Life Mastery: 12 Simple Essentials for Extraordinary Living (Part I of III)

“One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself” –Leonardo da Vinci           

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once. But I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” --Bruce Lee

      I love personal development. Who doesn’t? I love it so much that it becomes my profession to help others develop themselves. In my over 30 years of experience in the field, I found two myths about personal growth: it is complex, and you need many outside tools.                       

     The truth is: it can be eloquently simple, and you have a lot of built-in resources.                 

     The purpose of this series of articles is to show you how you can live an extraordinary life by mastering these twelve essentials that are readily accessible. Once you master the basics, the rest becomes natural.                 

     We want to be lifetime learners, not perpetual pupils. The key to mastery is practice consistently and self-adjust as needed. Become a master of your own LIFE and you will be able to master other things in life.                 

     These twelve life mastery essentials are all practical and doable at no cost or extremely low cost. If you apply this regularly and consistently, you will build a solid foundation for your life to continue to blossom and nourish. Don’t wait, start today!     


1. MORNING

  “Lose an hour in the morning, and you will spend all day looking for it.” --Richard Whately 

     There is a Chinese idiom that goes something like: Your morning determines your day. Meaning, how you start your day has a lot of bearing on how fruitful the rest of your day will be. I remember in my elementary textbook there is one lesson that talks about how you can have many more years of life by getting up two hours earlier every morning. Although I did not really get up two hours early back then, the idea planted a seed in my mind. I also remember another childhood poem teaching us if you go to bed early and get up early, you will be happy all day long.

     The first time I discovered the beauty of early morning was when I read a book in my teenage years that talks about how serene morning hours are. That is when the world is still asleep, when your mind is clear, and there is not much outside noise and distraction. Whether you want to use that time for meditation, for reading, for study or simply personal reflection, it will be so much more effective. Motivated by the book, I started to get up early since my teenage years. I would get up as early as 3, 4 or 5 am. I would spend an hour for my “quiet time” or “morning devotion,” then have my breakfast, then study. My bedroom is facing the east. I could see the sun rising and the sky changing color every morning. I truly thought that morning is a best-kept secret, especially since the place I grew up was highly populated. The quiet morning hours proved to be extra precious. When I went to school as my classmates were barely awake, I had already risen up for hours and “accomplished” a lot. I had the habit of “sleep first, study later.” I have confidence that when I wake up the next morning, I will be fully energized and refreshed to meet the challenge of the day. “As thy morning, so is thy strength.” I truly live the truth of “do not worry about tomorrow, it suffices to care for the day.”

     Now I am many years beyond my teenage, high school years, yet I still enjoy my morning very much. There are numerous books devoted entirely to the subject and how to maximize your morning hours and develop great morning routines. Getting up early is one of the most common habits that a lot of great and successful people have. As a coach, when I ask some of my clients what is the one habit that will have tremendous impact on their life, quite a few times “getting up early” comes up and for those who do change their get up time, the result could be life changing.

     I don’t think there is one formula that fits all. You may want to create and pre-plan your own morning activities that work for you and change it from time to time to bring some freshness. The key is: morning is a gift. Give yourself the gift of morning (that doesn’t cost anything by the way) and start your day well. The more you fall in love with morning, the easier it is for you to fall in love with the rest of the day.              


2. MANTRA

“Mantras bring out all the positive energy inside you. A mantra creates the sense of armor around your body.” 

--Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

      A number of years ago, when I did my year-end reflection, I spontaneously captured what I learned that year into a few phrases and referred to them from time to time. Those have become my mantras and every year ever since I revised my mantras and they become my anchor, my north pole, a center that I can fall back to as often as I want to. Just a few words can give me an instant energy boost and help shift my perspective and put me in a much better state. It is a habit formed organically.

     Today’s world is flooded with information, ideas, opinions. Our mental space is filled with excessive knowledge and news that often are neither true nor necessary. Many people suffer from intellectual obesity without even realizing it. If we are not careful, our minds will be programmed by others, and we become mental robots passively following orders and going through the motion. When our mind is constantly bombarded with uninvited advertisements and dramatized news stories, no wonder we always feel insecure and a sense of lack. 

     Consciously come up with phrases that instantly empower you and put them into memory is like installing a good program into your mind. If you don’t program your mind, others will program for you, with or without your permission. There is evidence that a thought when repeated over times becomes a belief and a lot of beliefs are limiting. They even leave a physical grove in the brain. To have mantras intentionally is like regrooving your brain into a better shape. You want to memorize and recall these empowering phrases before you go to bed, when you wake up, when you are bored, waiting in line, get lost or feel confused. A few examples are: “the essential is invisible,” “less is more,” “the present is perfect”, “I can handle it,” “it so shall pass,” etc. These simple phrases carry a lot of truth. Repetition is a great way to internalize a truth. You may want to come up with your own customized mantras and as you grow, your mantras will also evolve. Personally, I like the number ten and usually have ten phrases that I use as my mantras. For me, mantras work magic.



3. MOVEMENT

 “Movement is a medicine for creating change in a person’s physical, emotional, and mental states.” 

--Carol Welch

      Do you realize that nothing stays still, everything is moving? The air you breathe is moving, the cloud in the sky is moving, the own blood is circulating. If you can look very closely, the atoms that make up your cell phone are also moving.

     Whereas thanks to technology that many things in the past that take hours to do, we can now just press a button and behold, it is done! Life seems to be easier and easier and yet we have become busier and busier. Whereas we now have the vehicles to take us to the moon, we oftentimes glue ourselves to the chair and stare at the screen for eight hours or more every day. Modern life is simply too sedentary. Many people are having back pain, neck pain, wrist pain way too young. We are meant to move. Even people in coma have to have their bodies turned from time to time to make sure there will be no secondary infection.

     You want to make sure you are moving your body adequately every day. That is something you can do and will do daily no matter what the weather is like, no matter how many meetings you have, even when you are riding in a plane you can get up and move to allow good circulation especially when it is a long flight. If you move to the point that you sweat, that is even better. Sweating has so many health benefits that we often overlook. Come up with movements that you can do by yourself. You can always invite others to join you, but you have to be your first and all-time guest who will never fail to show up. Something that you can do with no or minimal equipment. You can take a walk, do any kind of body exercise: skipping, hula-hoop, jumper jack. If you want to be more sophisticated, you can look up some really cool exercises that come as a game. Start with something handy, something that you can find absolutely no excuse not to do on a daily basis.

     Movement also affects your mood. Just taking a walk in the morning and saying “hi” to fellow walkers simply feels good. The key is, whatever you do, make it simple and do it consistently. Do something you enjoy, make it a treat rather than a chore. Once you see the good result it has on your sleep, your waistline, your energy, you will keep on doing it. If you can stick to it even for just 15 minutes a day, it will make a huge difference in your overall well-being. If you can’t spare even 15 minutes for your body to take priority, you are really too busy.

     Remember, your body is your vehicle to go about in life. And you only have one and only one of those. It deserves the best kind of maintenance. Once you have the habit of moving, it will keep on moving. Once you stop moving for a while, it may need way more effort to pick it up. Therefore, sophistication is not the key, consistency is. Remember Newton’s law of motions: “An object at rest remains at rest, and an object in motion remains in motion.”

     People today live much longer in general. Lifespan can be prolonged yet life quality is not a given. Movement is an important factor to make sure your quality-of-life matches, if not exceeds, your quantity of life. It may be the easiest to do, yet has tremendous leverage.


4. MOOD

 “You are the sky, everything else is just the weather.” --Pema Chodron

     When you first see the word “mood,” what comes to mind? Feeling? Emotion? State? For the purpose of this book, I would use the word loosely to mean all of the above. 

     If you live a day in which you feel good all your waking moments, I bet you will say “this is a good day!” And yet reality is you find people feeling depressed, stressed, anxious, overwhelmed everywhere. When you turn on the news on TV or the Youtube on the internet, your mood will be affected if you are not careful. When you turn on your computer and see your inbox, you feel overwhelmed. When you look at the meetings you have and the deadlines you need to meet, your blood pressure goes up. How can we stay calm and tranquil in a world that is so full of things that are agitating and disturbing? 

     Reality is…reality. It is what it is. It is seldom purely good or absolutely bad. There is really no isolated incident. Oftentimes we get disturbed because we focus our attention on one particular point. And if you look so closely at that one point, it gets magnified. If you just step back and look at it from a wider angle, a greater perspective, you don’t just see the point, you see the whole web of things that lead to that particular incident. Suddenly, the point doesn’t look that big any more. When you realize this, you can instantly get back to a better state by shifting your perspective, not changing the circumstances. Once you step back, calm down, find your center, you actually have more clarity and things become clearer and you will be more in touch with the wisdom within. You will then know naturally what you need to or need not do regarding the moment. 

     If your mood is affected, it becomes a veil that clouds your vision. Everything you see is veiled by your mood and your skewed perception is not going to help the situation but only depletes your own energy. On the other hand, when you step back and adjust your own lens, you may find that many of the things that bother you in the first place are actually your reaction to your own interpretation or prediction or assumption of what the incident means to you, not the incident itself. You may have stored in your system data and files that lead to that reaction. Oftentimes those data and files are neither accurate nor complete. 

     Every time when you feel an emotion it is actually some unfinished business in your system get hit or stimulated. Something is crying out for your attention. And the best way to deal with it is to allow your emotion to run its course. Don’t suppress, don’t react. Stay centered and allow your system to be cleansed by this rush of emotion. After all, emotion is energy-in-motion. So rather than acting like a thermometer, be a thermostat. You may feel the fluctuation of your mood from time to time throughout the day, just notice the change and allow yourself space to let the emotion arise and subside, just like waves that come and go, or clouds that pass through the sky. Make it a game as to see how long it takes for the ocean to become calm and the sky to become clear again.   

     Mood is like the weather, your “self” or “essence” or “being” is like the sky. There are many reasons and forces causing the change of weather. Likewise past experiences, unchallenged assumptions, subjective interpretations may all disturb your natural state and show up as emotions, some kind of reactive energies. If you are not attached to the weather, weather is what makes life interesting. No weather ever stays. Likewise, sometimes you may feel overwhelmed, sometimes you feel loved, excited, anxious… this is what makes life colorful. You experience all these emotions, yet you know these are only on the surface. You don’t get attached to the emotion but rather look at them as a way to understand yourself more. What are your moods trying to tell you? What are your buttons that are being pushed? What are some unfinished businesses in your system that are being unfolded? Maybe that is an opportunity for you to deal with those or simply let them go. 

     Remember, beneath your mood or emotions is actually an unending stream of fresh water, some call it joy, some call it life energy, some call it happiness for no reason. Just turn your attention there, and you will find that it is always there.