Self-control and the Mystery of Self-mastery: Part One-Change

Despite even our best of intentions, we can find ourselves missing the mark when it comes to our own growth.  Staying stuck, time and time again can be truly heartbreaking, especially when we let ourselves down.  How is it then that we fail to complete the well-intentioned promises to ourselves?  Aren’t we complicit to make the promise in the first place and isn’t our goal well positioned for success at the start? What could possibly happen along the way to pull oneself in such a reverse direction? Have you yet connected with the pain of failure and the dizzying mystery facing humans far and wide?  Let’s talk about how we face such challenges and make sense of change as a process of personal growth and human progress.


“When we set out to change, first we must navigate inward.” quip


Maybe we are missing the mark because we make too much of ourselves and what we should reasonably expect to achieve? What if we do not even know ourselves well enough to observe the absurdity of what high hurdles we have constructed to leap?  We should of course “keep reaching for the stars,” as requested by Ed McMahon at the end of the television show Star Search, (faint late ’80s reference), but in first imagining that trip, we may find ourselves setting unrealistic goals.   You have to know yourself to understand what reaching a certain goal will look like, feel like, sound like, and decide if it is a good choice to make and goal to seek.


“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom”Aristotle


My work, as a therapist in private practice, is helping others change in ways they wish they could, however, they see fit, to reduce their emotional pain.  Of course things are more complicated than that, but therapy is self-awareness as a means to the end chosen by the client.  The end result they want looks different than the present state. It is different than what they presently do because for them that doesn’t work anymore.  Clients wish to be living in a new way, feeling new and positive things they have devised will occur once the new way is the only way of how they live life.  What was permissible at one point, isn’t acceptable now, and they are choosing, in some way, to (wait for it) change.


If we have reflected and chosen our goals carefully, then the next phase, to ensure greater success in reaching them, is to take our big pie-in-the-sky goals and break them down into smaller ones. The prevailing instruction is to make your goals manageable and even dare I say small.  We should dream big but with those mega goals, to actually take shape, in reality, they will need to be broken down into sub-goals.



Baby steps, a fictitious book in the movie “What about Bob”, makes me chuckle just to think of it, the movie that is. The cult classic, which I found less than funny at its original release, has become funnier as I have experienced life.   A) I have fallen deeper into endearment to Bill Murray, B) I became a therapist, and C) honestly, it wasn’t that far off base.  Humans like to succeed, especially when we are mounting an honest effort and the best way to ensure success is to set attainable and manageable “baby” steps.  These sub-goals are “fun sized” and motivate our spirit to try, and try again.  We try and succeed and try and succeed.  Success breeds success.  If we succeed at the change process then we grow. One step at a time.


Life can move fast and the chaos that ensues in and of itself is predictable.  We all know the feeling of leaving the house with a pre-determined idea of what will happen out there, only to return much later, evaluating how our plans were summarily dashed by the forces out of our control.  That’s life.  In the face of that roller coaster, we and our personage may stay relatively static.   We stay the same.  We employ the same old same old.  Evidenced on a new day when we repeat the aforementioned process and rededicate ourselves to getting a list of things done, in a certain way, only to be dissatisfied or partially satisfied with the results.  Yet again, we get up and try again.  This is a persevering spirit which can serve us well.     This is critical when we chance playing the change game.  There will be setbacks, so prepare for them but don’t let them stop you.  It’s the forward momentum that counts.


When the pain of staying the same is too great, we may be ready for a change.” —quip

There are times when changing how we go through life is necessary.  The urgency of it propels us.  External forces demand so.  These times are when we may lose our jobs, family, or our minds and then we are wide awake to the necessity.  When change is for personal growth for growth’s sake, take it or leave it, it is less expedient. It is yet in this form merely an answer to a higher call to improve and reach the next level.  More punctual, more compassionate, kinder, responsible, and more honest with others and ourselves are some examples.  It is in these times when we must motivate ourselves from the inside out that the creation of a “Change Plan” is vital to success.  Change Plans, are just that; a plan that puts the change process on project status and asks and answers 1) what is the target end state, 2) what are the goals, 3) how will you reach your goals, 4) what are the sub-steps, 5) how will you adapt along the way, and 6) how to measure success when you get there?  Taking a hard look at yourself and why you want to change along with investigating and completing a Change Plan will have you well on your way to success.


“I will be calm. I will be mistress of myself.” —Jane AustenSense and Sensibility


Heading in the right direction with momentum

Recent research studies have shown, however, that blind determination can reverse progress for those who persevere without altering their path, in light of emerging facts or practical wisdom.  Change is a process that will need your continued attention but laser focus on a goal without adaptation can produce a diminishing rate of return or no return at all.  Humans can very well do the wrong thing, for a very long time only to find themselves worn out, and still in the same spot.   You have simply, through pure determination, worn a spot in the carpet, but traversed no ground.

Let me say that again.  You can do the wrong thing (thinking it is the right thing) for a very, very, very long time.  That is not changing but rather picking stubbornly or innocently to do something, even if it is wrong to feel better about taking action, any action yet going nowhere.   Change has to produce the intended results and setting realistic mini goals that over time and with execution will add up to the bigger goal of the change you want to see, means you are starting to move the needle.


Knowing yourself, setting small goals, putting forth the effort to achieve, adapting, and persisting to move forward, emerge as a winning strategy within a positive change plan.


“One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself.”
— Leonardo da Vinci