A Simple Formula for Self-Mastery

“You will never have a greater or lesser dominion than that over yourself…the height of a man’s success is gauged by his self-mastery; the depth of his failure by his self-abandonment. …And this law is the expression of eternal justice. He who cannot establish dominion over himself will have no dominion over others.”

-Leonardo da Vinci

Self-mastery can completely transform our lives but it isn’t something that comes easy to most of us. Each of us is dualistic. Part of us wants to do good; part of us wants to satisfy natural appetites. Some of our natural appetites are wonderful; others are not. Gaining control over these natural tendencies can seem difficult—even impossible.

But the truth is, we can all become the masters of ourselves through practice. Some people ask, “how does one practice self-mastery?” The answer is simple, you practice self-mastery through making and keeping promises to yourself.

All the power in the world, or at least in each of our individual worlds, can be obtained through simply learning this pattern: Make it; keep it. For instance, you could make a commitment right now that you will wake up at 6 AM tomorrow morning to do your morning exercise routine. You’re not committing to wake up at 6 AM for the rest of the week or the rest of your life—just tomorrow. But if you make the commitment to wake up tomorrow and then keep the commitment, you will have proven self-mastery in that one thing. You will have made a promise and kept it. As you do this more and more often, you will strengthen the emotional and mental muscles that enable you do something hard—maybe even something that you don’t want to do—and keep a commitment to yourself. In time, something miraculous will happen, you will begin to trust yourself.

The process of obtaining self-mastery continues throughout our lives. Success will come as you consistently make and keep ever-larger promises to yourself and to others. Eventually we can all become, “We Say—We Do” people. We will be entirely trustworthy.

In our quest to gain mastery over ourselves we all slip. Sometimes we may slip multiple times in a day. When that happens the question is, “how will I react?” Here’s a tip, when you find that you’ve broken a promise or commitment that you’ve made to yourself, just admit it. Admit it and commit to do better next time. Don’t blame others for your failures—even if they contributed. You will be happier and more effective as you take responsibility for your failures and choose to continue to take bite-sized steps towards a better future.

As Leonardo Da Vinci pointed out, we can never have real influence with others until we have learned to have mastery over ourselves. Some people make this far more complicated than it needs to be. Ask yourself, “am I a person that can be trusted to do what I plan and desire to do all the time?” If your answer is “no,” practice making and keeping small promises to yourself until your answer to that question rings increasingly confident and sure.

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