Coaching Self-Mastery


John Owens

On Self-Management

I’ve written extensively on the Ten Natural Laws (see my earlier blogs). Each of these laws relates to an insight that can give a more meaningful and fulfilled life by aligning your thoughts and actions with what is inherently authentic and real about us as humans and about how the world works. It is easy enough to read and understand in your intellect what each of these laws means and how they work at a high level. But to put our learning and insights to practice is often the most difficult and elusive of things we ever attempt to do. I know this because it is true for me. My old habits seem sometimes to have a life and intention of their own, and continue to assert themselves independently of our decisions, commitments and vows. What is with that? Why is this piece of self-management so hard for so many of us?

One reason that getting started in a new direction is so difficult is that our responses have gone down the old pathway so many times that it becomes a highway, a default selection for our brain. Even if it no longer serves us, the brain desires efficiency, and holds to its habits. Quitting that habit, even for a long time, does not close off that neural pathway. I remember years ago I quit smoking for three years, and in response to feeling sorry for myself, got my habit back in less than two days.

A second reason for difficulty in self-management is what many coaches call the Saboteur, or the Gremlin. This is that part of us that works (very hard, often!) to maintain the status quo. The Saboteur hates any change, even if it is fulfilling. This will show up with some messages that tend to keep us small, safe, and ultimately miserable. Phrases like: “Who do you think you are?”, or “You can’t do that”, “I don’t have the time”, or “They will hate me for that” are some examples of how our saboteur can get our attention and prevent us from doing the things that will bring meaning and joy to our lives. The Saboteur seemingly works to keep us safe and secure, but life without risks is not a life worth living.

Often there is a payoff for not changing that blocks our way even when a part of us desperately wants to. Most of us have our small pleasures, be they reading the paper, surfing the web, eating sweets or shopping, and what life (real life, fulfillment) calls us to be means we have to give up all or part of those pleasures of dependencies. Often we wait, un-self-managed until the pain of continuing far outweighs the pleasure in continuing. My father being told he’d have to quit his three-pack-a-day cigarette habit or lose his legs comes to mind.

Changing a habit or style usually means going off in an unknown direction. There’s discomfort in that, be it feeling incompetent, or not feeling we are not up to the task (Saboteur’s territory!), or we just don’t know what’s going to happen. We start feeling that fear or discomfort of not seeing the entire path, and the temptation to return to our small world of little pleasures and what is known and comfortable looks mighty tempting.

What can we do that works to self-manage? Here’s a few suggestions that I use to get me going. Try them out and see what works for you:

  • Schedule it on your calendar. If you don’t use any sort of calendar (except in your head), that may be a good place to start. Writing down your intentions and assigning them a specific time (and place) helps to focus and work with your whole brain.
  • Reward yourself! Set something to honor your completing all or part of your desired action. Be careful of using food for a reward, but giving yourself permission to splurge in a small or even large way can act as an incentive. I like to reward myself with a new music CD or a massage.
  • Get conscious of what it will take. Taking on something new almost always means that there are things that we have to say “No” to and leave behind, in order to make room for the new “Yes”. List those things. Write them down on paper. Then take the new step:
  • Take a vow. Do it publicly or privately as you see fit. Making decisions and promises are actions that comes from our heads. That frequently is not enough to move us through the discomfort of the unknown or hard feelings of embarrassment. So step it up to a level of commitment. Mentally (or for real) draw a line in front of you. Feel the change from stepping out of the land of decision and into the land of commitment, a place from your heart. Recite what things you are saying “NO” to and what you say “YES” to in making this change.
  • Celebrate your success! I have brought this up often in my blogs. As a culture, we just don’t celebrate using our large muscles in motion enough. Dancing, drumming, cycling, doing a victory lap around the back yard and consciously feeling good about yourself start to wear a new groove in your noggin, one that will serve you well for life.
  • Hire a life coach to help you in being clear in your commitments and as a source for accountability in following through. Click here to find out more about how coaching can help you get your life moving from frustration to fulfillment.
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