Take Control of Your Life: 7 Steps to Self-Mastery (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of my three-part series on self-mastery. In Part 1, we talked about step 1 (Understand) and step 2 (Dream). Now it’s on to step 3 . . .

Step 1: Understand - Article 1

Step 2: Dream - Article 1

Step 3: Filter - Article 2

Step 4: Envision - Article 2

Step 5: Choose - Article 2

Step 6: Overcome - Article 3

Step 7: Achieve - Article 3

Step 3: Filter

When you begin to master who you are and get a hold of your dreams, you are likely to encounter a problem: you probably have more dreams and aspirations than you know what to do with. In fact, you have more dreams and aspirations than you could possibly pursue in a lifetime.

So now what? Self-mastery means that you do not get caught in the trap of decision paralysis, and that you will not try to pursue every dream at once—you will move purposely toward your dreams with laser focus and perfect clarity.

This is where filtering comes in. Now that you have a full grasp of who you are, your state in life, your strengths, your weakness, your successes, and your failures, and you have spent time diving deep into the future, it is time to filter your dreams.

Filtering is the process of boiling down your dreams into something you can act on. It’s about deciding which dreams you will pursue now, and which dreams you will leave for later.

For example, one of my dreams might be to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Considering that I have four children under the age of ten and no climbing experience, this dream probably doesn’t make a lot of sense to pursue in my current state in life. Is it an important dream? It is to me. But right now, it’s not as important as being a good husband and a responsible father.

So how do we filter? Starting from a place of personal awareness, we consider two factors: timing, and importance.

First, take your list of dreams and go through each of the areas, categorizing your dreams by how much time they will take to achieve. Put them in one of three categories: (1) less than one year to achieve, (2) one to three years to achieve, (3) more than three years to achieve. You might have to make some assumptions, but this doesn’t need to be an exact science. Your gut will tell you if something will take a month or a year to achieve.

Would this be the dream I would pursue if it were the only dream I could pursue in the next year?

We need dreams, and thriving people are always pursuing a one-year dream, a three-year dream, and a long-term dream at any given time. Some people get caught trying to do too much at once, half-heartedly pursuing multiple dreams at once, never getting anywhere on any of them. To avoid this, you should never be pursuing more than three dreams at once: a one-year dream, a one-to-three-years dream, and a more-than-three-years dream.

Now that you have categorized your dreams based on timing, it’s time to filter them for importance. Use this question: Would this be the dream I would pursue if it were the only dream I could pursue in the next year?

Using that question and the ten categories, go through your list and prioritize your dreams based on how important they are to you. You can simply number them based on importance. Again, use your gut. It’s not a science, and no one else can answer for you.

At this point, your dream list should be ordered by how much time each dream would take and by how important each dream is to you. So it might look something like this . . .

(The number in parentheses indicates the amount of time it will take, and the number after that on each line is the order of importance. Again, this is just a made-up example. Yours will look different.)

Dream List

Lose ten pounds (1 year) 1
Run a marathon (1–3 years) 4
Give up soda (1 year) 3
Build a habit of getting up early (1 year) 2

Climb Mt. Everest (3+ years) 3
Go on an African safari (3+ years) 2
Visit every baseball stadium in the US (1–3 years) 1

Read Moby Dick (1 year) 2
Write a novel (1–3 years) 3
Watch less than two hours of television every week (1 year) 1

Become a VP at my company (3+ years) 3
Start my own firm (3+ years) 1
Beat my quarterly sales projections by 20 percent (1 year) 2

Now you have a list that can help you choose your one-year, one-to-three-years, and more-than-three-years dreams. You are ready for step four.

Step 4: Envision

On the eighteenth green, down by one stroke, Tiger Woods knew he was going to drain the twelve-foot putt to force a playoff at the 2008 US Open.

With three seconds left, down by one, Michael Jordan knew he was going to drain the series-winning shot to advance the Chicago Bulls in the 1989 NBA Finals.

In seventh place with just fifty meters to go in the Men’s 100-meters butterfly medal event at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Michael Phelps knew he was going to fly down the final twenty-five meters to out-touch Milorad Cavic by one one-hundredth of a second to win his seventh gold medal.


How did they know? Because they had done it. They had done it over and over—a thousand times in their minds.

For a long time, visualizing success has been a winning strategy for the world’s best athletic performers, and it has also become a strategy for actors, musicians, entrepreneurs, and architects. The rest of us can harness it to benefit our everyday lives. In the words of Oprah Winfrey, who drew herself out of poverty to the highest plateaus of worldly success, “Create the highest, grandest vision possible for your life, because you become what you believe.”

When you are visualizing success, you move from hoping to believing. Believing is accepting something as true, even if you haven’t seen it . . . yet.

Imagine how it will feel when you accomplish your dream . . . paint that picture as clearly as possible in your mind.

Envisioning your dreams is a crucial step to self-mastery. The surest way to master your impulses and emotions is to submit them to a dream. And the stronger you believe in your dream, the easier it will be to resist the many temptations to give in to the whims of everyday life.

Here are three great strategies for believing in your dreams:

  1. Visualize. You have to see it if it’s going to happen. Close your eyes, and imagine everything. Imagine how it will feel when you accomplish your dream. Imagine what it will look like. Imagine every detail. Imagine what people will say and think when you’ve accomplished it. Paint that picture as clearly as possible in your mind.
  2. Use dream triggers. Dream triggers are reminders of that richly imagined dream. The goal of the dream trigger is to call to mind that fully visualized dream. Write down your dreams on Post-it Notes and put them on your bathroom mirror. Write them on an index card and stick them in your wallet. Put a little picture of your dream on your dashboard next to the speedometer. Put a picture of your dream on your fridge. Use dream triggers wherever possible to keep that richly imagined dream in the forefront of your mind. Every time you come across a reminder, visualize that dream again.
  3. Use the power of positive memories to push you forward. The power of positive thinking might be a pretty soft idea, but the truth is that our mind eats the thoughts we feed it. If you constantly feed it negativity and defeated self-talk, that’s the way you’re going to think. You will begin to see the world around you and your circumstances in a negative light. It will be harder to believe you can achieve anything in this negative space. Instead, relive happy memories. Remember something someone said to you that was encouraging or kind. Relive that moment your little league team won the championship, if that’s what it takes. Focus on these positive moments to train your brain to believe that good things are coming your way.

Empowered with the belief that you will achieve your dreams, it is time to make some choices.

Step 5: Choose

Life is choices. Every day you make hundreds of choices: What to eat. What to wear. What time to arrive. How to work. Whether or not to listen. What to care about.

The power of choices is at the heart of self-mastery.

Many of these choices can seem inconsequential. But one choice builds upon another, and in the end, our choices define who we become.

“You choose the food you eat, the clothes you wear, and the thoughts you think. You choose to be calm or restless, you choose to feel appreciative or ungrateful. Love is a choice. Anger is a choice. Fear is a choice. Courage is a choice. You choose.”
- Rhythm of Life by Matthew Kelly

Choices matter. And choices are powerful. Your choices today live and walk with you every day for the rest of your life. Too often, we sacrifice our power to choose at the altar of impulse.

You will never have the potential to control anything else as much as you can control yourself. You can’t control your children, your spouse, your boss, the person in the other car, or your neighbor. You can’t control the weather, the stock market, or anything or anyone else on the planet. Can you have influence? Sure, sometimes. I can’t have much influence on the weather, but I will certainly influence my children. But even influence is fleeting and fickle.

The power of choices is at the heart of self-mastery.

In order to master your choices and orient them toward your dreams, you have to be ready to plan ahead. There are three things to consider when creating your plan:

  1. What type of dream you are trying to accomplish? There are two types of dreams: fixed-goal dreams, and lifestyle dreams.Fixed-goal dreams surround a specific event or activity. For example, running a marathon, taking a special vacation, or paying off a debt. With fixed-goal dreams, you develop a specific plan of action for the day-by-day, week-by-week, and month-by-month choices that will lead to accomplishing your goal.Lifestyle dreams require you to immerse yourself so deeply in your dream that you begin to judge every choice in light of that dream. An example might be a weight-loss goal, which involves a thousand choices. Stairs or elevator? Yogurt or potato chips? Drive or bike? Salad or burger? Soda or water? Every choice is in consideration of the dream. In this case, the dream is the guiding light for all your actions.
  2. Who has already accomplished your dream, and what you can learn from them? Look for experts at climbing a mountain, or losing weight, or running a marathon. Examine their plans, learn from their mistakes, heed their warnings. Study always helps us make better choices, and there is much to study when it comes to the dreams we wish to accomplish.
  3. Develop and write down your plan. If your dream is a fixed-goal dream, write sidown the completion date, and map out all the steps it will take to achieve that dream.Mapping out a lifestyle dream often means mapping out the small victories it will take to achieve that dream. Perhaps you break down the dream into easy-to-implement changes that can be made over time, so that you don’t overwhelm yourself. Too often, we try to change our lifestyle by taking drastic measures, and we fail because we’ve tried to do too much at once. Take your time, and make changes little by little.

The process will play out like this:

Step 3: Filtering

One-year dream: Run a marathon

Step 4: Envision

Powerfully envision achieving your dream, use triggers to remind yourself of your dream, and feed your mind with positive thoughts of the achievement.

Step 5: Choose

Knowing this is a fixed-goal dream and studying the best marathon training programs, you write out your detailed plan:

Marathon Date: Saturday, August 21

20-Week Training Schedule
Week 1:
M - Run 3 miles
W - Run 5 miles
F - Run 2 miles
S - Run 6 miles

Week 2:
M - Run 3 miles
W - Run 5 miles
F - Run 2 miles
S - Run 8 miles

And so on. . .

Step 3: Filtering

One-year dream: Lose ten pounds—and keep the weight off

Step 4: Envision

Powerfully envision achieving your dream, use triggers to remind yourself of your dream, feed your mind with positive thoughts of the achievement.

Step 5: Choose

Knowing this is a lifestyle dream and studying the best methods of losing weight and living healthier, you write out your detailed plan:

Week 1: Begin daily weigh-ins, and record progress
Week 2: Cut out all soda
Week 3: Bring a brown bag lunch three days per week
Week 4: Limit desserts to twice per week

And so on. . .

Whether your dream needs a specific and detailed plan with a timeline, or it should be a guiding light that informs every decision you make, only you can make the choices to fulfill your dreams. Embracing this power—coupled with your knowledge of self, your richly imagined dreams, and a deep belief in what you will achieve—will give you the inner strength to master the moment of decision.

And then you’ll master yourself.

Self-mastery have the power to transform your life.
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The seven steps to self-mastery have the power to transform your life. To give you time to digest and work through all seven, we broke up this article into three parts. This is Part 2. Be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 3.

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