How Useful Is Self-Monitoring?

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated September 21, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Human beings have all sorts of emotions. We are constantly acting and reacting to the things around us. Those who have control over their emotions and behaviors are said to possess the skill of self-monitoring. People who self-monitor tend to be more aware of how others perceive their actions and often adjust them accordingly to create the desired public appearance they want to put forward. In some environments, this can be very useful. 

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Self-Monitoring Can Help You Develop Healthier Behaviors

What Is Self-Monitoring?

Self-monitoring means being aware of your behaviors and their impact on your environment. Some personality types are more likely to use this behavior because they feel the need to tightly control their actions. These are known as high self-monitors, while others who are more spontaneous are referred to as low self-monitors.

There are three characteristics needed for a person to be considered someone who self-monitors: a concern for the society around them, a sensitivity to the cues that society uses, and the ability to control behaviors and actions in response to those. To some degree, we all self-monitor at times to make sure we're doing what everyone else is doing or what we think we're supposed to do. You may be asked to self-monitor by a therapist for a short period to check for triggers with certain behaviors or to see if you have issues expressing yourself in different situations.

Mindfulness can be one form of self-monitoring. However, there is also a more formulaic method. The self-monitoring scale was developed by psychologist Mark Snyder in 1974. It uses a respondent’s answers from 25 questions to determine how their thought process affects their actions based on self-monitoring within a given situation. The answers are simply true or false and reflect the process high self-monitors use as a personal checklist. 

It is possible to be both a high and low self-monitor, but at different times. Some people are only high self-monitors in high-stress situations like at work or at social gatherings, while they’re low self-monitors when they're in a relaxed situation at home or with friends because there they feel comfortable being themselves.

When Is Self-Monitoring Useful?

Many people can choose to use self-monitoring behavior. If you can choose to do it consciously in situations where you might need to keep a close eye on how people around you are reacting, then you may have an advantage over your peers in the same situations. In business, self-monitoring can be used in any situation where you must size up the competition. In a self-diagnosis situation, self-monitoring can help you determine any symptoms or behaviors within yourself so you can pass them on to a doctor or otherwise seek to understand and improve them.

Many have no real idea of what their behaviors or triggers are. Self-monitoring can help you gather that information first before meeting with a professional. Self-monitoring is simply a way of noticing your behaviors and comparing them to those around you.

It can be used when you have chronic behaviors, you're overly talkative, you're struggling to be organized, your attention or impulse control is poor, or when you find you're having difficulty staying on task.

When Is Self-Monitoring Not Useful?

Self-monitoring is sometimes used by people to self-diagnose different medical and mental health conditions. The problem with this comes when you're not a professional and don’t have the necessary training to make an accurate diagnosis.

While a self-monitoring checklist can be a useful tool to bring to a professional to help them understand your behaviors, it shouldn't be an excuse to say that you're managing a problem just because you're aware of it. Another time self-monitoring isn't useful is if you have issues with social anxiety. By being hyper-vigilant about your behavior, you may find that you're worsening those behaviors because you're more aware of how everyone around you is reacting. 

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Does Self-Monitoring Work?

The short answer is that it depends on the person and scenario. For individuals who struggle to connect with others or display emotions correctly, self-monitoring can be an ideal way to ensure they're connecting properly. While the emphasis should be on persuading them to form their own reactions, knowing what is expected at a given moment can be useful in figuring out why they aren't responding in the same way. Many people don't realize that their actions affect others around them, and some lifestyle coaches are starting to notice that people who don't self-monitor are less likely to be successful.

While it can be difficult to train yourself to become a high self-monitor, if you're not naturally inclined that way, it's not impossible. Recognizing your self-monitoring style and consciously choosing to react in a certain way can give the same results most of the time. In some situations, it is important to self-monitor; if the behavior isn't something you do naturally, it's something you may want to learn.

An example would be if you're in an important situation that you're not familiar with and you want to make sure your behavior is in line with everyone else’s or if you need to know more about your behaviors to tell your therapist. Another situation in which self-monitoring can be important is when you find that certain behaviors are problematic. By self-monitoring, you can catch your triggers, the behavior, and if a certain social situation might be setting you off.

Self-Monitoring Controversy

Self-monitoring as a psychological behavior has the potential to be harmful. The theory behind it tends to be quite confusing as many of the factors that are used to define self-monitoring can be seen in many different patients along a spectrum of diagnoses. Some also argue that because self-monitoring is so concerned with the outer world that many outside factors, such as physical location, can also influence a person's monitoring habits.

Psychologists also agree that there is a time and a place for self-monitoring. For example, if you are monitoring your thoughts and feelings through mindfulness, that's fine. However, if you're monitoring yourself in relation to everyone around you, it can be overwhelming. It's often more useful in finding true behaviors for someone to be monitored in situations where they're not aware of it.

What Type Of People Self-Monitor?

Research has shown that people who are high self-monitors tend to be more ambitious. They tend to be "social butterflies" who can adapt to any situation. People like this are more likely to be in multiple roles as leaders because they can span different groups. They're more likely to be found at the top of the corporate ladder in positions like HR, CEOs, or consultants. These people may tend to be effective at conflict resolution and acting as mediators because they can have the unique ability to see all sides of an argument without getting involved. They're also more likely to be able to ingratiate themselves with others by recognizing and then playing favorably to the important people who can help them move up.

Another group of people who self-monitor are those who have issues with hypervigilance. People with conditions that cause them to be very aware of everything around them or those who live with social anxiety often have an intense need to look around them and take everything in before comparing themselves to it or reacting. People who are high self-monitors also tend to look for people whom they can mirror in positions they want to emulate rather than those they have a genuine connection with. For example, when dating, the high self-monitor may be more likely to choose someone with a high social status over someone they connect with.

On the other hand, people who don't self-monitor are often more likely to show you their true selves and tend to be the same person in every situation even if social expectations are different. These, for example, can be the type of people who say that they "just can't change who they are" and need to be accepted for that.

Self-Monitoring Checklist

Those who self-monitor often have an internal checklist that they use to measure their behaviors against others. For those who don’t have this internal system, a physical checklist could help. These checklists are frequently used in schools and for small children who need to learn behaviors. They're also used with adults or with people who have psychological dysfunctions that prevent them from creating those actions normally. 

The difference with an internal self-monitoring checklist is that the person doing it is usually thinking things like "am I showing enough emotion?" or "should I be sadder about what is being said?" This is because they need to evaluate the correct response to the situation. An external checklist, in comparison, would be one that is used to compare behaviors, such as making eye contact or asking questions.

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Self-Monitoring Can Help You Develop Healthier Behaviors

Online Counseling With BetterHelp

If you’re wanting to develop your self-monitoring skills but are pressed for time, consider using online therapy. With online therapy, you can meet with a therapist over the internet at a time that works for you. BetterHelp's network of licensed counselors are available to you from the comfort of your own home. They can help you understand how your self-monitoring behavior affects your life and those around you or help you integrate self-monitoring into your life to help you become more successful in achieving your goals. 

The Efficacy Of Online Counseling 

One way to develop your self-monitoring is by working with an expert. Meeting with a therapist can help you get started with understanding and implementing external and internal checklists while providing you with emotional support. If you find yourself in a self-monitoring mode due to social anxiety, a therapist can teach you techniques and offer guidance on how to reduce this intense form of vigilance. 

One study examined the efficacy of online therapy for people who have social anxiety. Within a span of 12 sessions and a three-month follow-up, 24 participants found significant improvement in their social anxiety. This result is comparable to and in some cases more effective than face-to-face therapy. Online therapy was also found to be beneficial for people living with depression, disabilities, and quality of life issues.

Counselor Reviews

"I enjoy the email exchange I have with Dr. Mayfield. Her questions are helping me learn to understand why I do what I do. Now we are working on ways to change behaviors, by changing my thoughts. This is meaningful work."

"Jeni has such simple and direct ways of getting to the heart of the matter and such great suggestions for changing behaviors through acknowledging and understanding feelings. I found it especially helpful to write to her, and her written responses have been timely and to the point. I so appreciate being able to work with her."

Takeaway

Self-monitoring can be useful depending on what you're trying to use it for. As a tool in business, self-monitoring can be especially useful. As a tool for psychological evaluation, it also seems to have its benefits. A professional is often most equipped to help you reshape certain behaviors and thought patterns for more positive outcomes. Working with an online therapist, even the busiest individuals can find time for therapy regardless of the issues they’re facing.

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