-efficacy about their ability to manage emotions as well as employing strategies to monitor, identify, and employ strategies to change mood and emotion.  Business students who score high on the MSCEIT have satisfactory social interactions and they elicit social support from others (a possible positive intervention).




Baumeister, R. F., Gailliot, M., DeWall, C. N., & Oaten, M. (2006). Self-regulation and    personality: How interventions increase regulatory success, and how depletion moderates the effects of traits on behavior. Journal of Personality, 74(6), 1773-1801.

Brown, K. W., & Ryan, R. M. (2004). Fostering healthy self-regulation from within and   without: A self-determination theory perspective. In Linley, P. A. & Joseph, S. (Eds.), In Positive Psychology in Practice (pp. 105-124). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Maddux, J. E. (2002). Self-efficacy: The power of believing you can. In Snyder, C. R., & Lopez, S. J. (Eds.), Handbook of Positive Psychology (pp. 277-287). New York: Oxford University Press.

Salovey, P., Caruso, D., & Mayer, J. D. (2004). Emotional intelligence in practice. In Linley, P. A. & Joseph, S. (Eds.), Positive Psychology in Practice (pp. 447-463). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.


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About Shannon Polly, MAPP

Shannon M. Polly is a corporate communications trainer, facilitator and speaker and founder of Shannon Polly & Associates, a leadership development company in downtown D.C. Shannon works with executives, managers and employees of Fortune 500 companies in two areas: executive presence/presentation skills (based on over a decade of experience as a professional actor/singer in New York) and positive psychology. Shannon is one the first 100 people in the world who have received her Master in Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) degree from the University of Pennsylvania under Dr. Martin Seligman. She also holds a graduate degree from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art in classical acting and a B.A. with honors from Yale University. She also holds a coaching certificate from the Georgetown Leadership Coaching Program.

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