Building Mastery

There’s a skill that we’ve been working on in DBT called “building mastery”. This is the process of doing something new/difficult/fulfilling in some way and feeling a sense of accomplishment after you do it. You don’t have to complete the entire project (get in shape or graduate from college), but rather every time you take steps towards getting something done you are building mastery. Building mastery also doesn’t have to be anything huge, it simply has to result in that special feeling that can be describe in no way except “I did a Thing”. This is about building a self-identity through feeling accomplished. Generally these things should be guided by your values, so that they contribute to feeling as if you’ve done something worthwhile.


I’ve been struggling with this skill lately, and it’s something that I think many people misunderstand and could use some work on. So we’re going to do some building mastery of building mastery today.


I’ve noticed among many of my friends, particularly the accomplishment minded of us, we discount all of the work or effort that we put into something until we have reached the end point, and then we simply nod and move on to doing something else. Rarely do we take the time to look at our accomplishment and accept it as something we’ve done and done well. This is a serious problem, especially as we’re part of a culture that expects us to be endless wheels of perfect accomplishment. Particularly for the women among us, perfection is apparently a prerequisite of acceptability, and the number of things we need to be perfect at just keeps on growing.


So how can we fight back against a culture that tells us we should always be getting more done? How do we retrain our minds to accept the things we’ve accomplished and praise ourselves for them? This is something I’m struggling with myself, but here are my suggestions so far:


1.When you finish something, do more than cross it off the to-do list. Give yourself a reward, take a break, or spend some time thinking about what you just did. Let it sink in that you got something done.


2.Make sure you check the facts at the end of the day. It’s so easy to discount all the things you did when looking at the endless list of things that still need to be done. Sit down and honestly think to yourself about what you did today. It’s probably a lot more than you think.


3.When doing 1 or 2, try to honestly compliment yourself about some element of what you did, or at the very least think about the effort it took and the impact of your success. This doesn’t have to be big. I’m sick today, so if I manage to get clothes on and leave the house that will be a huge success because of the effort it took to get there. It’s incredibly easy to just assume you should have been able to do everything you did, so it doesn’t count. That’s not true. Everything you do is a victory for you. Let it sink in, don’t brush past it.


4.It’s especially easy to ignore your progress across time. If you’re working on something like getting in shape, it can be a good idea to keep a record of how you’re doing so that you can look back and see how things have changed. This is especially true for things like depression and anxiety. Often we don’t notice when we’re getting better. Keeping a diary card like this one of how you’re feeling each day is a good way to notice when you improve. Pay attention to that! Even if you don’t write down how things have changed, spend some time thinking about how far you’ve come in the last year, what changes you’ve made, what you’ve done. I’ll bet if you think about all of it you’ll feel pretty darn accomplished.


5.Avoid the comparison game. Your accomplishments are yours, and they don’t lose importance because someone else did more or better or different.


I’ve been trying to keep these things in mind when I get things done each day. While it still doesn’t make me feel like master of the universe, I have felt less of that anxious bug that tells me do more, do more, do more! When you stop feeling as if every second of the day needs to be spent accomplishing something, anxiety and exhaustion really disappear. So today I’m patting myself on the back for writing this post, for getting up and taking care of all the animals, for finishing my Lumosity workout, for reading all my regular bogs, for writing a blog for work, and for checking all of my work email even though I am sick. And it’s not even noon! I think I should reward myself with a nap.

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