Success Starts With Self-Mastery: 7 Effective Strategies

Looking In The Mirror And Reflecting
This is a guest post by Thai Nguyen. The power of words to evoke positive change motivates Thai to write. Formerly a professional chef and international athlete, he’s now somewhere in the world with a backpack, MacBook, and a story to share. You can follow his work at The Utopian Life, Facebook or Twitter.

It all begins with looking in the mirror.  Success in the public world goes hand-in-hand with success in your private life.  Effective leadership flows from effectively leading yourself.

 

“Effective leadership flows from effectively leading yourself.” -Thai Nguyen

 

Our empirically dominated culture places all focus on the external and physical world, blinding the importance of the internal and mental.  Self-mastery is being in control of the internal thought processes that guide your emotions, habits, and behaviors.

It’s the ability to respond rather than react.  The former is done with intention and awareness, the latter is visceral and without reason.

Self-mastery is captured well in this quote attributed to many:

“Watch your thoughts, they become words;
watch your words, they become actions;
watch your actions, they become habits;
watch your habits, they become character;
watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

It seems counterintuitive, but being selfish and focusing on enriching yourself will lead to being selfless and enriching the lives of those around you.

 

Here are 7 effective strategies for cultivating self-mastery:

 

1. Talk To Yourself

There’s a voice inside your head, and that’s completely normal. It’s your internal dialogue, the inner commentary that strives to make sense of the world.  The first crucial step in developing self-mastery is to become an observer of your thoughts—to become self-aware, self-reflective. To think about your thinking.

Throughout history, psychologists and philosophers have presented theories on the multiplicity of the human mind. Plato divided the psyche into appetitive, logical, and high spirited.  Freud categorized into the Id, Ego, and Superego.  Modern theories continue to be presented and debated.

But they all agree on the multi-dimensional aspect—as strange as it sounds, there seems to be more than one “you” inside of you.  And often, we’re at odd with ourselves.  Self-mastery is about creating inner congruence—an agreement and peace between an external stimulus, our internal interpretation, and our emotional response.

A lack of mindfulness will respond to external stimulus immediately with an emotional response.  Self-mastery causes a pattern break and allows for an internal interpretation to take place.  Stop, fully observe the emotions welling up inside you and the thoughts that present themselves.

Self-mastery requires this observation and recognition.  Label the emotions and thoughts as they present themselves.

 

“Becoming the best version of yourself will equip you to spark change in others.” -Thai Nguyen

 

2. Make Peace With Your Past

While there’s truth in the statement, we’re the sum total of our experiences, self-mastery recognizes we’re certainly not confined to them.  It’s not easy to do; our experiences, particularly negatives have a way of seeping deep into our soul.  But although some stains can’t be removed, we can choose not to wear those clothes again.

A personal example, I made peace with my father and our lack of relationship: Acknowledging the post-war trauma he was no doubt affected by, and that he had to play the father role in light of a difficult script.  Self-mastery meant not allowing past negative experiences the power of emotional collateral to spark present and future fires.  As a result, the clean slate has given birth to the relationship I’d always desired.

Making peace with your past allows you an untarnished and more objective approach to the present, ideally resulting in a positive future.  It’s hard to pick up anything new when your hands are full with burdens.  It means to let go, forgive, and as humanly possible, to forget.

Author Eleanor Brown has a great quote on mastering your past:

“There are times in our lives when we have to realize our past is precisely what it is, and we cannot change it. But we can change the story we tell ourselves about it, and by doing that, we can change the future.”

 

3. Play Devil’s Advocate

Challenging your thought patterns and reasoning will help with self-mastery.  Putting on the other shoe and playing devil’s advocate will uncover weaknesses and holes in your thinking.  A more critical mind will result in making better decisions.  You’ll be able to iron out any unreasonable biases that appear in your logic.

Whatever decision you’re working through, come at it from as many different angles as possible.  Debate with yourself, have a spirited argument.  You may be surprised at some of the insights you come up with.

 

4. Keep A Journal.

Leading With Others in Mind

Leadership And Synergy Concept Illustration : A Number Of Swans

 

Who do you think of when you think of a servant leader
What are the traits of a servant leader?
Is it possible for an entire organization to have these characteristics?

 

KEEP READING TO LEARN HOW TO GET THE NEW FREE SERVANT LEADERSHIP E-BOOK

 

I love to watch baseball.  Live, up close:  Hearing the “thwack!” of the bat making contact, feeling the crowd take a collective breath as a ball heads for the outfield, peering through the dust to see if the runner made it to home plate.  There is something incredibly different about being there versus watching it on television.  It’s just not the same reading about the game in the newspaper the next morning.

 

“Servant leaders give more in value than they receive.” -Skip Prichard

 

Make the Choice to Learn

When I was young, I had the extraordinary opportunity to watch a different game.  It was also live and up close.  It was servant leadership at home.  My parents literally took people in from all walks of life, individuals who needed a place to heal for all sorts of reasons.  That childhood experience taught me the incredible lessons of a servant leader.  There’s nothing better than watching servant leaders in action, in person, live in the game.

It was early in my life when I started studying leadership.  Attending seminars and listening to teaching became a success habit.  Even more importantly, I realized what I didn’t know, what I had to learn, what I was missing.  I became determined to learn from those who were further along the leadership journey than I was.  Because of this, I began to seek out leaders and ask them questions.

What I’ve learned is that learning is a choice.  The most successful people I meet are constantly learning.  They realize that they don’t have all the answers.

 

“Servant leaders have your best interest in mind.” -Skip Prichard

 

Look for Opportunities to Learn and Share

I’ve run a few global companies and, as the CEO, have hit home runs and have also struck out.  Still, I’m always excited to keep improving my game.  The learning continues.

Launching this blog a few years ago, I decided to share what I am learning from my own experiences, from books I read, and from thought leaders in many industries.  Many of you have said these articles have helped you, but the real beneficiary has been me.  I learn to be a better leader every time I share one of these ideas.  And I also learn from your comments and engagement and the relationships I have established online.

Leaders realize that sharing and giving to others paves the way for more opportunities.  It reinforces ideas and opens unexpected doors.

Today I want to share a new resource.  It’s my free e-book, Servant Leadership: Leading With Others in Mind.  It is free to anyone who signs up on our e-mail list.  (Note: I will never sell your e-mail address.)  Signing up for these posts will help you become a more widely read, more informed leader.

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“A servant leader cultivates a culture of trust.” -Skip Prichard

 

“Servant leaders are not doormats, nor do they take on all of the work.” -Skip Prichard

 

“A servant leader takes care of himself in order to take care of others.” -Skip Prichard

 

“Servant leaders do not falsely take credit nor practice fake modesty.” -Skip Prichard

 

“A servant leader often realizes that she benefits as much from giving as the receiver.” -Skip Prichard

 

 

Leading From The Shadows

Shady image of a business team discussing the latest financial r

When I first became the CEO of a large global company, I could see how dependent I was on others.  My own efforts would be meaningless without many others supporting me.  The top job is often the one in the brightest spotlight, but that person’s success or failure is always the result of a team effort.  Usually a very small group—or even one individual—takes on the key supportive role.

Many people dream of becoming President or the leader of the organization.  Some people realize that they are best suited and happier in a supportive role or as number two.

 

“Success is best defined by yourself, not by others.” -Richard Hytner

 

When #2 is the Key to Success

 

Richard Hytner is deputy chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi, responsible for global strategy and innovation.  His recent book, Consiglieri: Leading from the Shadows, is a celebration of the No. 2 role.  This book made an impression on me because I am dependent on the “No. 2’s” and now better understand the role and the motivations.  I also feel better equipped to coach people who are either not looking for the “No. 1” role or are best suited for the supportive jobs.

Richard was kind enough to answer a few questions for me about his journey.

Richard, becoming No. 1, you argue, is not always the key to success.  Why not?

Success is best defined by yourself, not by others.  So, if becoming the No. 1 is really important to you, give it a go, see how happy it makes you feel and assess – candidly – how others respond to your leadership from a position of ultimate accountability.  You can, however, be enormously successful on your own terms leading from positions other than the overall No. 1, achieving great things and deriving deep personal satisfaction.  Get rid of the No. 1 and No. 2 in your head and simply weigh each job as an opportunity to test every leadership muscle, not only the one that makes the final decision.

image004Tell me about your personal journey.  When did you realize that being less than “No. 1” was where you would be happier and more successful?

I learned early in my career that leadership is a collective endeavor and, as a CEO, I always surrounded myself with the smartest possible people.  It was only when I took a year out, aged 43, to do the Sloan Fellowship program at London Business School that it dawned on me how many brilliant people there were enjoying significant accountability in roles other than the CEO.  Even though it took me a further three years as CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi EMEA to work out that I could and should try leading without the authority of a Chief Executive, it was at London Business School that I woke up or, rather, grew up.

 

“Develop a reputation for being a thinker and a doer, or you will run out of usefulness fast.” -Richard Hytner

 

Understanding Different Leadership Types

 

You define “A” leaders as accountable for the enterprise and “C” leaders as the Consiglieri who counsel, support, and deliver for the A.  What are a few differences of what you term “A” and “C” leaders?