Self Mastery: What is it and how do we Get it?
The Dichotomous Nature of Self Mastery
You might recall from an earlier chapter, corollary twenty two from the Law of Reciprocity.
Life is intrinsically dichotomous, thus fundamentally dissonant. It is a “two edged sword”, “a two sided coin”, “six of one, half dozen of another”, “the lesser of two evils”, “neither this nor that”, the “devil and the deep blue sea”, “people want to have their cake and eat it too”, a “rock and a hard place”.
This means three things:
1) Both people in an argument are (usually) right, and wrong.
2) The answer to everything is, “It depends”.
3) Everybody is “stuck” about something.
The Masterful Leader
If the notion of dichotomy as stated above is true then above all we need judgment, to know when and the degree to use or apply one attribute in a given situation as opposed to the other.
You will note that the term I have coined for the leader who is able to move seamlessly and easily from one side of Self Mastery to the other as needed, is Masterful Leader.
The Masterful Leader realizes that the important thing is not to get the right strategy but get the strategy right.
That means that we have in our (rather varied) repertoire whatever response is needed (the opposite reaction nestled within either side of our brain) given the task, situation or challenge that life is proffering at any given moment.
Like a master chef you will need to use your judgment and sprinkle these ingredients into your situation judiciously.
On the chart on the next page you will see the recipe for self mastery, the eight attributes of people who prevail in the face of adversity.
The important point is to have all eight attributes in your repertoire and at the ready at a moment’s notice.
Also note how the two dichotomous sides of self mastery are fundamentally driven by the two opposite sides of the brain, the right and the left brain.
On the one hand the attributes (contemplative, analytical, patient and cautious) in column one correspond to the Passive and Reflective left hemisphere in the brain,.
On the other hand the attributes in column two (competitive, confident, full steam ahead) are driven by the more Aggressive and Active right hemisphere of the brain.
Knowing, using and mastering all eight attributes in either column when they are needed is crucial to the development of self mastery.
In other words, this is how to be efficacious about being efficacious.
The Eight Dichotomous Attributes of Self Mastery
Dichotomous Attribute One
On the one (the Passive/Reflective) Hand, they are Contemplative
Leaders with self mastery accept failure.
There is a catchy slogan in business, sports and even the military: Failure is not an option.
It might sound good, but for Masterful Leaders, pioneers, visionaries, and other people who accomplish much, failure is frequently an option.
That’s because they attempt things that are hard to do.
Most Masterful Leaders hate to fail.
But if it happens, they fail productively.
They are contemplative.
They look for insights that can be gleaned from their failures, the way Thomas Edison learned things from his dead experiments that helped other inventions succeed.
Some Masterful Leaders learn to fail fast, because they’re able to quickly recognize their own mistakes.
They’re comfortable with the risk of failure because they’ve worked up to it, usually by overcoming smaller setbacks and learning how to recover.
The ability to take prudent risks, the kind of risks most people need to take if they want to be successful, depends on a willingness to accept failure, if it happens.
For people who don’t acknowledge the possibility of failure, taking risks can be a terrifying experience, because any outcome other than success seems like a catastrophe.
Dichotomous Attribute One
On the other (the Aggressive/Active) Hand, they are Competitive
They have more than passion.
Most Masterful Leaders start with passion, but they often discover that passion isn’t enough.
In addition to passion, success requires drive, which is a lot more scarce than passion.
They will do whatever it takes to win.
They are competitive.
We need to fill in gaps in our own knowledge, at our own expense, in order to capitalize on our passion.
Passion is a powerful motivator, but it also has a way of leading Masterful Leaders into trouble, since they’re willing to take risks to pursue it.
But passion doesn’t always get us out of trouble.
That takes a higher form of resilience.
Dichotomous Attribute Two
On the one (the Passive/Reflective) Hand, they are Catalytic
They Change Their Minds Sometimes
Webster defines the word catalytic as something a substance, causing a chemical reaction to happen more quickly.
In other words, Masterful Leaders are catalytic in their thinking and know how to slow down in order to speed up.
Whatever you think your dream is now it will probably change.
The need to discard old thinking and reprogram your dreams and ambitions is so common that it’s practically an adult rite of passage.
Yet a lot of people cling too long to ideas that won’t get them anywhere.
Changing your mind often means you have to be able to recognize your own mistakes and discover the flaws in your own thinking.
Recognizing your own flaws is difficult but Masterful Leaders are able to do it because they have confidence in their ability to adjust and they’re not afraid to be wrong.
Making the best decisions possible with the information you have at the time.
Fresh information, including new insights into mistakes you may have made, may require new decisions. Modifying your dreams and ambitions is often the best way to attain them.
Dichotomous Attribute Two
On the other (the Aggressive/Active) Hand, they are Contrarian
They’re Comfortable with Discomfort
Masterful Leaders don’t live just for comfort.
They also live for fulfillment.
So they’re willing to accept hardships and inconveniences as long as they feel they’re getting closer to an important goal.
When things are tough, they are contrarian, even stubborn.
They think of success a bit differently, often regarding discomfort as a small price to pay for the privilege of pursuing their ambitions.
Dichotomous Attribute Three
On the one (the Passive/Reflective) Hand, they are Cautious
They Prepare for Things to go Wrong
Few Masterful Leaders expect everything to go their way just because they feel they deserve it, or because they’re lucky.
In fact, the word entitled isn’t in the Masterful Leader vocabulary.
Masterful Leaders do have a powerful belief in their own ability to control the future, perhaps too much, occasionally but that’s usually because they’ve learned through personal experience that effort produces results.
They also tend to believe, however, that plans tend to go awry.
You must be cautious therefore and pay careful attention to everything, the way weeds grow in a garden if it’s not tended regularly.
Dichotomous Attribute Three
On the other (the Aggressive/Active) Hand, they are Compulsive
They Have a Bias toward Action
Compulsive means that a person is driven by an irresistible inner force to do something
That is the way that many Masterful Leaders react to problems: They do something.
Sometimes it doesn’t even matter what.
When you’re in adversity and you don’t quite know what it is, you just have to find a way to keep moving.
Taking purposeful action to fix a problem is one of the hallmarks of resilient people.
They do it because they believe they can influence what happens next, instead of capitulating to the vagaries of fate.
Responding aggressively to a challenge has the added benefit of burning up anxious energy and preventing feelings of helplessness.
Dichotomous Attribute Four
On the one (the Passive/Reflective) Hand, they are Conservative
They’re willing to Wait
Everybody wants to succeed quickly, but it usually takes refined skill and deep knowledge to accomplish ambitious things, and there’s rarely a substitute for time when it comes to the accumulation of vital experience.
Many people when they hit roadblocks that challenge their dedication to a goal give up and move on to something that’s easier or more convenient.
The Master is however conservative which means that he has the determination to succeed on his own terms, no matter how long it takes.
He will wait until the light has really turned green, so to speak.
My rule of thumb, if you want to quantify it is, when I am 80% sure, then things are a go.
Longcuts to success are far more common that shortcuts.
But Masterful Leaders don’t just wait passively for a lucky break, or do the same thing over and over.
They constantly learn and get better, continually improving the likelihood of success until the odds tilt in their favor.
Dichotomous Attribute Four
On the other (the Aggressive/Active) Hand, they are Confident
They Compartmentalize Emotions
One of the most common attributes of Self Mastery is a kind of equanimity that allows us to overcome guilt, blame, anger, and other bad feelings that often accompany setbacks.
Of course, Masterful Leaders are emotional people.
That’s where their passion and drive comes from.
But they are confident enough that when something goes wrong, they don’t internalize bad feelings or become dominated by emotion, the way other people do when they feel wronged, frustrated, or disappointed.
Masterful leaders certainly feel that kind of emotion, but compartmentalizing it allows them to apply the pragmatism that is usually the best guide through a rough patch.
Final Comment: Turning Setbacks into a Secret Weapon
Niccolo Machiavelli said that entrepreneurs (Masterful Leaders) are simply those who understand that there is little difference between obstacle and opportunity and are able to turn both to their advantage.
Anybody who can summon some of the eight self mastery attributes, even a few, when things don’t go the way they want, has the tools for turning setbacks into a secret weapon.
Most people don’t even want to talk about their failures or the setbacks that genuinely hold them back.
So if you recognize hardship for what it is, suspend instinctive judgments about why it happened and whose fault it is, keep moving, and ask what you can learn from your misfortune, you will be poised for a privileged education.
Adversity is no fun, but it teaches things we can learn no other way.
Instead of dreading failure, you may learn to grudgingly cherish it, because it’s a unique and fleeting opportunity to learn things that a lot of other people will never be able to know.
Some People are sure that Everything Happens for a Reason
I am not so sure; they may be telling us more about them than about reality.
I do think ascribing hardship to some cosmic scheme that’s beyond our comprehension may tend to diminish our personal responsibility to extract something valuable from something difficult.
It is not inherently good when bad things happen.
It’s up to us to turn a bad situation to our advantage.
If growth or knowledge comes from tribulation, it’s only through our own effort that it happens.
Masterful Leaders don’t possess a magic formula, but over time, through practice and dedication, they develop a kind of psychological muscle memory that enlarges their capacity to harness adversity.
If you are interested in “Get Unstuck, Stay Unstuck and do What you are” you will find nineteen strategies you can use to develop Self Mastery.
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