I used to think there were two types of people. Those that got things done because they were strong and driven, full of willpower. And those who dreamed big dreams and talked about doing big things but lacked the self-discipline to follow-through. I was judgmental back then. Mostly judgmental towards myself, believing I fell in the second category. I lacked all understanding of the psychology of motivation, productivity, and behavior change.
I’ve been a therapist for 10 years now, and I’ve seen thousands of clients, each unique in what’s shaped them. Many carry the pain of trauma(s), and almost all of them have experienced some adverse event that affects the way they see themselves.
Now, I believe that everyone has the strength to do hard things. I understand that the difference between people who achieve their goals and those whose dreams lay dormant is in their beliefs about themselves. But, whether I think you are strong has little bearing on whether you will reach your full potential. Rather, what is it that YOU think about yourself?
When I didn’t believe I was strong enough, smart enough, or capable enough, I stood still. Overthinking, overanalyzing, in a state of “analysis paralysis.” Even when people told me I was strong and smart; I didn’t believe in my own capability. Up until then, I typically quit anything that got too tough, and it wasn’t until I proved my strength to myself by sticking through something hard that I started to believe in myself. Then I got curious about what else I could achieve.
I started proving to myself that I was capable through the practice of mastery.
Mastery is doing something that makes you feel confident and competent and gives you a sense of accomplishment. The activity must be hard enough that it’s challenging but not so hard that it’s impossible to achieve the first time you set out to do it. For example, if you’ve never run, mastery might mean running for 60 seconds without stopping and then gradually increasing over time. Mastery is trying activities that are new and sticking through when it gets hard, without setting yourself up for failure by choosing an activity that is going to be too difficult to begin with.
Mastery is about balance.
Nature led me to mastery, though it’s not what I was looking for. I was drawn to the outdoors as a way to stay connected to my dad after he passed away. I went on a short hike that made my body ache afterwards. And then I wondered, how far could I hike next time? And then, to what elevation? I started challenging myself and lo and behold, I started believing I could do harder things. Physically, mentally, and emotionally. In a world where I had been taught to be quiet and small, the outdoors gave me an opportunity to do things that made me feel big and powerful. Even when they were scary. I learned that you don’t have to be 100% confident that you’ll be successful in order to take risks. You just have to be confident that there’s A CHANCE of success. Years of building mastery has taught me that there’s ALWAYS a chance.
In mental health news, mastery builds resistance to depression and anxiety. It helps us feel confident, which improves our mood. It makes us feel more "in control" of our environment, which alleviates anxiety. It increases “feel good” emotions, like joy, peace, and contentment.
Many of us are not taught that mastery and self-compassion are keys to being motivated and “getting things done,” so I’ve created a coaching program to help women build these skills! We will explore the stories women tell themselves about motivation and willpower and how these stories actually create barriers to reaching goals. In this program, I’ve used psychological science to build simple strategies to create more energy and motivation. It launches July 14 and I’ll be releasing registration info in the coming weeks!
How do you build mastery? Leave a comment!