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Emotion Regulation

4 Ways to Cultivate Integrity for Inner Emotional Balance

New research shows that integrity is key for emotional regulation.

Key points

  • Integrity is acting in a "wholehearted" way that is aligned with one's future self.
  • Integrity is a key factor for inner balance and emotional regulation.
  • Surround yourself with people who keep you accountable and support your integrity.
Andrea Piacquidillo / Pexels
Source: Andrea Piacquidillo / Pexels

A new study has found that practical wisdom and integrity are the top two influences that improve emotional regulation. Practical wisdom comes from knowledge and experience. This includes self-awareness, self-reflection, empathy, and compassion. Integrity is trickier to define but refers to acting in a manner that is consistent with one's moral compass and sense of self. If you are facing a difficult and unfamiliar situation, making decisions aligned with your values cultivates inner balance.

There are several definitions of integrity. One definition is that integrity is when we act in principled way that our future self would feel good about. Another definition is that integrity is maintaining an integrated, whole self—bringing oneself "wholeheartedly" to a situation. Others have defined integrity as having regard for your role in a community and acting with your best judgment while also respecting other people. Integrity also refers to acting in line with the standards or moral code of a profession, organization, or society.

Characteristics of integrity can include honesty, being equitable, trustworthy, and acting with respect and care toward oneself and others. Integrity can have cross-cultural differences. In a study on integrity in leadership, being fair and just was considered important in 75 percent of managers in China, but only 28 percent of managers in the United States.

Researchers found that integrity is one of the top factors that influence one's ability to emotionally regulate. This is a somewhat new area of research with few prior studies. One prior study found that integrity is important to building trust, commitment, and honesty in relationships. People who act with integrity are more likely to cultivate closer relationships and foster a strong support network. It is also an important part of personal and professional growth and building accountability.

Here are ways to ensure that integrity is a dynamic practice in your daily life.

1. Surround yourself with people you trust and respect.

Build a personal "board of directors" whom you trust and who can keep you honest in a way that is nonjudgmental and supportive. These people may have more practical wisdom and capacity to help you reflect on whether you are acting in a way that is consistent with your beliefs. Schedule regular time with them, especially when you are feeling more stressed or worried about difficult situations at work or at home.

2. Check in with how your body or "gut" is reacting to situations.

Often, if you are not acting in line with your own expectations and standards, your body will be the first to experience discomfort or tension and sense that something is off. This can show up as waking up at night, difficulty falling asleep, muscle tension or pain, or headaches. The body has a way of signaling that it is not comfortable with a situation, even before the mind can process what is going on.

3. Imagine how your future self might feel about your choices.

Envision how your future self might feel about your present choices. This is a good way to check and see if the decisions you are making today are in line with your long-term overall personal integrity.

4. Offer self-compassion when there has been a choice out of line with your integrity.

Everyone makes mistakes, and these are opportunities to learn from rather than criticizing or judging yourself harshly over them. Give yourself compassion and a chance to learn and grow from mistakes.

These practices cultivate integrity and help you approach decision-making in a way that nurtures inner balance.

Marlynn Wei, M.D., PLLC. Copyright 2024.

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