How to Build and Apply Self-Management Skills
You have goals you want to reach. When you self-manage, you use your skills, such as your ability to organize and prioritize, plus your positive attitude to help yourself and your team reach those goals with the fewest setbacks and the minimum amount of fuss and resistance.
Building Self-Management Skills
You own self-management—for example, the ability to solve problems calmly and without finger-pointing—and a higher level of self-management in your team enable more efficient, productive, and innovative work. The techniques for building self-management skills may include:
- Using past experience to analyze what makes self-management successful or difficult. You may find that your own or your team’s negative behaviors are triggered by poor time management, lack of trust, or overwork, among other causes. Perhaps self-management improves with training, more communication, or fewer expectations to work overtime.
- Avoiding, as much as possible, energy-draining individuals who undermine your efforts or encourage you or your team to act irresponsibly. When you are, for example, trying to self-manage your tendency to frequently criticize team members, you should avoid hyper-critical people who make your own bad habit seem normal.
- Focusing on future gains. This is an excellent technique for motivating not only yourself but also your team. A clear, strong, reliable connection between current behaviors and the ability to reach future rewards makes self-management easier. Just make sure the final reward is achievable and provide intermediate rewards as encouragement.
- Finishing an easy task first. While most prioritization schemes recommend that you first tackle the most complex task to get it out of the way, during times when you or your team feel a lack of self-management or progress, completing one small task can be easier and help restore confidence in everyone’s ability to handle the larger tasks.
- Encouraging positive emotions despite a negative situation. Dwelling on anger, disappointment, and other negative emotions will not improve a situation. Recognizing those negative feelings is important, but shift as soon as you can to gratitude, the learning experience stemming from failure, and similar positive outlooks.
Limits of Self-Management
Among the skills identified as part of self-management is the ability to control our bodies, thoughts, feelings, and behavior. This laudable effort can take quite a toll, however. Just consider anyone you’ve known who has tried to give up smoking, diet, or even stop worrying about an absent loved one: the more they manage their body and mind, the more their feelings and behavior are likely to deteriorate. The effort of self-management in one area can defeat progress made in other areas.
A professor of health psychology at Stanford University urges care when lauding and demanding self-management. “[That approach] fails to recognize that how we behave, cope, and react is intertwined with an array of contextual factors,” among them the availability and quality of support we have.
Self-management is difficult for anyone who is struggling with mental, social, and physical challenges, such as anxiety, depression, or pain; family illness; or adjusting to a new job or new location. If you or members of your team are under stress and feel less resilient than usual, ask for help. The ability to recognize vulnerability and seek support may be the very best type of self-management.
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