How to Win the Battle With Yourself

Three essential tools to develop self-mastery.

Posted Oct 03, 2020

 Andre Hunter/Unsplash
Source: Andre Hunter/Unsplash

External obstacles are dramatic, the source of great theater. When you fight against something in your environment that’s causing you suffering, you have a clear target. You can see what’s standing in your way: financial hardship, a health challenge, a problematic relationship, social injustice.

Every time you fight an external obstacle, you discover a strength that you never knew you had. In the process, you find like-minded people who share your concerns; nothing unites individuals more than a common enemy. 

But what about those battles that you have to face alone? The quiet wars we wage within ourselves? How do you win those?

Internal obstacles are fuel for self-mastery

Recently a patient in my psychotherapy practice became furious with me. She was asking for advice, and I hesitated to offer it. 

“Why won’t you tell me what to do?” she demanded.

She didn’t have a good track record of following through with the advice. Like many of us, she knew what she had to do, but couldn’t get herself to do it. No matter how she tried, she couldn’t give herself an order and stick to it. Even worse, she had a history of asking for advice, not following it, and then blaming the advice giver. She was losing the battle with herself. 

“I'm not sure if you’re on your own team,” I said.

“Of course, I am. I’m here in therapy, working on myself. Don’t I get credit for that?”

“Certainly, but it’s what you do outside of sessions that counts the most.”

Why the battle for self-mastery is so difficult

The moment you set a goal for yourself, self-doubt appears, your mind becomes muddled, and a fog of uncertainty washes over you. Negative internal voices prod you to give up:

“This is too hard.”

“This isn’t important to me.”

“I’ll work on this some other day. Now’s not the time.”

Every time that you abandon a goal and give up, your self-esteem takes a big hit. You feel like a failure, and happiness is fleeting. You’re tossed around in a sea of uncertainty; a victim rather than a victor of your destiny. 

There is no self-mastery without challenges

Buddhist peace advocate Daisaku Ikeda suggests that the battle for self-mastery is key to establishing a strong identity. He writes that we must:

"...push open the heavy, groaning doorway of life itself. This is not an easy task. Indeed, it may be the most severely challenging struggle there is. For opening the door to your own life is, in the end, more difficult than opening the door to all the mysteries of the universe.” 

Developing self-mastery

Sustainable happiness is only achievable when you win the battle with yourself. Every time you face your fears and overcome them, you experience a burst of pride. Cultivating the self-discipline to keep pushing through obstacles is key to winning. Here’s how to get started:

1. Set a goal and hold to it.

In the world of self-mastery, victory lies in the effort, not the outcome. Stop being a slave to your feelings. Give yourself an order and follow it.

It doesn’t matter what you’re feeling—doubt, fear, uncertainty—push through it. There’ll be plenty of time to analyze it and reevaluate later. Start with smaller, achievable goals, then move onto larger ones. As Emerson advises: “Do your work, and you shall reinforce yourself.” 

2. Keep your eye on the prize.

Ups and downs are part of the process of developing self-mastery. Like lifting weights, you grow stronger every time you overcome an obstacle. Stumbling or falling along the way is not evidence of your weakness or failure—it’s the way to develop resilience and grit.

3. Be of service.

Altruism is an excellent source of self-esteem and is far more empowering than ruminating about your misfortunes or assigning blame. Helping someone who is suffering lessens your burdens, boosts your self-worth, and brightens a darkened path. 

Self-mastery is formidable but the rewards are boundless. When you master yourself, you master life and all its challenges.