The Self-Mastery Muscle

Weight TrainingGood morning! I want to talk about equating Self Mastery to a muscle. Think about the muscles in your body and how you go about exercising them. Have you have ever gone to a gym and lifted weights on a bench press before? Suppose you’ve never done this and you decide you’re going to get in shape by lifting weights at the gym. You start your training by putting 300 pounds of weights on the barbell. When you go to lift the barbell with 300 pounds on it, guess what? You’re going to fail! There’s no doubt about it, you’re going to fail. It’s just too much weight for you to lift. You can’t start off lifting 300 pounds! You have to start off with any easy weight, a weight you can manage, something that you’re able and capable of lifting.

When you work on muscles, you have to start off with a weight you can lift and then gradually work your way up. So maybe you have to start off at 110 pounds. Let’s say you do the 110 pounds for a while and you do it long enough to where it now becomes easier. So the next thing you do is you add 10 pounds to that. Now you’re lifting 120 pounds. You work on that for a while until it becomes easier. When 120 pounds becomes easier then you add 10 more pounds. You continue on up like this, gradually adding more and more weight to strengthen the muscles in your arms.

We can relate it also to running. I can remember training for my first marathon. A marathon is 26.2 miles long. My good wife Lisa was my trainer. We didn’t start off by doing a 26-mile run. We didn’t even start off doing a 5-mile run. I don’t think I had ever even run more than five miles in my life. I couldn’t even run a full mile when I began my training. I’ll never forget the first time we ran three miles. I distinctly remember that when we completed the three miles I collapsed on the ground gasping for air. I remember that I was so thrilled that I had actually run three miles! It was a major accomplishment for me.

The way we trained for the marathon was to run two miles every morning, Monday through Thursday, and then rest on Friday. Then on Saturdays we would do a long run. Each Saturday morning we would add a mile or two to our long runs. So our first long run was three miles. Then the next week our long run was four miles. Then five miles the next week. Gradually, week after week, we worked our way up to where our final training run before the marathon was 24 miles. I remember that day, running the 24-mile long run, and thinking back to our first three-mile run and thinking, “Wow! Three miles is nothing! Running three miles is so easy!” Now we were running 24 miles! We worked up to it gradually over time. If we would have tried to run 24 miles that first day it would have been a huge failure and I would have given up and would have never completed a marathon.

So how does that relate to self-mastery? Well, every thing about a marathon is self-mastery! But a marathon, like weight lifting, teaches us that you can’t do it all at once and this applies to self-mastery in other areas of your life. You can’t change everything all at once.

So I’m relating this all to self-mastery and the changes that you want to make in your life. If self-mastery is like a muscle then you must work on it like you would work on a muscle. You must strengthen that self-mastery muscle by starting off with small and easy things and then gradually work your way up.

So how do you do this? I suggest you look at your life and determine what needs to change. Make a list of all the changes you would like to make. Then take one thing and focus on it. Work on it for a week or two until it becomes easy for you. Then begin the next thing. Gradually strengthen your self-mastery muscle one change at a time.

I have been doing this for a while. In fact I started on August 1st of this year and made some major commitments to myself of changes I desire to make.

More recently, as part of this process, I have focused on exercising every morning except Sundays. That’s what I focused on and now it has become a habit and even perhaps an addiction – a positive addiction.

Currently I am focused on getting to bed on time every night. When I get good at that then I will move on to my next goal. I have a series of improvements that I want to make in my life that I call my self-mastery goals. I can’t do them all at once. So I work on one thing at a time until it becomes a habit, until I strengthen that self-mastery muscle. Then I move on to the next one.

So in summary, the message for today is that self-mastery is like a muscle which needs to be exercised in a gradual, progressive way. Examine your life, determine what you want to change, and then work on one thing at a time.

Master Yourself, Master Your Life

Thank you.

Copyright © 2013 Gary N. Larson

13 Life Lessons from Running My First Marathon

The Finish LineI have run thirteen marathons so far in my life and each was an amazing experience in itself. However, none of the marathons I have run compares with the experience of running my first one. It was one of those events in life you never forget. I would like to share with you that experience and the life lessons I learned from it.

Many years ago I made a list of things I wanted to accomplish sometime in my life. On my list were things like traveling around the world, getting a pilot’s license, running a marathon, and visiting the pyramids of Egypt. I put the list away and promptly forgot about it.

A few years ago my wife found my list and was surprised to know that I had a desire to run a marathon. She stole my goal, trained for it and ran a marathon. I was totally amazed that she actually did it. In fact, I was so impressed I said to myself, if she can do it, so can I. And I did.

Running a marathon is no small thing. A marathon is 26.2 miles long or about 44,500 steps. To get a grasp of how far that distance really is, I suggest the next time you take a drive in your car to set your trip meter. Watch the miles tick off and when you get to 26.2 miles think about running that distance. Again, it is no small task.

Running a marathon is a unique experience. It is the only sports competition that I am aware of where the greenest beginner can rub shoulders with and compete with the elite athletes of the world. You don’t find that in football, or basketball, or golf or any other sport. But in a marathon, I was running with the Kenyans!

To train properly for a marathon you must begin nearly a year in advance. When I began my training I couldn’t run two miles. But week after week, month after month, with the training and guidance from my sweet wife, we gradually built up our miles. This means running 2 or 3 miles a day for four days a week, resting on Fridays and then running a longer run on Saturday mornings.

The Saturday morning training runs get longer and longer. Our final Saturday training run before the marathon was 24 miles long. On that training run we started at 5:00 a.m. It was pitch dark. On just that run we encountered many deer, a fox, a skunk, a mother raccoon and her babies, 2 owls, a rabbit and a snake. So after many such training runs totaling over 800 miles and wearing out a $75 pair of running shoes, we were ready for the St. George, Utah marathon.

We are different, in essence, from other men. If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon. –Emil Zatopek

I love that quote because it is so true. Running a marathon is truly a remarkable experience. I would like to give you a small taste of what that experience was like for me. This is taken from my personal journal.

My First Marathon Experience – from my journal dated October 1, 1999

What an awesome day! Lisa and I just ran the St. George Marathon. It went great. We got up this morning at 4:00 a.m., ate breakfast and then I shaved and took a shower. We got our running gear on and went out the door at 5:00 a.m. We walked to the busses at the park. It was still very dark. We boarded our bus and rode up to the beginning of the race.

The bus ride up was long and bumpy and by the time we got to the top I really needed to use the restroom. Luckily they had tons of porta-potties and I was able to go. That was a huge relief!

When they dropped us off it was pretty cold and we were wearing our sweats. There were huge lights lighting the whole area. Thousands of people were there to run the race. They had loud motivating music playing. It was an exciting atmosphere with everyone visiting and talking about the race. It was awesome!

To keep people warm they had lit a large number of campfires and for a while Lisa and I kept warm that way. But Mother Nature was not to leave me alone and before long I needed to go again. Now the lines at the porta-potties were very long. Since this time was not “big business,” I just went off into the bushes to go. I found myself surrounded (in the dark) by many other men and women runners doing the same thing. It was pretty weird. This was something I would never in my life imagine me doing and yet there I was sharing a moment of relief with a bunch of other fellow runners.

Well, before long it was near the time for the race to start. We took off our sweats bottoms and put them in a collection bag provided to us so we could get them back later. We met up with some friends who wanted to run with us. There was so much noise that we could hardly hear the starting gun go off, but it did. Soon we were off and running. It was still dark.

The others who were going to run with us were soon lost in the sea of runners except for Marilyn. I have to admit that I was a little bugged at first that she was running with us because I felt she was horning in on Lisa’s and my run. But her constant talking and conversation turned out to be a blessing as the miles ticked by much quicker than I had anticipated they would. She was a real blessing in disguise. She was also very spunky and pushed us enough to get us to do better than we had ever done before.

It was awe-inspiring as it got lighter to see the thousands of runners along the road like a big long snake in front of us and behind us for as far as we could see.

The Run

The water stops were every two miles and at each one I usually took one cup of Gatorade and one cup of water and mixed the two and drank it. At some water stops I took bananas to eat. They were cut up into small pieces. At two of the stops I took some of that goo stuff to eat. I think it all helped.

What an incredible experience – the whole thing from start to finish. The miles ticked off one by one. Veyo hill came and went. Then the long, gradual hill. At the top of it I wasn’t doing so well. I was getting tired and queasy in the stomach. I had a strong urge to walk. Finally after what seemed like an eternity of uphill we came to long downhills. We needed that. It was great to see down into the valley where St. George was.

Along the way there were small groups of people cheering us on. There was a helicopter flying low filming us along with a ground camera crew on four-wheelers. We tried to look good for the cameras.

Marilyn told us about her previous marriage and her family and her new marriage and her job. My, could she talk! It was interesting and kept our attention off our misery and pain and helped us pass the time.

At mile marker 16 we came to the road that goes to Snow Canyon. There were many people there cheering us on and giving us high-fives. Boy did that give me a boost.

On we went mile after mile. One of my biggest worries was my lower left leg. I had had so many problems on my training runs with my calf, my knee and my foot. Luckily my prayers were answered and I had no serious problems.

Finally we rounded the bend where you could see the city. Now there were more people cheering us on. It was great! At mile 23 Marilyn took off ahead of us. Lisa and I were slowing down. We did a lot of walking those two miles. Finally we rounded the corner to the final stretch. By this time both of my knees were starting to really hurt. We really had to push ourselves now even with the finish line in sight.

We were now at the final stretch. We were in what they call the chute where the street is lined with crowds of people on both sides. They were cheering us on. It gave us both such a boost of energy and we stepped up our pace. Then we came to the bleachers and saw our four little children cheering us on. With a burst of energy we sprinted for the finish, holding hands as we crossed it. Then we kissed each other. Wow! What a great feeling to cross that finish line! How can you possibly describe it?

The Medals

As we walked on through they put the finisher medal around each of our necks. We really earned them. And our time? Well, we told ourselves long ago we would be happy with anything between 4 ½ to 5 hours. Based on our training runs I was expecting closer to 5 hours. Well, we came in at 4 hours 29 minutes and 20 seconds. Wow, even better than we had expected. Everything went so well.

13 Life Lessons from Running My First Marathon

I hope that gives you some idea of what it was like. For the full effect you’re going to have to run a marathon yourself. Now, let me share with you 13 lessons I learned from that remarkable experience.

1. Anyone can run a marathon. I used to have a picture in my mind of what a marathon runner looked like – a wafer thin gazelle-type person from Kenya. After running my first marathon that image changed dramatically. I was amazed at the variety of people running the race. I realized that size doesn’t matter. A friend I trained with was nearly twice my weight and would consume what seemed like a gallon of Gatorade at each water stop and yet he was a much faster runner than I was. Age doesn’t matter. I can’t tell you how many old ladies passed me during that first marathon. Young, old, large, small, thin, wide, you name it, they were all running a marathon. It was amazing.

2. Coming in first doesn’t matter. Finishing does. In a marathon, everyone that crosses the finish line is a winner and receives a medal. That’s good because I certainly am not a fast runner. Just making it to the end is a major accomplishment. I think life is like that. To be successful you don’t have to have the most or be the best or the fastest – just make it gracefully to the end.

3. Make it through the trial mile. My wife and I have come to learn that the first mile of each training run was always the trial mile. It was the mile you had to get through before your heart and body warmed up and got into its rhythm. Basically you feel lousy during that first mile. But if you can make it through it you always felt better during the following miles. Some people never make it through the “trial mile” of whatever endeavor they are pursuing. So hang in there, it gets better.

4. Don’t skip the training. I have run marathons where I trained well and I have run marathons where I skimped on the training. You are so much better off when you properly train. The pain and misery and injuries that occur when you attempt something you haven’t trained well for are not worth it. Do the proper training.

5. Cheering really works. We’ve all been to sporting events and yelled and cheered for our team. I never thought it helped much until I was on the receiving end during my first marathon. It was amazing how much it increased my energy and drive when people were cheering me on. We all need cheering from time to time in our lives.

6. We need friends. Good company makes any journey more pleasant.

7. Don’t stop. Sometimes we have a tremendous urge to quit, to give up, to throw in the towel. Having the ability to overcome those urges and keep going makes all the difference in life.

8. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. When I first began training for a marathon I would start off running at a quick pace. I would do well for a mile or so and then run completely out of gas. My wife had to tell me I needed to slow down and take it easy. I had to pace myself. It wasn’t easy at first but I soon learned I couldn’t spend all I had during the first mile or I would never make it through the other 25.2 miles. In many other areas of life the same rule applies. Pace yourself.

9. You need a coach. I consider myself a fairly smart person and can figure out a lot of things on my own. But in looking back at my training for my first marathon, I can’t imagine doing it without the help of my wife who had the experience of training for and running a marathon herself. It was so great to have her lead me and guide me literally every step of the way. Don’t be too proud to let others show you the way.

10. The mind game matters. As much as we like to think that success in sports simply requires having a perfectly tuned and trained body, its much more than that. It is as much a mind game as a physical game. After all the physical preparation, much of your success has to do with what goes on in your head. And let me tell you, after 25 miles of running, some weird things can go on in there. It’s a constant mental battle that must be fought to succeed.

11. We need mile markers. In life, as well as during a marathon, we need mile markers. During the St. George marathon every mile was marked by a large silver mylar balloon. You could see it coming up from quite a distance away. If you thought about the finish line, it was so far away and seemed impossible to reach. But if you thought about just making it to the next mile marker, that seemed doable. So the immediate goal was always to just make it to the next mile marker. When you passed each one you felt a sense of progress and accomplishment. Then you would set your sights on the next one. In life, we need short-term goals to help us reach our long-term goals.

12. The more you do something, the better you get at doing it. Sounds simple enough and it is. Think about the first time you did any hard thing such as playing the piano, typing at the computer, or driving a car. They were all difficult at first and yet, as time went on and you worked at it every day, it became easier, almost second nature. Just because something is hard at first doesn’t mean you can’t do it. It just means you haven’t done it enough yet.

13. Be inspired by others. I had set a goal years ago to run a marathon. Nothing ever happened with it until I watched my wife Lisa do it. When I watched her come across that finish line I was completely amazed and inspired and decided right then that I would do it. And I did. Having a goal was nothing. Being inspired by a great woman was everything.

To conclude let me share with you one final lesson, the biggest lesson of all:

Life is like a marathon. You get out of it what you put into it.

Thank you.

Master Yourself, Master Your Life

Copyright © 2013 Gary N. Larson

An Overpowering Mission in Life

One of the greatest tragedies in this world are those who fail to find and achieve their purpose or mission in life. This article will help you discover what your mission in life is. 

A number of years ago I took my family to ride an old-time train powered by a massive steam engine. Before that train could move, the water temperature in the boiler had to reach two hundred and twelve degrees. Water will not generate steam at two hundred degrees. Even two hundred and ten degrees will not create the steam to move a train. For water to boil and steam to be generated it must reach the temperature of two hundred and twelve degrees. Lukewarm water will not move anything.

I believe the vast majority of people in life are like the train trying to move with lukewarm water – almost boiling but never quite there. They wonder why their life is stalled, why they never seem to be able to move forward. They work hard but success seems to elude them.

The temperature difference between water that is boiling and water that is not is only a degree or two but the difference in results can be dramatic. In the same sense the difference between a person with an overpowering mission in life and someone who is merely living life can seem small but the results are without comparison.

Achievers have an overpowering mission

One of the greatest tragedies in this world are those who fail to find and achieve their purpose or mission in life. The world is full of those whose daily existence is simply working for the weekend, plugging along until retirement or simply wondering whether they are in the right place doing the right thing. They know deep down inside that something is missing, that they are not doing what they do best. We each have only one life to live. How terrible it would be to come to the end of your life and realize you did not live to your fullest God-given potential.

The greatest achievements in this world have all been made by people with an overpowering mission. Like the steam that drives a locomotive, an overpowering mission drives every life of achievement. Think about every person of great accomplishment that you know of. Is it not true that each one had an overpowering mission?

Can you imagine Michael Jordan, Steven Spielberg, Mother Teresa, Christopher Columbus, Thomas Edison, Orville and Wilbur Wright, Mozart, or Henry Ford simply working for retirement, checking off the days on their calendars for when they can sit back and relax and watch TV? Ludicrous to even think about! No, these people were driven like a screaming locomotive. They each had an overpowering mission and there was no stopping them.

“The world always steps aside for people who know where they’re going.”
– Miriam Viola Larsen

What is an overpowering mission in life?

Call it a quest, a calling, a passion, a grand purpose, or a reason for being. A mission in life isn’t something you force on yourself. It is something you discover within. You are born with it. It is coded in your DNA. It flows in your blood and is written in your heart. It is not something that is separate from you. It is as much a part of you as stripes are a part of a zebra. You cannot get away from it. It eats with you, sleeps with you, and goes wherever you are because it is a part of you.

“Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.”
– Helen Keller

Once you find your mission your imagination is engaged and you have purpose. You have a reason for getting up in the morning. It fuses your values, beliefs, thoughts and actions into one unified force. It gives you a definition of who you are. Your mission is something that excites you, that drives you. When you are living your mission you look forward to every day. You live life with passion!

“We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about.”
– Albert Einstein

Where does an overpowering mission come from?

I believe the creation of this world was not a mistake or some grand fluke of nature. It was created for a divine purpose. It was created as a place for God to send His children to learn and to grow and to develop their gifts and talents to their fullest. Each of us were sent here with certain things to learn and certain missions to perform. I believe in a Grand Design for everything.

“I cannot believe that God would choose to play dice with the universe.”
– Albert Einstein

It is my belief that each of us has been sent to this earth with a divine mission from God and it is one of the main purposes of life to discover it and pursue it.

Do you have an overpowering mission?

When I was in my late teens I had a good friend named Paul. In fact we roomed together for a while. I liked Paul a lot but there was one thing that really bugged me about him – he knew and had always known that when he grew up he would be a doctor. It never was a question in his mind. The reason it bugged me was the fact that I had no idea at that time what I wanted to do with my life and he did. It just didn’t seem fair.

Looking back I can see I had many clues and signs back then. But I didn’t see them!

Some of us come forth from our mother’s womb knowing our mission and purpose in life. Others of us, like myself, have a long struggle before the light finally turns on and we see clearly what our overpowering mission in life is.

One of the problems many of us face is that we have suppressed and denied for so long the feelings and yearnings inside us that they no longer come with the power and force they once did.

It’s like the puppy that follows the little boy home. The boy wants the puppy in a terrible way but knows his mother will never let him have it. So he tells the puppy to go away but of course it doesn’t. He yells at it but the puppy just keeps happily following him, wagging its little tail. It’s a persistent little puppy that won’t go away no matter what the boy tries. Finally, out of frustration the little boy picks up a rock and throws it at the puppy and with a yelp it runs off. It will be a long time before that puppy tries to follow the boy home again.

Too many of us have chased off our dreams and desires for so long that they rarely come back and if they do, they are timid and weak. That doesn’t mean they aren’t real and they aren’t important. They are still there. It just may take some coaxing to get them to come out again.

How do you discover your overpowering mission?

“Know thyself, and to thine own self be true, then thou canst not be false with any man.”
Shakespeare

There are many books and articles written on this subject. One particular book I own devotes over 150 pages with endless exercises and quizzes to help you discover your mission in life. I believe this type of introspection can be helpful but if it takes 150 pages to get you to find your mission in life, is it really an overpowering mission? I think it is much less complicated than that. There should be some rather large clues in your life and that is where you should look.

My own personal experience may be of some help to you. After I got married I began a career in the computer field. How was that chosen? My wife and my mother-in-law sat me down one day and succeeded in persuading me to go in that direction because there was good money to be made in computers. So for nineteen years of my life and over a million lines of computer code later I realized I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life doing that. But what then did I really want to do?

I began an earnest undertaking of finding out what I really should be doing with my life. A huge advantage I had was that I have kept a personal journal and have written in it nearly every day for the last 26 years of my life. So I began the rather large task of reviewing my journals from the first to the last. Frankly, I was amazed at what I found. I found over forty-three journal entries where I had expressed a deep desire to teach personal achievement, personal improvement, or personal change. My, how many times did that little dog come after me and I shooed him away or ignored him? Let me share one example from my journal, dated many years ago:

I wish I had the time each night to write down all the feelings that I have, but I never seem to have the time. I’ve been wanting to write about some ideas and aspirations I’ve been having lately, so here I go.

I like my job and it pays me very well. But sometimes I get the feeling that I have more to contribute in life besides computer programs. I sit at work each day and look at a little saying in front of my desk. It says, ‘Find out what you do best, then do it.’ I feel like I’m a good programmer and I do a good job at it. But I don’t feel that that is the thing I do best. I truly feel that I have an inborn ability to speak to people, to teach, to motivate, to give presentations to other people. The times when I have had opportunities to do this I have done very well, and most important, I have enjoyed it very much.

But how does one change from being a programmer to someone who teaches, speaks to, and motivates people? And also isn’t there a little vanity involved here? I mean, who am I to come out and say I can do these things and why do I want to do them? For the glory or recognition? I don’t want to be like that but how do you avoid it?

Plus what about my poor wife and her feelings and concerns – especially about family security? Here she thought I was all set and content in a nice career and now I’m thinking about changing. Is she going to think now that I’ll never be content at doing anything?

So, I shooed the puppy away then and every other time he came romping back into my thoughts. But he always came back. Finally I couldn’t deny it any longer. I had to pursue this powerful, overmastering desire; this mission in life.

“While goals are chosen, a purpose is discovered. Our purpose is something we have been doing all along, and will continue to do, regardless of circumstances, until the day we die.”
– Peter McWilliams

I don’t have a magic formula to give you in finding your life’s mission. I will say that it may take some deep thought, some making of lists and some review of your life thus far. For some this will be easy. For others it may take some coaxing to get the puppy to come back. Just be patient. You have the rest of your life ahead of you. You want to get it right!

“The secret of man’s being is not only to live but to have something to live for. Without a stable conception of the object of life, man would not consent to go on living.”
-The Grand Inquisitor in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov

It’s never too late

I have run a number of marathons. Each time I do I am amazed at the number of people who are older than me who not only run marathons but beat me to the finish! I will be running along, thinking I’m doing well and then a short, stubby, seventy-year old woman passes me up! It’s incredible! Life does not end when you turn forty, or sixty or even eighty. The history books are filled with people who have accomplished great things in the latter years of their lives.

I have always liked the saying that goes:

“Did you stop doing the things you did when you were young because you are old or are you old because you stopped doing the things you did when you were young?”

Read that again if you have to. I feel there is much to be learned from that statement. I once listened to a tape by the author Dr. Wayne W. Dyer. On the tape he asked a series questions to get you to think about yourself. One of my favorite questions he asked was this, “If you didn’t know how old you were, if there was no record of your birth, how old would you be?” His point was that the idea of how old you are has more to do with your thinking than with your birth certificate.

Many adults have the impression that once they pass a certain age they can never achieve or accomplish much. They feel their opportunities are lost. I say baloney! Every day that you wake up above ground is a day of opportunity!

The person who discovers or resurrects their overpowering mission late in life should not let age or time or circumstances get in their way. No matter how long they may have been delayed from it by mistakes or missteps, they should make a solemn resolve that they will not leave this life without pursuing and accomplishing their dream.

Clues from God

Our passions, longings and desires that arise from our heart are not just vain imaginations or hopeless dreams. They are the pointers, the clues, the guides to our possibilities. They are the prophecies, predictions, and blueprints of what we may become.

The honeybee doesn’t have an instinct to gather nectar without a real flower to match it; nor has the Creator planted within us yearnings and desires and dreams for a better, fuller, life without the possibility of achieving it. There is a divine reason and purpose behind our genuine desires.

I don’t believe there is anybody anywhere in this world that can be truly happy until they have found their true passion, their true heart’s desire, their overpowering mission in life and then followed and pursued it to the ends of the earth.

Copyright © 2013 Gary N. Larson