Do you ever find that you are not achieving your goals fast enough or at all? Maybe you become frustrated and tell yourself that you just don’t have enough will power.
Personal mastery begins with understanding why you do or don’t do the things you do.
The apostle Paul said, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Romans 7:15
Unfortunately for Paul, he didn’t have the benefit of neuroscience to “understand” why he didn’t do what he wanted to do. We now have a lot of information about the brain and why we do what we do. Will power only goes so far.
Understanding Fear and Your Brain
The key to personal mastery is the ability to master your thoughts. The mind was not created to succeed. It was created to survive.
You’ve probably heard of the “fight or flight” response to danger. The Amygdala is the part of the brain that controls responses to fear, arousal, and emotional stimulation.
In the Western world, society has evolved as such that we are not living in the woods with the threat of being eaten by a bear. Our brains, however, will react to a potential threat, with or without a bear!
How often have you settled down to make a sales call to a new prospect with your palms sweating and your heart pounding? You are not in physical danger, but your brain thinks it is!
Animals are far more superior in mastering fear. Take an antelope, for example on the Serengeti Plain. It’s drinking from a watering hole when a lion comes out of nowhere, deciding to eat it for dinner. The antelope takes off and successfully outruns the lion circling back to the watering hole to get a drink because now it’s really thirsty after its chase! The threat is gone, and it resumes what it was doing.
The antelope doesn’t approach its antelope friends, retelling the story of how he was almost eaten by a lion. The incident is forgotten.
Humans, on the other hand, will share the story at the water cooler, on Facebook, and to anyone else in earshot, or worse, the fearful thoughts repeat over and over again in our brains. This fear can cripple us from taking the action we need to keep going.
Understanding Pleasure and the Brain
The brain also registers anything pleasurable. Eating a delicious meal, spending good times with your loved ones, achieving a goal, all release the neurotransmitter of dopamine. This is the pleasure activity of the brain. Unfortunately, this pleasure can be found in unhealthy activities masquerading as innocent activities which can lead to addiction.
We think of addiction as being addicted to drugs or alcohol. But think about these activities: eating high fat, high caloric foods, spending hours watching programs, or spending a lot of time on social media, even shopping.
Food manufacturers and social media companies have figured out that consuming these products release hits of dopamine, keeping us addicted!
The hippocampus is another part of the brain that stores these memories. It remembers the pleasure derived from these activities and motivates us to go after what we want that brought us pleasure.
Changing Your Brain for Personal Mastery
The good news is that the neuropathways in your brain can be rewired to choose healthy pleasures instead of unhealthy pleasures. How? By using the powerful fruits of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Since we possess the Holy Spirit, we have these qualities. For personal mastery, you must master the last fruit of the Spirit, self-control. (Do you think it’s listed last because it’s the hardest?)
Personal Mastery Strategies
Now that you know about how the brain works, here are some strategies for personal mastery to harness the power of self-control. In each area, ask yourself the question: How can I create pleasurable experiences to master these areas in my life?
Health: The basics to being healthy are to eat healthy food that will nourish your body, to move your body through exercise, to adequately hydrate your body by drinking enough water, and to get enough sleep.
Health Strategies: Make a list of healthy foods that you love and purchase those. Find healthy alternatives to unhealthy foods that will still taste delicious. If you aren’t knowledgeable in the area of diet and nutrition, meet with someone who is to guide you. Find an exercise that you enjoy, even if it’s walking. Take a fun class like Pilates and do it with a friend. Purchase a steel water bottle to keep with you to hydrate throughout the day.
Put the electronics away before you go to sleep. Using these devices can interrupt your body’s natural rhythm to release the hormone melatonin that helps you sleep. If you don’t get adequate rest, you can’t function at your best.
Practicing these strategies will make you feel good. Feeling good is pleasurable!
Business Strategies: Create a pleasant environment where you work. Environments trigger positive or negative thoughts. For example, a woman has been sober for 12 years. She walks into a restaurant where she frequented the happy hour in the past. Just walking into that environment can trigger the pleasurable memories of drinking there. It can be enough to cause a relapse.
Rearrange your office. De-clutter and get things organized. Surround yourself with pleasing pictures, mementos, and things you love.
How can you turn the things you dread, picking up the phone to call a prospect, posting on social media, crunching accounting numbers, etc., into a pleasant experience?
Dopamine is the reward for a pleasant activity. How can you celebrate being consistent on social media, being consistent on making sales calls, making a plan, and sticking to it?
Remember how you felt when you received a sticker in school for accomplishing something? Find ways to reward yourself, maybe buy some stickers!
Spiritual Strategies: Pray your calendar. As you go into the day, pray for each meeting and each task you need to do.
Read inspirational material at the beginning of the day whether it’s the Bible or other inspirational material.
Make time for stillness. Throughout the day, take moments to stop, close your eyes, and breathe. Look up at the sky and not down at your phone.
Don’t let your head hit your pillow thinking, “I didn’t get enough done today!”
Instead, do a reflection. Invite the Holy Spirit to lead you. Reflect over what you are grateful for that happened. What went right? What went wrong? How can you do better tomorrow? Imagine what tomorrow may bring and ask God to lead you.
You are in control of your thoughts. Through these personal master strategies, you can change your brain to overcome fear and find pleasure in leading a more healthy, successful, fulfilled, and peaceful life.