Imagine you are sitting on or walking next to a 500 kg horse and it gets nervous because it hears or sees something unknown. In most cases, you also tense up, your body and breathing change as you either freeze or go into fight-or-flight mode, just like the horse. This is not a good situation for a leader, who should react proactively and with a clear presence and not simply react without thinking, as often happens when we are stressed.

This is where self-regulation comes into play. I learned about it as a form of communication when dealing with horses. Because I was able to regulate myself and switch from a stressed to a relaxed state, my horse was able to do the same when it responded to the change in my breathing, blood pressure and body tension.

Since you have control over your breathing, you can decide at any time how you react to changes in your horse. You can choose to go into fight-or-flight mode, like your horse does when it is scared or stressed. Or as a leader, you can choose a different response by changing your breathing, for example by counting from 1 to 5 as you inhale through your nose and counting from 5 to 1 as you exhale through your mouth. This brings you back to the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for relaxation and healing, and allows you to think clearly again.

I learned to self-regulate with the horses, but now I self-regulate throughout the day whenever I feel tension/stress building up inside me. This allows me to think clearly and keeps my immune system strong and keeps me healthy, a nice side effect of self-regulation. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)