What is Self-Management? 

 February 4, 2020

By  Donna Woodrow

In my early twenties I thought my inability to get out of bed when my alarm went off was something biological. Maybe I was missing the "early riser" gene and I couldn't change that. Oh, and then there was that time when I thought I could only eat healthy food if my partner was eating healthy too. Things really needed to change for me, and they did. I developed self-management skills.


This article looks at self-management and how a lack of it can lead to us coming undone and feeling stuck in our own lives. Most importantly, this article will look at what you can do to develop stronger self-management skills.

What is Self-Management?

If we look at the dictionary definition of Self-Management, it's the "taking of responsibility for one's own behaviour and well-being." It sounds fairly straight forward and kind of sounds like what my parents would call "growing up." However, it would appear for a lot of us, that it's not as easy to implement as it sounds. I have had many people share with me their struggle on developing self-management and how a lack of it has cause issues in their life. So let's have a look at how it translates to day to day life. 

In business you might have experienced an internal review where you receive feedback on your capabilities as an employee. You might have heard things like "You have excellent initiative, however time-management is really a development area for you." Many of us have been there, and heard about how we're brilliant at some things, but need development in other areas.

Many of the categories and check boxes on the 360 employee reviews are really measuring your self-management. Your capacity to take responsibility for your behaviour and your ability to manage your own work. What's now referred to as adult-ing by younger generations.

However, self-management is not only relevant to your role as an employee, but it also concerns your entire life. In the context of personal relationships a common lack of self-management is perceived when one partner depends on the other for regulating their happiness or behaviour. Like my example above "I can't stick to this diet unless you do it with me."

Your ability to engage your self-management muscle can even come into question when you're all alone.

What's more, how much you engage self-management can be context dependent too. For example, you may manage yourself and thus manage your time quite effectively when you have a flight to catch, but can't quite seem to get to a dinner party on time. 

If you relate to any of these examples, or have another area in your life where you're feeling stuck, then you might find it valuable to keep reading. 

Why is Self-Management valuable?

Aside from the big gold star you'll get on your next employee review, self-management is a valuable skill to develop because it allows you the ability to turn off the auto-pilot behaviour running your life. Practicing self-management allows you to change the way you think about your life. When we learn to change the way we think, we can get really clear on what specifically we're responsible for. When we know that, taking the right action becomes a whole lot easier. 

Let's examine my own personal struggle in my mid-twenties. There was a voice inside my mind and it went something like this: 

"I can't eat healthy food when my partner brings chocolate in the house."

Now, I'm not discounting the benefit of having a supportive environment. Yet the reality for most of us is that there are challenges to our goals. However, rather than recognising the challenge and taking ownership of my life, I had succumbed to the blame game and made my partner responsible for my health and well being. With a simple phrase, I had convinced myself that I was powerless to achieve my goal. Yet plenty of other individuals were practicing healthy eating and working out without help from their significant other. 

The narrative that I was running in my head allowed me to let myself off the hook and to complain about how hard it is to change. What it didn’t do, was empower me to make a change. It didn’t afford me to eat well and improve the quality of my life. 

When I discovered that I was neglecting self-management, I felt intimidated by the challenge of taking responsibility and accountability for my own behaviour. It meant taking daily action when I had wanted it to come easy and naturally! This was the point in my life when I found truth in the saying “nothing worth doing is ever easy.”

It became crystal clear to me that without actually stepping up to the challenge of taking responsibility that nothing would change. Because let's face it, if my ability to eat well hinged on everyone around me also being on the same diet - I was going to have a rough life, and that wasn’t a life I wanted to live.

This simple awareness of understanding my relationship with responsibility allowed me to start developing a muscle of self-care and accountability. This completely changed my relationship to food, exercise and my relationship with my partner. He was no longer the 'bad guy' holding me back from achieving my goals. Nope, that was all me.

This is just one small, yet life changing example of how learning self-management has been valuable to me. If you're relating to my story or have a current challenge that you think improved self-management can help with, then I invite you to keep reading.

How to build self-management skills?

An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.

- Mahatma Gandhi -

So I've shared with you an example of how I overcame a struggle by building upon my self-management skill through awareness and taking responsibility, but I haven't yet shared - how - I managed to come to these conclusions and take new actions. 

There are numerous tools and methodologies to help build the skill of self-management - more than I can list in this blog. So I’ll stick to what I know, here’s how I got unstuck and overcame my particular issue. 

I hired a meta-coach.

I felt stuck and realized I was getting nowhere fast, and decided to seek external support. My coach asked me such interesting and unexpected questions, whilst holding a space for me to come to my own realizations about my challenge. This practice of self-inquiry developed a deeper sense of self-awareness. 

With my coaches facilitation and my increased self-awareness, I started asking myself, how am I neglecting my responsibility to achieving my desired outcome? This is just one of the many questions that helped me develop a robust understanding of the thinking and behaviour I was running on auto-pilot. Hiring a coach allowed me to get a hold of the steering wheel and change lanes so to speak. Something I had been trying to do for years. 

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Not all life's challenges are self-management challenges, but all challenges can benefit from coaching. 


Of course, not all life's challenges are related to self-management, and there are circumstances that are beyond our control which can affect our ability to achieve our goals. 

However, as in my example, practicing self-management allowed me to change the narrative of my life and the stories I told myself. If you relate to any of my story or think that developing self-management will benefit you then I invite you to get in touch with us to discuss whether coaching is for you.

Also, if you have your own story of how self-management - and realizing your responsibility to yourself has changed your life, we'd love to hear about it in the comments below. 

- Donna

Donna Woodrow

Donna takes a genuine interest in the collective and personal growth of the human race and its individuals. Donna is a seeker who loves to travel and invests considerable time in her own personal growth. Donna is a professional coach and trainer, experienced Enneagram facilitator and the Managing Director and Partner of Modo Coaching & Training.

Donna Woodrow

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