What’s the Most Important Skill for Living a Happier, Healthier, More Prosperous Life?

“Though one may conquer a thousand times a thousand men in battle, yet he indeed is the noblest victor who conquers himself.”
– Buddha –

What’s the most important skill for living a happier, healthier, more prosperous life?

Self-Mastery. Psychologists call it self-regulation or self-control, and it’s the ability to get yourself to consistently behave in ways that move you toward your goals rather than away from them.

  • It’s the ability to set a course of action and keep moving forward no matter how hard it gets or how unmotivated you feel.
  • It’s the ability to recognize and overcome your negative habits, so you can intentionally create the amazing life you’ve imagined.
  • It’s the ability to say no in the face of increasing temptation from slick marketers and global companies who care more about their bottom line than your long-term health and financial security.
  • It’s the ability take sustained action toward your goals in the face of self-doubt and the endless array of distractions imposed by more and more technology.

I may be overstating this, but I believe it to be true. More than any other time in history, self-mastery is the essential skill that can rescue humanity from its path of over-indulgence, under-regulation and potential self-destruction.

Self-mastery is such an important skill that one expert on the subject – Professor Roy Baumeister, PhD – says that a lack of self-mastery is “the major social pathology of our time.”

Think about it. Without self-mastery, you can achieve almost nothing. At least nothing that requires you to learn, grow, change or overcome even the slightest bit of inner resistance or outer adversity.

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

If you want to lose weight or live a healthier lifestyle, it’s not enough to read about healthy living or buy a gym membership. That’s a good start, but ultimately, you have to get yourself off the couch to exercise and start eating the right amount of healthy food. You have to overcome the inertia of a more sedentary lifestyle and change the habitual, unhealthy ways you fuel your body.

If you want to build a profitable business, it’s not enough to buy another book or attend another seminar. Knowledge is important, but it’s useless until you act on it. You must get yourself to consistently take action. You must overcome self-doubt and block out the distractions that keep you from accomplishing what’s needed to create products, attract customers and make the sale.

No matter what you want to accomplish in life, it’s not enough to learn HOW to accomplish it. You have to get yourself to actually DO IT, and that requires self-mastery.

“All know the way, but few actually walk it.”
– Bodhidharma –

Self-mastery is especially critical when you run into a bit of adversity. Anyone can steer the ship when the sea is calm. But when things inevitably start to feel difficult – or futile, or boring, or scary, or overwhelming – the people who have the ability to control their behavior are the ones who hang in there and keep moving toward their goal.

Study after study proves this to be true, and my own experience confirms it. But you don’t have to take my word for it – here’s what Kelly McGonigal, PhD – another expert on self-mastery – writes in her fabulous book, The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why it Matters and What You Can Do to Get More of It:

“People who have better control of their attention, emotions, and actions are better off almost any way you look at it. They are happier and healthier. Their relationships are more satisfying and last longer. They make more money and go further in their careers. They are better able to manage stress, deal with conflict, and overcome adversity. They even live longer … Self-control is a better predictor of academic success than intelligence, a stronger determinant of effective leadership than charisma, and more important for marital bliss than empathy.”

Action Items for this Week

1. Meditate on the idea of self-mastery. Think about times in your life when a bit more self-mastery could have helped you overcome temptation or persist a bit longer when working toward a long-term goal.

2. Begin to notice the many external forces acting against you; forces that compel you to overindulge in unhealthy activities or activities that move you AWAY from your long-term goals rather than TOWARD them.

“I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies, for the hardest victory is the victory over self.”
– Aristotle –

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