Tag Archive | Self-Mastery

Obstacle Immunity

The outer obstacle is an illusion. The inner obstacle is all there is.

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

How can I achieve what Joe de Senna calls ‘obstacle immunity’?

Obstacle immunity is Antifragility. It is not a state, but a process, an endless practice.

Realize that the real obstacle is always within yourself. The real obstacle is your perceptions and emotions.

We view reality through a filter of meaning. Perception is interpretation. The interpretation produces the emotional response. The emotional response shapes your behavior, and with it, the trajectory of your life.

Obstacle immunity is perception mastery and emotional mastery.

Perception mastery is meaning mastery – the capacity to see the poetry in any and everything –, and attention mastery – the capacity to optimally direct attention.

Emotional mastery is recovery mastery – the capacity to return to tranquility/stillness from any point.


Mastery Map

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What do you want to master in this life?”


“If you were to depict it as a map, what would it look like?”

“Like this:

On Self-Mastery

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is Self-Mastery?”

“What does it make you think of?”

“It makes me think of Willpower and Self-Control.”

“We could say,

Self-Mastery is Discipline.

The capacity to do what needs to be done regardless of how you feel about it. (Positive Willpower)

The capacity to keep your impulses in check and delay gratification. (Negative Willpower)

Discipline is one essential aspect of it.

Now, think what happens when you’re facing a perceived threat in the environment.”

“Your sympathetic system kicks in, which shuts down your prefrontal cortex (cortical inhibition) and triggers the Fight-Flight-Freeze (FFF) mode.”

“To be able to function effectively in this situation requires the capacity to calm yourself down, relax, and regain control. 

Moreover, in the words of George Leonard,

Relaxation is essential for the full expression of power.

“Josh Waitkin has a similar one:

To turn it on, learn to turn it off.

“Same thing.

The better you can turn it off, the more powerfully you can turn in on.

So we could say, 

Self-Mastery is Relaxation Mastery.

This is another essential aspect of it.

And yet another essential aspect of it has to do with emotions.

Most of our failings are due to the incapacity to deal with emotional discomfort

Unpleasant feelings subtly shape the trajectory of your life. Certain things trigger unpleasant feelings, so you avoid them. What you avoid is not the things themselves – they’re neutral –, but dealing with those unpleasant feelings.

The outer obstacle is an illusion. The inner obstacle is all there is.

Your capacity to deal with unpleasant feelings narrows or expands your possibility-horizon.

We could say, 

Self-Mastery is Emotional Mastery.

“Reminds me of a quote by Karla McLaren from her book The Art of Empathy

When your emotional skills are poor, people won’t meet you. They will meet your emotional reactivity and your problems with whichever emotion has arisen.

“That’s my life story.

Only now that I’ve made Emotional Mastery the central focus of my life have I begun to understand it and get better at it. So many people never do.

I still have a very long way to go.”

On keeping impulses in check

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How can I keep this impulse in check?”

“First of all, create space [<link; medium length] for reflection by temporarily distancing yourself from the situation. Ideally, physically change location, or go for a walk.

Secondly, ask the meta-question:

Can I ask a better question?

The question you ask influences the kinds of answers you explore.


How can I keep this impulse in check?
How can I make keeping this impulse in check EFFORTLESS?

The two questions take you on very different paths.”

“How can I make it effortless?”

Remember WHY you want to keep it in check. 

If you have a compelling enough reason, you have your answer.

If don’t have a compelling reason, CREATE ONE. This means gaining clarity on who you want to be and what you want from life, and creating a deeply compelling vision for your life, one that will serve as your guide and as backdrop for your every action.”

Conquering addiction

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“I love Magic the Gathering. For many reasons. The problem is, for me, it has addictive qualities. It’s immensely engaging. When I start playing, I find it hard to stop. I can literally play it all day. 

I’ve had several failed attempts to keep it in check in the past. Until now.”

“Isn’t it too early to tell?”

“I’m not basing my conclusion just on the recent successes, but on the system I have in place.

I like to think of Magic as two games in one. The actual game, and the meta-game of keeping it under control and looking for ways to transfer insights and concepts from Magic to the Meta-Game (with capital letters) that is my life – what I call The Beautiful Game [<link; medium read].”

“So meta-game is a higher order game, and Meta-Game (with capital letters) is the highest order game.”


The system is part of the meta-game. Optimizing the system is also part of the meta-game.”

“What does the system look like?”

“It has several components.

How long did I play today? 

This is a key aspect. When playing Magic I have a tendency to lose track of time. Moreover, the impulse to play it activates repeatedly throughout the day. By tracking it, I can tell at a glance that I’ve reached the limit for the day.

Observation/Embodiment (Presence)
What is noteworthy?
How do I feel?

This has to do with noticing certain impulses / desires as they arise, and creating space [<link; short read] for decision-making. It also has to do with noticing cognitive biases and the fluctuations of my emotional state.

What’s the best decision? (pre-decision)
Was it the best decision? (post-decision)
Why did I make that decision?
What were the failure-points?
What can I learn from this?

This has to do with decision-analysis, identifying failure-points and behavioral-patterns, troubleshooting and optimizing, and inner exploration. 

Buffering/Back-up (Preparation)
What are the red-flags?
What will I do when I fail?

This has to do with highlighting and preparing for conditions that are likely to lead to poor decision-making, and creating a protocol for dealing with failure.

Intention-Setting (Priming)
What’s the practice?

This is perhaps the most important of all. Having a system in place is useless if you don’t apply it. I noticed I have a tendency to forget, so I have all these written down and I read them right before starting to play.”

Extraordinary Life

If you want to live an extraordinary life, you have to give up many of the things that make up an ordinary one. (Srinivas Rao)

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“I want to live an extraordinary life.”

“What do you mean by extraordinary life?”

An extraordinary life is a Creative life.

An extraordinary life is a life of Meaning.

An extraordinary life is a continuous and never-ending process of BECOMING.

An extraordinary life is a Heroic life, 
a life dedicated to Perfecting and Transcending the Self,
to becoming ALL you can be, in Service to the World.

To live an extraordinary life you must BECOME EXTRAORDINARY.”

The pleasure of NOT satisfying your desires

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“Why do you desire x?”

“Because it’s pleasurable.”

“Pleasure is not a good guide for action, and neither is desire, because they can lead you astray.”

“Then what is a good guide for action?”


Ask yourself always:

Is this a beautiful desire / pleasure?
Is it good for you? (Does it interfere with other systems of your life?)

If the answer is no, ELIMINATE it.

Is it useful / meaningful?
Does it grow you?
Does it help you achieve your deeply important goals?
Does it beautifully fit into the larger tapestry of your masterpiece life?

If the answer to all these questions is no, ELIMINATE it.

I call these filter-questions.”

“Easier said than done.”

“You can cultivate desires, and you can cultivate pleasures.

An important aspect of the Art of (Playful) Living is cultivating the right desires / pleasures.

Cultivate the desire to not be a slave to your desires/pleasures, to have the Willpower to let go of ANYTHING that does not serve you.

You’ll discover the deep pleasure of being in control of yourself. It’s one of the most beautiful pleasures there are.”