So I have been studying personal development for the past five years. After learning hundreds of different concepts I have come to the conclusion that mindfulness is the most important skill that one can learn in regards to attaining legitimate self-mastery.
Before I dive into the concept of mindfulness, let us define self-mastery.
Self-mastery = control over your mind and emotions.
- Getting up out of bed at 6 AM to get some work done, despite not wanting to.
- Going to the gym to get your workout in even though it is raining.
- Overcoming the tedium of work when you want to procrastinate.
- Controlling your anger when you want to release it.
- Choosing long term gratification over short term pleasure.
Basically, self-mastery is analogous with self-control. It is control over your mind which when left to its own devices will constantly try to sabotage you. You have to understand that from an evolutionary stand point your mind only cares about a couple basic needs. If you are able to survive, capable of reproducing and passing down your genes, your mind has done its job.
All the lofty human desires and accomplishments you want to achieve take a back seat to these primary evolutionary urges. This is why resistance ensues; your brain tries to stop you from expanding unnecessary energy on things such as:
- Building your goal physique
- Working on your business
- Doing your homework
Because these things are not immediately going to affect your chances of survival, they are just your higher level goals.
Mindfulness is awareness of the experiences that arise in consciousness. Throughout the day we often get stuck in our heads. We get stuck in thoughts about the future,
“I wonder how the flight is going to go…”
We contemplate the troubles of the past,
“I can’t believe that he was so rude”
And in turn miss out on many of the events that are happening in our external world; the texture of the ground on our feet, the sound of the wind, the feeling of sunlight on our arms. The most detrimental thing we miss out on is what’s going on in our internal world; repressed emotions, underlying resistance, negative thoughts.
This general lack of awareness is what makes it difficult to have self-mastery. Self-mastery requires that you understand your emotions and thoughts completely. If we don’t understand how we think, it becomes far too easy for us to fall into the same old predictable habit loops.
If you aren’t mindful, when something tempts you out of self-mastery you won’t be able to pick up on the subtle rising of the impulse. The un-mindful person follows impulses.They do not feel any sense of control over them.
- They feel hunger so they cheat on their diet.
- They feel threatened so they react impulsively
- They feel lazy so they procrastinate on work.
- They feel angry so they react impulsively.
The choice to choose
Victor Frankl said:
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
The person who practices mindfulness has a larger space to analyse an appropriate response. After analysing they can consciously choose the option that will most serve them.
How to deal with problems that hinder self-mastery using mindfulness
Most problems can be solved with mindfulness because mindfulness allows you to slow down the process and take it apart. Often when we have problems we try to remove them with force, if we are feeling tempted by a piece of chocolate, we tell ourselves:
“Don’t think of the piece of chocolate”, which in turn makes us think of the piece of chocolate like we do with the notorious pink elephants.
Escaping mental traps
mindful person does not shy away or try to obstruct reality, they simply analyse the temptation as if they were analysing an object from the outside.
To escape the trap you must first analyse it
If you were trapped by some contraption you wouldn’t try to yank yourself out of it. You would first analyse its mechanics so that you can see a plausible means of escaping. This is what you must do with negative thoughts and emotions.
In the case of the chocolate, the mindful person will analyse their thoughts about it. They might find that the temptation arises first from a visual thought that appears in their mind about eating the chocolate. The temptation might then be strengthened by a mental voice that warmly tells them to ‘eat it, you deserve it’.
If you are mindful enough you might notice that this urge was just a mental creation, and you don’t really have to comply with it. You might then notice that the longer you hold it, the weaker the temptation becomes.
Let’s say that you are starting to feel angry.With mindfulness, you can analyse the sensations of anger without becoming attached to them. You might notice that your scalp starts heating up and that your elbows twitch or maybe your palms start sweating. Observing a bit further leads you to see that the anger slowly dissipates when left alone with no judgement. You might then come to the realisation that like all things in the world, emotions are transient and will never last forever. These insights allow you to regain control over your anger and to not lose control.
How about physical pain. You are at the gym and are doing a set of squats. For this particular set, you have to do twenty repetitions. At rep number eight you are ready to give up. Your quads are burning and your back is aching. You then decide to become more mindful of the physical pain. You don’t shy away from it but feel it completely. You are at rep fifteen now, you swear that your legs won’t be able to take anymore but you push on. You finish your set and gain a new understanding of physical pain, you learn that pain is just energy. It’s a sensation that is made worse by your mind giving it the label ‘pain’. Your next set will still hurt, but not as much. You are no longer putting unnecessary baggage to pain through your mindfulness.
There are way too many situations in which mindfulness can be of benefit in regards to self-mastery for me to list here. So I will move on to the business of teaching you how to be mindful.
How to practice mindfulness
Many people are under the impression that mindfulness can only be practiced with sitting meditation, this is not true. Mediation is a tool that will help you sharpen your mindfulness, but it is not the only way. We use sitting meditation because it provides wonderful conditions for beginners to sit down and learn about their minds without distractions from outside factors.
My recommendation is that you practice mindfulness throughout the day, simply by taking moments to analyse experience. This means that instead of getting stuck in thoughts you can shift your awareness to observer mode. For instance, throughout the day you can pay attention to the following things:
- Your breath
- Your heartbeat
- The sensation of the ground on your feet
- Your hands
- The noises that you can hear
- Observe your thoughts
- Feel your emotions fully
- Check your posture
- Drink your tea slowly
Anything can be used as a tool for mindfulness as long as it brings your attention to the present moment and to the experience of life. There are many opportunities that can be used throughout the day to sharpen the sword of mindfulness.
You can literally switch it on whenever you want!
If you put the effort into work on this skill, self-mastery will become a foregone conclusion.