How Useful Is Self-Monitoring?
By Jon Jaehnig
Updated November 20, 2019
Reviewer Heather Cashell
Human beings have all sorts of emotions. We are constantly acting and reacting to the things around us. Self-monitoring is when we are in control of these behaviors. People who self-monitor tend to be very aware of how others perceive their actions and often adjust their actions accordingly to create the desired public appearance they want to put forward.
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 as someone who self-monitors: a concern for the society around themselves, a sensitivity to the cues 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.
What Is Self-Monitoring?
As mentioned above, self-monitoring, generally speaking, just means being aware of your emotions and their impact on your environment. 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 the answers from 25 questions to determine how a person's 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 at the same time. Some people are only self-monitors in high-stress situations like at work or at social gatherings, while at the same time being a low self-monitor when they're in a relaxed situation at home or with friends since there they feel comfortable being themselves.
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 so many different patients along a spectrum of diagnoses. Some also argue that since self-monitoring is so concerned with the outer world that many outside factors, such as physical location, will 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 far 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 since they can span different groups and they're more likely to be found at the top of the corporate ladder in positions like HR, CEOs, or consultants. These people are good at conflict resolution and acting as mediators since they 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 that can help them move up - and we've all met someone like that!
Another selection 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 deal with social anxiety often have an intense need to look around them and take everything in before comparing themselves to it. People who are high self-monitors also tend to look for people who 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 is more likely to choose someone with a high social status over someone they actually 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 are the type of people who say that they "just can't change who they are" and need to be accepted for that.
What Is Self-Monitoring For?
Everyone can choose to use self-monitoring behavior. If you can choose to do it consciously in situations where you might actually 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 would be best used for any situation where you have to size up the competition. In a self-diagnosis situation, self-monitoring can help you determine any symptoms or behaviors so you can pass them on to a doctor.
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 should be used when you have chronic behaviors, when you're overly talkative, when you're struggling to be organized, when your attention or impulse control is poor, or when you find you're having difficulty staying on a task.
Does Self-Monitoring Work?
The short answer is maybe. For individuals who struggle to connect with others or to display emotions correctly, self-monitoring is the ideal way of making sure 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 the same way. The majority of 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. Being able to recognize your self-monitoring style and consciously make a choice to react in a certain way will give the same results most of the time. In some situations, it is important to self-monitor, and 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 or if you need to know more about your behaviors to tell your therapist. Another situation when self-monitoring is 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.
When Is Self-Monitoring Not Useful?
Self-monitoring can be used by people to self-diagnose. The problem with this is that because you're not a professional, it's hard to know if you're making the right diagnosis. While a self-monitoring checklist is 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 since you're more aware of how everyone around you reacts.
Self Monitoring Checklist
Those who self-monitor often have an internal checklist that they use to measure their behaviors against others. They're frequently used in schools and for small children who need to learn behaviors; however, 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 more sad 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.
Talking to a Professional
As mentioned above, one way to develop your self-monitoring is by working with an expert. If you're not already seeing an expert, meeting with one over the internet can be a cost-effective and convenient way to get started. BetterHelp's network of licensed counselors is available to you from the comfort and privacy of your own home. Below you can read some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people who have been helped with similar issues.
"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."
Is it useful? It really depends 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 uses. A professional is the most equipped to help you reshape certain behaviors and thought patterns for the better. Take the first step today.