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Key to High Performance - what procurement manager can do to increase self-regulatory capacity

Leadership and focus are fundamental success factors to face challenges like digitization and global supply chains. In this article procurement leaders will learn how self-regulatory capacity training will help them to perform more efficiently on an individual and team level. BME-JobSource provides a fresh and condensed neuroscientific perspective on self-control in a management context.
Veröffentlicht am 15.07.2021


Foto: Pixabay

Digitization, global supply chains and growing competition mean that the world of procurement is changing ever faster and at the same time becoming more complex. Being part of this highly competitive and rapidly changing world challenges manager`s ability to maintain work-life balance and to ensure long-term peak performance. Deadlines, high expectations, project requirements and industry pace demand focus, discipline and resilience. Hence, self-regulatory capacity is becoming more and more a core feature in high performing procurement teams.

What is self-regulation?

Self-control is the capacity to regulate emotions and thoughts in order to realize unlocked potential. One of the main advantages of self-regulation is the ability to control behaviour to enable humans to live cooperatively, achieve important goals and maintain health throughout their life span. So at the core of self-regulation is impulse control. But how does the brain exerts self-control, how does it fails and how can we improve self-discipline?

Key to High Performance: self-regulatory capacity

Peak performance means potential – internal interferences. In order to identify and reduce internal interferences it is important to understand which areas in the brain appear to be involved concerning self-regulation of thoughts and actions. Furthermore, it is important to understand how our brain is processing those information. Putting it in other words if we know what happens in the brain when we fail self-control we can use that knowledge to down-regulate internal blockages. So which brain areas are involved with regards to self-regulation?

How to hack your brain

Various cortical regions are implicated in self-regulation. Automatic emotions, impulses and thoughts are mainly controlled by our ventral striatum and our amygdala, two brain regions that can be activated extremely quickly. For the active self-regulation of these automatic processes, the prefrontal cortex (PFC), most notable for the executive functions, is crucial. The prefrontal cortex is involved in action planning, organization, attention and reasoning. Hence, the prefrontal cortex is the primary brain region responsible for control function. It is important to know that it requires significantly more energy to be activated than our amygdala. Therefore, self-regulation does not only refers to executive processes such as working memory, attention, memory, choice, and decision making, but also to the control of emotion, covering issues such as affect, drive, and motivation.

What happens in the brain if we fail self-regulation?

Self-regulation, like many other cognitive faculties, is subject to fatigue. Our ability to self-regulate is a limited resource as our prefrontal cortex has limited capacity, and is responsible for numerous other functions as well. This condition is called self-regulation depletion. When our prefrontal cortex is in this state of depleted self-regulation, our amygdala is overly sensitive to external stimuli. As a result, we easily fall into a negative state. In addition, the connection between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala is disturbed.

Triggers to self-regulation

Self-regulatory resources can be depleted by a wide range of activities from suppressing thoughts to inhibiting emotions. Limited resource account of self-regulation remains the best explanation of depletion and negative emotions the most important trigger to self-regulation failure.

Can self-regulatory capacity be increased?

Here science says yes. Self-regulation capacity can be increased through thoughts and emotions. This can be accomplished by using different techniques to regain control and to retain energy. Neuroscientific research distinguishes between cognitive and non-cognitive strategies. Non-Cognitive strategies focus on downregulating amygdala (default mode network) activity through activating our senses (direct experience network) like mediation or mindfulness exercises. Hence, non-cognitive strategies are talking about controlling our emotions or thoughts. Cognitive strategies are based on the assumption that how you think about stress matters and try to reframe our perspective on our situation.

Cognitive strategies: How you think about stress matters

Researchers have theorized that changing the way we think about our bodily responses can improve our physiological and cognitive reactions to stressful events. Cognitive strategies exploit this mind over matters hypothesis and focus on changing the employee`s interpretation of the experienced stress level. How does this work? Stress is measurable through physical changes like sweating, stomach pain or a higher heartbeat. Normally those symptoms are seen as negative and something we have to overcome. However, it is possible to interpret those signs in a more positive way e.g.  when we are sweating we see assume that our body is energized and that our pounding heart beat is preparing us for action. Another example of reframing stress would be that quicker breathing is the same as getting more oxygen into our brain. In other words, the way a team member interprets its own bodily reactions under stress e.g. by re-thinking the stress symptoms (or the situation) can reduce the negative effects of stress. With reducing the negative effects of stress the blockages of the potential can be reduced. Hence, how you think about stress matters. In the context of high team performance, we can therefore state that reframing the employees`s perspective on stress can lead to higher performance. Companies like Google, Target and General started to invest in self-regulation and mindfulness trainings.

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Alina Tillmann
Head BME-JobSource
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