Personal Mastery

Lisa R. Arcemont

Are you ever frustrated to learn that…the results you most desire at work, at home or in your personal life don’t really compare or measure up to the current reality of how things really are in your life today? The frustration can be compared to the tension on a rubber band when your right and left hands are pulling in opposite directions. Learning to creatively and productively utilize the tension between what you most desire (your vision) and what really is (reality) can expand a person’s capacity to make better choices, and to achieve more of the results that they have chosen. Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline, refers to this process as culturing creative tension and working towards personal mastery. (More information on The Fifth Discipline)

Personal mastery involves learning to keep both a personal vision and a clear picture of current reality before us as a reminder. This reminder will produce a force within us called “creative tension.” By nature, human reaction is to move closer to what we want, or to bring our vision and reality closer together by creating less tension. In essence, creative tension utilizes vision and the current state of reality to “work together” instead of pulling in opposite directions for definite unsuccessful results.

Working towards personal mastery involves people who are convinced that a vision or result is important, who can see clearly that they must change their life in order to reach that result, and who commit themselves to that result. They embrace the vision not just consciously, but unconsciously, at a level where it changes more of their behavior. They have a sense of deliberate patience–with themselves and the world–and more attentiveness to what is going on around them. All of this produces a sustained sense of energy and enthusiasm, which (often after a delay) produces some tangible results, which can then make the energy and enthusiasm stronger.

It is hard to command ourselves to snap instantly into this new frame of mind, but the discipline of personal mastery suggests that as individuals, we can encourage a new way of thinking that leads us gradually to it. With practice, this way of thinking develops a more competent and confident individual who is aware of the creative tension that can pull them forward and serve as motivation to better them…if they embrace and cultivate it.

According to Robert Fritz, author of The Path of Least Resistance, some people think, “I will never accomplish my vision, because of the way I was raised.” Or they feel, “I can only force myself toward my vision if things get bad enough,” or “It’s up to me to push ahead through sheer willpower, against the obstacles thrown at me.” As Fritz notes, all of these fears are manifestations of “emotional tension” that make us believe we are unworthy or powerless to obtain what we truly desire…our vision. How do we cope with emotional tension? Not by denying it exists, but by trying to see it more clearly, until we can see that emotional tension, too, is part of our current reality. (For more information on The Path of Least Resistance)

Personal mastery teaches us not to lower our vision, even if it seems as if the vision is impossible. According to Fritz, it is not what the vision says, but more vital, it is what the vision causes a person to do or react. It also teaches not to shrink back from seeing the world as it is, even if it makes us uncomfortable. Looking closely and clearly at current reality is one of the most difficult tasks of this discipline because it requires the ability to ask yourself, not just at quiet times but during times of stress, “What is going on right now? Why is my reality so difficult?” Most important, personal mastery teaches us to choose. Choosing is a courageous act: picking the results and actions which you will make into your destiny.

Remember, practicing personal mastery is like holding a conversation within ourselves. One voice within us dreams of what we want for the future and still another casts an eye on the world around us and speaks reality. A third voice, often well hidden, is willing to say, “I have chosen what I want and accepted that I will create it.” In this discipline, we try to hear all these facets clearly, knowing that the power which pulls us toward our vision emerges from the relationship between them. For more information on personal mastery resources, click here or here for Systems Thinking Resources).

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