How do the very best athletes, musicians, writers and students get good at what they do? Is there a common thread that runs through all of them? Researchers have been pondering this for decades, and it turns out that really successful people all share one common secret: their use of self-regulation.
What is self-regulation?
Self-regulation is the ability to manage one’s thoughts, feelings, and actions in the quest of a goal. Researchers recently explored the habits of successful athletes, musicians, writers and students to see how they self-regulate their learning. So, what are these self-regulation strategies and how can students successfully apply them to improve their learning?
Goal setting encourages students to create targets that they would like to achieve in a given time frame. This promotes success as it enhances motivation by giving students something to aim for in the short-term whilst in pursuit of a bigger, overarching goal.
Self-regulated learning often involves creating a vivid image of what you are trying to achieve and visualising how you are going to achieve it. Creating this image can help students to focus on the most effective solutions to their problems, as well as plan for any obstacles that might come their way.
- Time management
Time management skills can be developed in two ways. The first is to break down tasks into manageable steps and set short, regular deadlines. The second is for students to identify similar tasks they have carried out previously. This ensures they more accurately estimate how long a task will take to complete and allocate their time accordingly. As students get older, their ability to manage their time and not procrastinate during independent study periods becomes increasingly important. Therefore, they should be explicitly taught these skills.
- Self-monitoring and self-consequences
This involves observing and tracking one’s own performance and outcomes. Self-monitoring can be improved by being combined with self-consequences, where you look to reward yourself based on accomplishments.
For example, writer Ernest Hemingway stated that he would reward himself with a day off for pleasurable activities when he was a day in front of his set schedule. Similarly, self-regulated students may reward themselves with their favourite television show, or a period of time on their phone once they have learnt a specific amount of information.
- Environmental structuring
Creating an effective setting for learning is key. For example, self-regulated students may choose to study in a secluded area in the library or a certain place in their room with limited distractions. Given that the mere presence of a mobile phone has been found to reduce concentration and performance, this makes good sense, as out of sight is literally out of mind.
- Help seeking
Help seeking is where someone looks to select specific resources that will assist their learning. Other people can help provide advice, motivation and even increase work ethic. This is one of the reasons why it is so good to have a good team around you. However, a word of caution is needed - whilst asking for help is important, this does need to be focused and for a limited duration so that it does not create an over-reliance on it.
Recent research suggests that self-regulatory strategies are one of the keys to success for the most promising athletes, musicians, writers and students. The fact that successful individuals in all four groups use such techniques highlights its importance. It appears that by having a clear strategy and a challenging but realistic goals, alongside the correct environment and people to ask for help, success can be achievable for all.