Self-discipline Vs Self-mastery


I​ love how changing the words you use, can change your experience. Home care feels delightful and nurturing compared to chores. Movement makes me smile. Exercise not so much. And my new favorite self-mastery instead of self-discipline.

I am not a big fan of doing the same thing over and over again. Being consistent can be difficult for me. I never think I have enough discipline. The word self-discipline comes with a bunch of drill sergeant baggage and feelings of not-enoughness for me.

B​ut, I love to improve. It feels fun to get better at skills. Gaining mastery and learning something brings me joy. Increasing mastery sounds optimistic and full of possibility. Gaining discipline feels like a drag to me.

T​here is little in this world we control. But, we spend most of our time complaining about the weather, traffic, or other people. We let the news get us down. Or lament politics. We regret the past and fear the future.

Notice this week, how much you complain about things you can’t change anyway.

We can gain control over ourselves. This is where we can have self-mastery.

“No man is free who is not master of himself.”


S​o what types of things can we control and create self-mastery?

  • G​etting yourself to do something you don’t feel like doing
  • F​eeling your emotions, but not letting them guide the plane
  • P​lanning and how you spend your time
  • What you eat
  • How you move
  • Your character – who you want to be
  • What you decide
  • Thoughts you cling to
  • What you focus on and your perspective
  • Raising your energy when tired or choosing to rest
  • How you respond to people and circumstances
  • What actions you take
  • K​eeping promises you make to yourself
  • Practicing self-care
  • What you say, what you wear and how you express yourself
  • When you leave to get somewhere
  • What boundaries you enact
  • What you read, watch or consume
  • Prioritizing
  • Breathing
  • How you talk to yourself
  • When you go to bed
  • Whether you reach out to someone
  • Your habits
  • The effort your make

Of course, looking at that list, we feel we don’t have control over many things on the list. Put a brownie in front of me and it feels like my hand magically picks it up. Or perhaps you are trying to go to bed earlier, but it never happens.

W​hen we focus on self-discipline, it often can feel all or nothing. Ate that brownie, might as well pretend I have no control the rest of the week. I’ve done 30-day challenges, and it’s more likely I don’t complete them, then it is for me to finish.

B​ut, self-mastery means I can get better. I can make small choices to eat healthier. Maybe I am a white belt on getting enough sleep. But as I focus on sleep hygiene and getting to bed earlier, I can move up to a purple belt and finally a black belt in mastering how I sleep.

E​ach step is learning. Even when you screw up or it seems you are taking a step back, you are still learning. Perhaps that how-to formula you read about didn’t work for you. But, maybe pieces did that you can use. Trying to master yourself requires willingness to try – you don’t have to be perfect.

Often, it is practicing changing what you think about a skill. Finding your motivation, support or accountability. Like decluttering as a group. Taking a class on time or productivity. Getting a running buddy.

T​he more you practice anything, the better you get. What self-mastery skill can you begin to practice? What is in your control that you can get better at? Maybe you have decided you want to add inspirational stories to your day and watch 3 days less of news. Or you practice seeing through the lens of gratitude instead of griping for a week.

Y​ou only need to make a 1% improvement to make a difference. These little improvements will lead you on your path to self-mastery.

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