Self-management for a better life


This page contains an extract from Chapter 7 of this book:

Byrne, J.W. (2018) How to Write a New Life for Yourself: Narrative therapy and the writing solution. Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT Publications.


Chapter 7: The emotive-cognitive approach to values, goals and thinking in the process of self-management

7.1: Defining self-management

What is self-management?

According to the English Oxford Living Dictionaries, self-management, as a noun, means:

“Management of or by oneself; the taking of responsibility for one’s own behaviour and well-being.”[i]

My own definition would be this:

‘Management’ means: to monitor, control and improve relevant events, objects and/or processes.

And ‘self’ means: A socialized body-brain-mind in a particular social environment.

So, for me, self-management means: Monitoring, controlling and improving the care and functioning of my body-brain-mind-environment-whole.

That then raises the question: What specifically should I monitor?

And the easiest answer is this:

  1. Monitor your moods and emotions, as they are your basic (functional or dysfunctional) guides to action in the world. (See Chapter 8 for guidance on this; plus Strategy No.17A below). In E-CENT theory, we argue that human beings are primarily emotional beings, who learn to ‘think’, after a fashion, in the course of their socialization, at home and in school. But we are not ‘thinking beings’, because thinking and feeling and perception cannot be separated from each other. When we try to think, we are actually perceiving-feeling-thinking, all in one grasp of the mind. (For shorthand, we call this process ‘perfinking’: perceiving-feeling-thinking). So, because you are a perfinking being, who wants to perfink better, you need to learn how to manage your emotions, so they will not undermine the quality of your perfinking. (If your response is: “To hell with this.  I’m just going to keep on thinking”; then you will tend to perfink very dysfunctionally, inefficiently and with disappointing results in the real world!)
  2. Monitor your inner dialogue. In E-CENT counselling and coaching, we say that each person is split between two potentials, which we call the Good Wolf and the Bad Wolf. These can also be thought of as the Inner Critic (or Bad Wolf; which is negative and judgemental, and self-frustrating and self-downing); and the Internal Mentor (or Good Wolf; which is positive and praising and supportive, and promotion of self-care). (See Strategies Nos. 17B and 17C below, for help with the monitoring of your inner dialogues). (Each of the two Wolf states is further subdivided into Parent, Adult and Child sub-states – See Stewart and Joines, 1987 – but, for simplicity, we will not be breaking the Wolf states down in this book!)
  3. Monitor your approach to diet/nutrition, physical exercise, and sleep. (See Byrne, 2018; plus elements of Chapter 8 below).
  4. Monitor your goals, and your goal-directed actions, and the feedback you get from the world. (See section 7.2 below).
  5. Monitor the problems that arise in your life, at home and in work, and engage in problem-solving behaviours. (See section 7.6 below).


Strategy No.17A: Monitoring your moods and emotions


The three major emotions that you need to monitor are as follows:

Anger: A sense of heighten arousal, which drives you to want to take action against the perceived source of your angry feelings. Often a response to frustration, insults, or transgressions against you by others.

Anxiety: A sense of apprehension that something terrible is going to happen, which drives you into retreat from the assumed threat or danger. Often a response to a real or imagined source of threat or danger.

Depression: A form of extreme sadness, combined with a sense of hopelessness and helplessness, with drives you into withdrawal from people and the world. Often a result of loss or failure. (Depression be confused with grief, which is an understandable sense of extreme sadness at the loss of a significant person, pet, or desirable object).

All three of these emotions can be affected, positively and negatively, by your dietary, exercise and sleep practices, plus you inner dialogue habits and tendencies.

Exercise: Please take an A4 or Letter sized, ruled pad, and write your answers to the following questions:

  1. Do I often feel strong feelings of anger, anxiety or depression?
  2. Does anger, anxiety or depression interfere with my personal effectiveness in the world? And if so, when, where and how?
  3. Do I need to get any of these emotions under better control?

If your answer to Question 3 is ‘Yes’, then please read Chapter 8, identify the probable causes and cures for your emotional difficulty, and return to your journal to write up what you have learned, and what you are going to do as a result.  This work does not have to be done in one block of time, and can be spread over several days.


Strategy No.17B: Arguing with yourself

Some systems of counselling and therapy have identified the problem of ‘splits in the personality’ – not in the sense of a ‘mental illness’ – but rather in terms of the ways that we store memories.  Memories of what it felt like to be a child, of various ages and stages.  What it was like to watch mother and father acting is their roles of Parent – Nurturing Parent; Critical Parent. And also watching our parents being Adult-like, rather than Parental. So we know how to think-feel-act like a child; a parent; and an adult (as suggested in Transactional Analysis: See Byrne 2015-2016).

All of those elements can get into squabbles with each other, especially when there is a decision to be made about how to act.  For example, suppose you are on a weight-loss diet, and somebody offers you a big piece of chocolate-cream cake.  Don’t you feel split!  Part of you wants to say ‘Yes’; part of you wants to say ‘No’; and a third part might be mainly concerned with how to say ‘No’ politely, so as not to cause the giver to feel bad or rejected!

Try the following exercise to see if you have some current splits that need to be healed:

Exercise: Using your A4 writing pad or journal, please answer the following questions:

  1. Do I seem to be split about any current decision that needs to be made?
  2. If ‘Yes’, what is the decision about?
  3. Is there a deadline for the decision to be made?
  4. What are the splits within me about this decision?

Activity: Next, list the ‘voices’ that you either have ‘heard’ in your head about this; or list those ‘voices’, or statements, that you can infer, from your feelings about the decision.  For example, one moment you might feel that you should decide X, and the next moment you might feel that you should decide Y.  You might also sometimes ‘think’ – meaning perfink – that you should actually do Z instead.  Those splits need to be healed.

Next, let each voice have its say, by writing out inferred or heard statements in your journal.  For example:

Voice 1: I think we should do X, for reason A.

Voice 2: No.  I think we have to do Y, for reason B.

Voice 3: I think the reason given by Voice 2 is more convincing than the reason given by Voice 1.

Keep writing until you reach an integration of the splits; and then you can proceed calmly to implement the chosen decision with ‘one mind’.


Strategy No.17C: A written dialogue with your Inner Critic

Sometimes you may feel upset when things have gone wrong in your life.  Without being aware of it, you may have a form of self-criticism going on inside.  One useful way to think about this form of self-criticism is that it comes from a particular fragment, or component, of your total personality – a part we can usefully think of as your “Inner Critic”.  Your Inner Critic tends to be perfectionistic, judgemental, unrealistic, and scathing in its evaluations of your total performance in the world.

Whenever you screw-up, or fail to achieve what you set out to achieve, your Inner Critic may come out to ‘play’, in a very nasty way:  criticizing you; damning you; undermining your self-belief; and so on.  This can have the effect of making you phobic about taking any kind of action in case you fail and then feel extremely bad about yourself (because of the judgements of your Inner Critic).

One way that we have developed for dealing with the Inner Critic is this: Enrol your Inner Mentor to support you against your Inner Critic.  (This is a form of getting your Good Wolf to oppose your Bad Wolf).

To achieve this result, of enrolling your Inner Mentor against your Inner Critic, you will need to set up three columns in which to write.

Activity: Turn your journal into the landscape position, and divide the page into three equal columns, like this:

The three column headings should be as follows:

Left: Your Inner Critic’s comment, complaint or criticism of you or your behaviour;

Middle:  Ask your Inner Mentor to advise you on how to deal with this criticism or negative comment (which means: write a direct question to your Inner Mentor); and:

Right-hand column: Write your response to your Inner Critic, as advised by your Inner Mentor

Under each heading, write as appropriate.

Under the left-hand column, write what you think/feel your Inner Critic is implying about you and your abilities. (For example, “What a fool you were to make a mess of that presentation to the company board!”).

Under the middle column, write a question for your Inner Mentor which lets them know you need their help. (For example, “How should I respond to my Inner Critic?” And then write down the answer which pops into your head, as the answer from your Inner Mentor).

Under the right-hand column, write a statement to your Inner Critic, rejecting and/or refuting their argument or criticism. (For example, “You are quite wrong in your view that…”; or: “I do not agree with our inference that…”; or: “The problem with your viewpoint is…! Etc.)

If you have difficulty completing this task, then please read Chapter 5, on the quick Six Windows method of re-framing; and then try this Inner Mentor exercise again.

If you are still struggling to reach a positive outcome after reading Chapter 5, then please read Chapter 6, which is the full Six Windows Model; and you should have no problem reaching a positive balance when you return to do the Inner Mentor exercise this time.

PS: You can do this exercise every time you feel you are putting yourself down about some aspect of your life’s difficulties.


Deciding to take responsibility for our lives

Although each individual is actually a social animal, shaped and conditioned by their family of origin; their school teachers; the mass media; and so on: we nevertheless can decide to take responsibility for managing ourselves and our lives.  That is to say, if somebody, or something, wakes us up to the reality of a crossroads junction we are facing in our lives, we can take conscious responsibility for choosing the road we will follow.  (If nobody or nothing wakes us up, we will continue to follow our non-conscious patterns and habits. And deciding to change our habits often proves to be very difficult; but not impossible. [See Part 6 of Taylor-Byrne and Byrne, 2017: on the subject of how to change any habit {in our book about nutrition and exercise effects upon emotions}]).

This process of waking up and taking responsibility means giving up operating ‘on automatic’ – giving up being a wholly non-conscious automaton.  It is not perfectly effortless, this process of taking conscious control. Remember how difficult it was to change anything as a result of a New Year’s Resolution. And the changing of habits is not perfectly achievable. Remember how often your New Year’s Resolutions failed!

I have been working on my own self-management for more than thirty-five years, but I have not reached ‘the end of the line’ yet!  Neither am I in line for a medal or cup for my achievements so far!  I have changed some bad habits; formed some new, good habits; but I have to watch my behaviour daily, “as though I were a bandit lying in wait”, as Epictetus put it. (Epictetus, 1991).

Self-management means that I set goals for myself; I seek wisdom for myself; I try to guide my life by the best knowledge that I can find and/or generate.  This is not an easy task, and in fact it is a lifelong journey of discovery, trial and error, progress and slipping back, and so on.

E-CENT advocates the use of some of the most helpful aspects of some of the most useful philosophies of life available to us: like moderate Stoicism, moderate Zen Buddhism, and some aspects of moral philosophy; plus critical thinking skills.  These philosophies should ideally be combined with the best aspects of modern psychology; and the best of the self-improvement literature available in bookshops and on Amazon and other online book stores.

7.2: Identifying self-management aims and goals

Most people have their self-management aims and goals back to front.  Many people seem to go after wealth before health; and status before happiness; and career ‘successes’ before the sense of making a contribution, or finding their life’s work.

E-CENT theory advocates the following hierarchy of ‘unifying principles’[ii] which were developed and followed by Jim Byrne and Renata Taylor-Byrne over a period of more than thirty years.  This is a full ‘curriculum for life’, and it could take a whole lifetime to implement it.  So do not overload yourself; and do not give up just because it is difficult to change old habits! (“Never, ever, ever, ever, ever give up!” Churchill)

Unifying principles from the curriculum for life…

End of extract.

For more on this subject, please see the mother page: How to Write a New Life for Yourself.***


End Notes

[i] Available online:

[ii] ‘Unifying principles’ – as defined by Charles R. Hobbs (1991) ‘Insight on Time Management’, Audio tape program – are statements of principle which hold together your values and your actions.  They help to keep you in integrity: living from your deepest commitments and values.