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What Is Self-Regulation Theory?

By Crystal Cook
Updated Feb 08, 2024
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Self-regulation theory (SRT) is a system of monitoring personal health that can have several stages, though some believe there are only three steps. Overall, it is the idea that a patient will follow the advice of a doctor only if that patient regulates his behavior, or chooses, to do so. SRT is closely tied with self-esteem and the illusion of control.

Self-regulation theory is a healthcare management concept that says the patient has to be invested in improving his own health to actually do so. Doctors can help patients understand the problem they are having and teach patients the coping and problem-solving skills needed to deal with the health issues. The patient is able to maintain control over his own health, though, and is self-motivated instead of being motivated by the doctor. The idea is that having this control will cause the patient to improve more than if he feels as if he has no control.

There are stages in self-regulation theory. In the first stage, the patient monitors his own behavior. The second stage requires the patient to check on how his behavior is affecting his health. In the third stage, personal behavior is changed if the desired effect has not been achieved. A fourth stage can be to continue the behavior that is achieving the desired effect.

Many people believe there are three simple steps in self-regulation theory. The first is self observation, during which a person looks at himself and keeps tabs on his behavior. Judgment is the second step, during which a person compares himself with others or with a standard seen as ideal. Self-response is the third step, in which a person either rewards or punishes himself with a physical object, feeling or result, such as winning a prize. Punishments, which normally occur when a person cannot live up to the standards he has set for himself, can lead to low self-esteem while rewards, given when standards are met, improve self-esteem.

An illusion of control can play an important role in self-regulation theory. Human beings want to be in control of their lives. When events occur that cause chaos, stress or uncertainty in a person's life, he will attempt to retake control. If the person is not able to regain control, he will turn to methods that seem to help him control his life. These are often escapism behaviors such as using drugs or drinking alcohol.

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