Joyful Musings – March 2009

Joyful Musings

By Joy Birnbach Dunstan, MA, LPC, MAC

Mastering Your Own Life


Self-mastery can be defined as the ability to make the most out of yourself through maximizing your physical, mental, and spiritual health. It allows you to live a more intentional life, a life in which you make conscious choices and find ways to attain those ideals or things that are of value to you.

Napoleon Hill, author of Think and Grow Rich, said that “Self-discipline begins with the mastery of your thoughts. If you don’t control what you think, you can’t control what you do. Simply, self-discipline enables you to think first and act afterward.” That is the essence of intentional living. Ten characteristics have been shown to be associated with people who can be said to be masters of their own lives. How many of these describe you?

1. Concern with personal well-being and the welfare of others. Learn to be “centered-in-self” without being self-centered by taking good care of yourself while maintaining caring connection with those around you. Caring for others at the expense of your own well-being is not wise.

2. Motivation and a desire to heal and grow. Foster a desire to learn and grow rather than hiding behind a safe, protective curtain. Personal growth sometimes means looking at hard, uncomfortable stuff about yourself.

3. Commitment. This means sticking with something, or someone, even when the going gets tough. Don’t be a quitter.

4. Knowledge-seeking. Maintain a curious and open mind as you expose yourself to new information and ideas.

5. Self-efficacy and belief in oneself. Do your best in all you do without beating yourself up if your best wasn’t as good as you hoped. See Traits 2 and 3, and try again.

6. Optimism and courage. Courage doesn’t mean being fearless; courage refers to the willingness to face your fears. Hope for positive results while accepting the reality you achieve.

7. Willingness to take a risk and be vulnerable. There can be no true sense of accomplishment without some risk. When you close down to protect yourself from pain, you also block yourself from receiving feelings of joy and gladness.

8. Flexibility and willingness to adapt to change. Approach everything as if you are seeing it for the first time. Adaptability is a prime component of survival.

9. Willingness to seek support and ask for help. Most of us are far more willing to offer help than receive it.

10. Patience. Life doesn’t always happen on the schedule we plan, and human beings, like Rome, are not built in a day.

Which of these characteristics are the most difficult for you? Which ones are the easiest? What messages do you give yourself that foster or discourage each characteristic?

Have you made the same mistake over and over, or perhaps found yourself in new relationships that turn out to have the same issues and problems as your previous ones? Without self-mastery, we can be railroaded by our subconscious and get stuck in frustrating dysfunctional patterns and self-defeating habits.

Environmentalist Rachel Carson said “The human race is challenged more than ever before to demonstrate our mastery – not over nature, but of ourselves.”

(Editor’s Note: Joy is a practicing licensed psychotherapist in Riberas. She can be contacted at or 765-4988.)

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