September 12, 2016

Self-Mastery & Getting Things Done—for Free Spirits.

Cat Simmons Article Image

“Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.” ~ Jim Rohn

Rarg! Why can’t I write!? You a**hole! I silently rage at myself.

I feel a bit like a washing machine at the moment: I’ll have my ducks in a row, my spirits high, and my day clear, and shortly thereafter I feel like rubbish—exhausted, unfocused, overwhelmed, lazy, and stupid.

I am processing so much, at such speed, sometimes it feels like all I can do is hang on for dear life. Yet, somehow, I am the eye of the storm. I am frustrated as f**k and a little all over the place. The upheaval of my impending move has left my room in an utter mess; books, clothes and shoes are piled and scattered everywhere.

Similarly, the tabs open on my internet browser reflect my state of mind. There are about a million of them open. Each full of important information that I don’t want to miss—each taking up space, time and energy—and many won’t get the attention they deserve.

My heart is packed to bursting.

How does anyone do it? Get things done, like a normal human being, when they’re oscillating between unsuspecting Zen guru and basket case?

Focus. It’s a thing. I reckon it’s the founding principle of any energy mastery or martial art. At times, I can get so good at it, I won’t hear someone talk directly to me. Other times, it seems, no matter how hard I try, I just need to go play outdoors. But I get it. For the most part, we’re crazy-busy and there’s a lot going on. Life is demanding!

That’s why this is important. We need to make sense of these wide, colourful pools that dance and jive furiously in our heads—without fear of compartmentalizing ourselves in dogmatic routine. In this space, creativity and discipline meet at a resonant pitch. In this space, something deep shifts within us, resulting in a humble sense of personal power and a messy sort of grace.

So please give this your undivided attention. And breathe. At least one deep, long, belly-filling breath. Right now. There—better already, right?

Here goes.

So, I love restoring and renovating houses. I love knocking down walls and putting in windows where there were none. I love shifting furniture around for a new feel, or putting on a new slick of paint.

But I was never taught to prepare surfaces before I began. When I was younger, I sometimes worked over paint that was cracked and peeling. I was impatient, despite the fact that I distinctly remember thinking: If this job is going to last, this old paint should come off. Or, this wall is too greasy, the paint won’t stick.

How often do we do this in our own lives? Painting over things that need a good scouring, with hopes that they’ll just go away. It doesn’t help if we’re too impatient to take the time and steps to make our efforts stick. Rushing ahead just wastes more time.

There is so much power in preparation. And the best thing? Anyone can do it. It doesn’t matter if you’re left or right brained.

It amazes me when people say things like: “I am just too disorganized.” Like it’s their lot in life.

I fully understand that some brains are better wired for organization, while others are more creative in their function. I am definitely the latter. Often, when I get sh*t done, I’ll look back and wonder how the hell I did it, when I wasted so much time.

I believe we are all capable of developing organizational skills, like we would any other skill. Set the intention and practice, practice, practice. The question is: what works for you?

I am self-organizing. I go with what feels right. I tend to rise early and I work hard and fast in spurts. I can get lots done in a short amount of time, but if I try to keep up the pace, I burn out. The way you function may be different. Observing our optimal functioning mode can make all the difference.

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

If I think about it, this quote changed my life. Being driven by a mighty purpose holds greater power than any list of rules or grievances will do on their own. My instinct is that when we fall short of managing ourselves effectively, it’s because we haven’t started with the why that motivates our reptilian brains for deep-seated behavioral change. Instead, we try to force ourselves to stick to diets, schedules and resolutions without really engaging with why it means so much to us.

It is the freedom to partake in the things that make us come alive, which holds the power to change us. Not the pressure of discipline, in itself. Otherwise we burn ourselves out and get upset and disillusioned in the process. No wonder so many beautiful souls revert to cynicism and apathy.

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” ~ Lao Tzu

Why bother with self-mastery?

Most of us are aware that we can be our own worst enemy.

work quote author's own

It could be any number of things. Without self-mastery, we are unnecessarily buffeted by internal and external affairs. Self-mastery is the development of resilience and inner dynamism. It’s a challenge, to refine our relations with ourselves and others. The goal: a fine balance between gentleness and strength.

I often hear people say they feel unworthy. While I understand that this may have deep psychological roots, I can’t express enough: We just have to stand up and take it. Deciding, moment to moment, to believe in our own self-worth, despite others. None of us are inherently less than anyone else. There is no power in using blame for how others have treated us, as a crutch. Without making this commitment to ourselves, we stay trapped. No one else can give us permission, no matter how hard they might try. We can only truly be of benefit to the world when we stop hiding our own brilliance behind crippling insecurity. This world needs us! I’m not exaggerating.

There is no real merit in wasting this life, stewing over fear or apathy.

So, what is self-mastery, to me?

Self-mastery is the development of a dynamic, disciplined relationship with the self. It’s ever moving, shifting and counter-shifting. Never stagnant or dormant, but constantly engaging minute inner muscles, like a surfer staying abreast a wave. With self-mastery, we develop the capacity to wield our thoughts and emotions in a dance, without forcefulness—the way the banks of a river guide mountain spring water to the sea. We weed off streams that do not serve us with grace, rather than vengeance. Our thoughts and emotions do not control, or run away with us. We own ourselves with a confident humility.

We develop the muscle to “stick with it,” even when things become difficult or tedious.

We are mindful of staying present as often as possible, in our relationships. Taking responsibility any time our pain-body, low blood sugar or lack of sleep take hold of us. Releasing the rigid expectation of unrealistic perfection.

Excuses are exchanged for responsibility. Fear and apathy do not mar us from rising to the challenge of our heart’s greatest desire. We do not hide from our truth, or blame others for our lot in life. We acknowledge our fears without being owned by them.

We see the balance between self-control and surrender and make efforts to maintain this in our own lives. This requires courage, humility, temperance and perseverance. We look deeply into ourselves without hiding from what we might find. We don’t beat ourselves up, but are willing to work through the stages of life which are uncomfortable, embarrassing or confusing. It takes guts and patience. But it’s worth it. Periods of solitude and a commitment to self-awareness can help us master the subtle energies of the inner self.

So, perhaps we’re a little closer to understanding the why. But How?

This is where organization comes in.

It needn’t be tedious. Getting into a groove is exciting! Rising up in ourselves can be an exhilarating feeling. We’re inciting the courage and stamina it takes to choose what’s best for ourselves and our world, moment by moment. We can start by asking ourselves these questions:

What sort of life do I want?
How much free time would I like?
What is important to me?
How do I want my relationships to look?
How do I want to feel, and be remembered?

Be completely honest with yourself.

“Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.
Alice: …So long as I get somewhere.
The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.”

~ Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

We are far more likely to create a life of our choosing if we actively implement steps to find the answers to these questions about the choices we make on a daily basis. Two things may help: Stay focused! And learn when to say no! Practice, practice, practice.

“This is your world. Shape it. Or Someone else will.” ~ Gary Lew

quote george bernard shaw

I’ve recently been using the analogy of an arrow flying through space to describe how I feel. What I realized, as I wondered how I could feel so focused and yet all over the place simultaneously, is that this is what an arrow looks like, speeding towards its mark:

So—whirl on, you crazy diamond. You’ll find your mark too, if your aim is true. Just stay focused.

Remember: Making good choices helps prepare us for more good choices. Every time we stick to our discipline, we increase those inner muscles I mentioned earlier.

Here are some tools to help us organize our time, along the way:

Rise early.

Setting off the day to a good start changes everything. Taking time to sit, think, and plan will help us improve every area of our lives. Stress is often caused by feeling we have to race against the clock, or suppress our own emotions while accommodating the feelings of others. But rising early, to set our intention and gently come into ourselves, allows us to feel more calm and clear headed than our former selves may have been.

1. Perhaps it’s best to drop the “I’m not a morning person” story. As with anything, the stories we tell ourselves are powerful. Let’s keep that in mind any time we make a statement about ourselves. Even when no one else is around.

2. Factor in prep and travel time. Rushing around in a tizz isn’t ideal for setting the tone.

3. Stretch, breathe and drink water shortly after rising.

4. Focus on something inspirational. An idea, a podcast, music, writing. Your choice.

5. Feed the soul with some solitude. It’s vital!

6. Move! Move! Move! Don’t worry about following a prescribed ritual, unless you want to. Do what feels right. Stretch, dance, walk, run, do yoga. Especially if you feel disinclined to. Even if it’s just stretching and twisting your body in bed. Those who keep moving tend to feel better throughout the day and stay supple as they age.

7. Breakfast. Do it well.

8. Making our bed sets a really good tone.

Getting out of our heads: how to pull ourselves to center. 

Many people struggle with this. When I notice that my center of focus is slightly off, I can literally feel it, sitting over one eye or the other. Sometimes it’s not in my body at all, but sort of “hovering” next to me. I’ve found that by pulling this center of focus in to the point between my eyebrows, I am more capable of pulling myself back to the present moment. With time and practice, it gets easier.

When the mind is more frantic, using something outside us as a focal point can help. For example, I focus on the steering wheel of my car to re-root myself in the present moment. Anything in our immediate environment can assist with this. Don’t forget to breathe!

Speaking our truth while letting it go. 

For self-mastery, it is important to honor our truth, without suppression or exaggeration. However, remember “self” is dynamic. Expressing ourselves can shift energy into a new space. It helps not to perpetuate our stories by holding onto them. Being mindful not to regenerate old energy, once it has shifted, will help us move on and stay present.

Setting goals: refining our purpose.

Writing down exactly what we want to achieve helps train our brains to come up with ideas and solutions. Being clear about what we want helps us achieve a laser focus, unfettered by distractions. A strong sense of purpose does wonders for self-esteem and personal power. Breaking goals down into manageable chunks helps move mountains.

To-do lists are cool.

This is such a simple idea! And yet, it works better than pretty much any other organization tool. It sets a definite focus for our day. When we resist writing tasks down, we are more likely to lose focus, get stressed out, distracted and overwhelmed. The trick is to think of ourselves as an arrow, flying through the air toward our goal. The distraction of Facebook, mermaids and unicorns pale in comparison.

Puppies may still be a problem, I’ll admit. But with our trusty list, we’ll be back on track in no time!

Now, enjoy the satisfaction of crossing things off your list, one by one! When new tasks and responsibilities come up, write them down. Cross them off. Feel that sense of progress! It’s powerful stuff!

Apparently prioritizing is a really good skill to have, too. I’m not very good at this, so I won’t try tell you how it’s done. I just go with what feels right. I bet you’ve got your own skills.


Things, habits, people, drama. Got the picture?

Write things down!

Writing down ideas, dreams, emotions and thoughts can really help us get up to speed with where we’re at and how to move forward. Teasing out our thoughts from day to day is a powerful way to simplify life.

Find three hobbies.

One to pay the bills, one to express and develop creativity and one to keep active and take care of our bodies. Doing what we love, without negating our physical, emotional and spiritual needs can help us stay on track in a balanced and sustainable way.

And finally:

Spend time in nature and don’t let technology rule your life.

In conclusion, many of us are driven by the winds in our spirits. We like to follow our hearts and passions and tend to wilt, or sicken, when we don’t live according to our truth. But there is no need to throw the baby out with the bath water. We have every opportunity to achieve self-mastery and personal success by balancing our free spirits with a healthy dose of self-discipline.

I sincerely hope this helps inspire you to hone your own skills in conscious self-mastery. If there are elements which don’t resonate with you, leave them out! If you have your own ideas for what might help you, implement them! Don’t let excuses get in the way. The beauty of this is its dynamism. You needn’t cast yourself in stone, or march to someone else’s drum to develop self-mastery and get things done.

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” ~ Lao Tzu

quote author's own


Author: Catherine Simmons

Images: Courtesy of Author

Editor: Catherine Monkman

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