She Makes Me Want to be a Better Man: Self-Mastery and Service

As Good As It Gets Jack Nicholson (1).jpg

The Humble Discipline of Self-Mastery

The discipline of self-mastery is tricky. It takes self-mastery to discipline yourself and it takes discipline to master yourself. How the process starts is important. Maybe it starts with a nagging question or a gut feeling you’re called to be better. You may not know where that call is coming from. Sometimes it’s our father’s voice from when we were boys. Sometimes it’s a pastor who stirs in us a forgotten sense of the obligation to improve. Sometimes it’s disgust, decision making, desire or resolve. The late, great Jim Rohn, calls it, “The Day That Turns Your Life Around”.  Sometimes—often, if we choose the right woman-- it’s the woman we love. There is a very moving scene from the movie, “As Good As It Gets.” Jack Nicholson looks across the table in a restaurant at a woman he has fallen in love with and says, “You make me want to be a better man.” That line moved women’s hearts. I can remember watching the movie in a theater and hearing the reaction from the women in the audience. It was wonderful.

It doesn’t matter where that inner voice originates. It may not even be internal. Maybe external circumstances make you re-examine your own thinking. You re-examine your life and do an assessment. No matter. Once you hear that voice to improve, if you answer it, you’ll hear it more and more. If you don’t answer it, you’re actually killing your conscience, which is a bad, dangerous thing to do. But let’s say you take that first step. Once you do, one of three things will happen: nothing will happen, in which case you must make a decision, a bad thing will happen, in which case you must make a decision, or a good thing will happen, when you’ll find you don’t have to make a decision other than to ride the wave that starts to move you. If nothing happens or a bad thing happens, you have to decide whether or not to keep improving and how to go on.

Self-Mastery means doing what you don’t want to do when you don’t want to do it. That’s a good working definition of discipline, too, but it emphasizes keeping your emotions in check. Self-mastery means you are in charge, not your emotions, not the moment, nothing but your will, really. Step 1 in self-mastery is to practice two small disciplines and start immediately. The first small discipline is to make your bed as soon as you can each morning. This is a practical matter and we like practical things, as men. The other small discipline is mental and is designed to change you from the inside out. Commit this day to never criticizing, condemning or complaining. The reason this changes you from the inside out is that once you have habituated yourself to not criticizing, condemning or complaining, you find it changes the way you see the world. Once you no longer criticize, condemn or complain you will not even see occasions that tempt you to go negative. You’ll stop criticizing others but will actually cease to see faults in them after a while. The final piece to self-mastery is accepting responsibility for your own actions and learning how to apologize when you make a mistake.

The Humble Discipline of Service

Placing yourself at the service of others humbles you. Identifying yourself to yourself as a servant is good for you, because it changes the dynamic in any situation. If you approach each responsibility you have as a servant to a master and you turn over all the responsibilities that come with being a critic, you’ll find yourself liberated from many pointless concerns. It means giving up what you want or at least subordinating it to someone else. This act of selflessness is an example of obedience, humility and ultimately self-mastery because you may find your ego rebelling against the concept of becoming a servant. Here’s a good quote, but I can’t remember where I first read it: “A bad day for the ego is a good day for the soul.”

I hope today you have a bad day for your ego.