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
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.
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.
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.