Mastering Your Self, Mastering Your World: Living by the Serenity Prayer

Mastering Your Self, Mastering Your World: Living by the Serenity Prayer

by John William Reich


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Mastering Your Self, Mastering Your World: Living by the Serenity Prayer by John William Reich

Our lives are conducted within a dynamic, vibrant, but often challenging context of desirable, undesirable, and even threatening life experiences. A rewarding life in the face of these experiences depends on our ability to engage and maintain a sense of personal mastery as we go through life. Psychologists have uncovered some of the key principles of mastery-infused living. This book presents many examples of some of the key distinctions among our experiences in our daily living, highlighting how our well-being is centrally based on how we engage our personal mastery beliefs and actions in navigating these varied types of life experience. Studies show that mastery can be strengthened through training. A number of mastery-enhancing treatments have been developed in research and clinical practice and are presented here in an accessible format emphasizing how they can be adopted by the individual reader. These tests consistently show positive benefits for physical and mental health. Rethinking our lives and our experiences from a personal mastery template can be a key to a more successful life.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781782797272
Publisher: Hunt, John Publishing
Publication date: 01/30/2015
Pages: 290
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Dr. John Reich has recently retired from his position as a Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University, now bringing tested principles of psychology to the general public.

Read an Excerpt

Mastering Your Self, Mastering Your World

Living by the Serenity Prayer

By John William Reich

John Hunt Publishing Ltd.

Copyright © 2014 John William Reich
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78279-727-2


Paying Attention to Your Daily Events

To begin, let me make a prediction about people, including you and me, and see if you agree with me. Suppose that we take a randomly-selected person and observe that person for a 24-hour period of their daily living. Subtracting out their sleeping time when they are not deliberately active, what guess would you make about what they will be doing during that time?

Although they might at first appear to be doing seemingly different and varied things during the day, I predict that they will be engaging in two general classes of actions that will be easily observable to all of us. I am pretty sure that in any ordinary day, any person will be: (1) trying to get the things they want and (2) they will be trying to avoid things that they do not want. I will predict the same for you and for me as well. It is indeed a simple interpretation of our behavior, and I am guessing that you may think it is too simple. Surely there is more to us than that. But even if it were a true picture of our personal daily actions, I will argue in this book that it would still only be half of the story. It focuses too much on the individual person as an active, independent entity and it does not say enough about the external world where we conduct our lives. Focusing just on the person has the rather perverse effect of leading us to ignore that person's environment, where a continuous blizzard of events is always in action. This external environment which we call "reality" has a way of intruding in our lives, and our success at pursuing these two goals is sometimes helped and sometimes hindered by the world in which we live. I hope that you would join me in wanting to help you achieve both types of goals. That was my reason for writing this book.

The Goal of Self-Actualization

Social science research has learned a lot about how we strive to achieve a satisfying life by pursing those two general goals, actually more than you might suspect. While much of this groundbreaking work is stored away in technical journals, my aim here is to collect systematically those research findings in this one book and to bring them to your attention in nontechnical language (as much as possible). My career-long premise is that social science research is highly relevant to the individual person, you and me, and it can help everyone improve their lives. It is my statement of faith that you can adopt as your own the principles of human happiness (both types) presented in this book and in doing so you will find your own personal paths to your goals more open and effective for you.

Human society has evolved many varieties of individual, family, and societal structures to foster our quests for a better life. Nearly every aspect of human social organization in one way or another has been developed to support what is basically a human motivation for self-actualization, to use rather academic language coined by Abraham Maslow. He meant that we are motivated for action to fulfill all of our potential. You can think of this "self-ish" motivation as a master motive to be all that we can be.

But of course this self-ishness is not the only engine driving our life. Helping others actualize their own capacities is nearly equally dominant in human social consciousness. We strive to help our children, our family, our acquaintances and even total strangers to achieve their maximum potential as well. There are many examples of entities we have created to help people grow their strengths and conquer their weaknesses. The examples of these social entities are everywhere around us in our environment: Education, healthcare, charity, and even government itself are all mechanisms we develop to make sure that people get what they need to achieve their maximum potential. We can call this second process "other-actualization" for want of a neater term.

One important value of the personal mastery approach to life is that, even in the face of a lot of uncontrollable events which might occur in your experiences, your belief in your own personal mastery can still be intact. Every day we see instances of how people respond to undesirable events by bouncing back, by steadfastly continuing to cope while attempting to keep their lives livable and forward-moving. One is reminded of this repeatedly when television and radio news presents scenes of natural and man-made disasters, some of which may have happened to you or your loved ones. But note that we also discover in these situations people immediately looking to rebuild, to bounce back, to move forward. This is human resilience, one of the demonstrations of what psychologist Anne Masten has called "ordinary magic." This magic is, in fact, almost routine in the face of the many kinds of disasters that we see repeatedly in our local and national newscasts. From the personal mastery perspective, I would argue that, even though the material possessions of these people may have been damaged or even destroyed, nevertheless their beliefs are still their own, protected, and enduring possessions in spite of everything external that may occur. Humans are almost infinitely adaptable, they are naturally resilient in the face of disasters, and their beliefs are what can sustain them in otherwise devastating circumstances. Being prepared by being aware of the causal contours of your world is your best hope for recovery and growth. Understanding the causes of events is a key to being prepared for your most effective adaptation.

In this book I am going to present some fundamental principles of happiness and sadness which research in psychology and the social sciences have found to be key components of resilience, growth, and self-actualization. This body of discoveries has revealed the critical links between a person's inner drives for actualizing their capacities and the external world in which they live. In contemporary terms, the concept that captures the essence of this linking of both worlds is "empowerment." There seems to be a good deal of controversy over the best definition of the term, but by a computer search I located two sources and definitions that best fit the model of actualization I am developing in this book:

empowerment ... to give someone more control over their life or more power to do something ... make stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights

Control Over What?

To apply basic principles of control to our quest for empowerment, we first have to ask, "Control over what"? If you are to achieve empowerment, what would you do? How would it show up in your daily life? Would you know that you have gained the correct amount of empowerment, or how would you know that you need more treatment?

There are many angles to consider in answering these questions, but in this book I propose that there are certain fundamental ways of thinking and action in your life that can give you a distinct, focused, and clear sense of the conditions necessary to your empowerment. Many of the components of empowerment thinking have some features in common with the social programs and structures that I mentioned above. But what I am presenting to you here is a unique approach. It is based on psychological research, it has proven validity and it is realistic, in the sense that it is based on the experiences of people dealing with the events of their daily living as you and I do. I want to help you "scaffold" your thinking and actions in your life onto a foundation of established research findings about the factors involved in what actually relates to enhanced well-being.

But the approach I am presenting here in this book takes a hard turn away from the theme of empowerment in one crucial way. As I said in this chapter's opening paragraph, life is not simple; it is complicated and the paths to our goals are often difficult to follow. Sometimes any sense of empowerment must face the inevitable fact that much of our life takes place outside our own sphere of empowerment. Things happen in the world outside of us, and these things impinge on us, sometimes supporting our goal-strivings and sometimes hindering them. The most important characteristic that we need to understand is that these things sometimes happen beyond your own personal control. Some of these are desirable, some are more undesirable, and some are more neutral in tone, but in all cases for this category of life experiences, we have nothing to do with their occurrence. Yet when they enter our life, they can either support or challenge any sense of empowerment that we may have developed.

This is a crucial distinction: Some of our life's events arise because we want them to occur or we find ways to avoid them; this is the essence of empowerment. But you cannot control an earthquake, a tornado, or a nice present that someone might give you unexpectedly, "out of the blue," or a layoff notice from your employer. What does an empowerment way of thinking say about such externally-caused events? If this book is going to help you gain empowerment, if it is going to "... give someone more control over their life or more power to do something" as the definition says, then we have to clarify this key difference in internal vs. external causes of the events that you experience in your life.

To fully apply this distinction in our own lives while keeping in the spirit of Reinhold Niebuhr's Serenity Prayer requires that we move to a different approach to his concept of "things." To do that I want to unpack the meaning of the concept of "event." This is where I will differ from standard treatments of empowerment. This seemingly simple concept defines the realities of our lives as we pursue our goals. It encapsulates your actions and reactions that establish and maintain your empowerment, and it is the most important concept I am using in this book. Again, I will turn to a standard dictionary definition to establish what it is I am going to present in this book:

event ... something that takes place, an occurrence


Something so seemingly simple as the concept of events or occurrence may not immediately strike you as particularly crucial for your empowerment. Eating your breakfast is an event. Washing your dishes is an event. Dating someone is an event. So is getting a divorce, as is getting married. Events are everywhere everyday all of our lives. They are so common that at first glance it may seem that there cannot be anything very interesting about them. However, literally hundreds of psychological research studies have now accumulated enough information that we can now consider focusing on our events to be a major key to understand how life actually occurs on a daily basis. Thinking of events as signals important to your mental and physical health, and to your empowerment, may strike you as unusual and perhaps a bit mysterious. But the research I will discuss in this book repeatedly shows how an event-focused approach gives very useful insights into some of the major influences on your well-being.

Let Us Unpack the Concept of "Event"

I am suggesting that you take what might strike you as an unfamiliar view of your life, an event-based view. You are certainly fully aware of the individual, discrete experiences of the events of your life as you live them on a daily basis. But now I am suggesting that you move up one level of awareness and adopt a framework, an overall structure, into which you can fit your experiences, organizing them and systematically understanding the similarities and differences that give each event its unique properties, positive or negative (it works both ways, and that is its strength). It will help you greatly when you become aware of the critical properties of each event which research has shown gives us insights into their power and influence over how we live our lives. That structure or framework for understanding events reveals four major properties: Their magnitude, their emotional valence, their one-time-only or chronic recurrence and, most importantly from the perspective of this book, the extent to which you can or cannot control their occurrence.

I will discuss each of these event properties next. To describe them, I will make quick points and short descriptions to give you a beginning idea of what each property is in practice. I describe those event properties in more detail beginning in Chapter 3 and then follow up on those principles in subsequent chapters.

Events are discrete occurrences. Events are experiences which have a beginning, a duration, and they may or may not have a discrete ending. Once they occur, they have the effect of exerting some form of pressure, positive or negative, to do something about them. They draw us to them because they are desirable, or they threaten our well-being because they are undesirable. Even neutral events such as going to the grocery store puts some pressure on us to "get it done." They have implications for our thoughts, feelings, and our actions. But they are not necessarily a single-occurrence; some may occur over and over, and they vary in chronicity ... some end cleanly like washing your dishes, others have a lingering duration such as getting married. They are the kinds of experiences that fill up our day, they are what we tell other people when they ask, "Hey, what's going on?" They are what we ask other people about when we talk with them. Of course events happen to other people, but in my approach I want to deal just with events that arise in your own personal life. They are not necessarily what we see on the news show, or hear from the radio, or read about in the newspaper, but they are what we know of our own personal lives. On the other hand, they are not moods, they are not thoughts, they are not plans, they are not our character, they are not our essence, nor our spirit. But they are related to all of these and other aspects of our nature as human beings. And of course, animals experience events just as humans do. Events are a universal and key ingredient in the lives of all living things.

In sum: For this particular event property of being discrete, the question you would ask yourself is, "Is this just a single event standing by itself, or does it involve and connect with other events?"

Events vary in magnitude. Some events that we experience are common and, relatively small in their impact on us. Choosing what breakfast cereal, what to wear, and what kind of TV show to watch are examples of such events. They are often easily resolved and then forgotten, while others may stick with us in our memory. But we also occasionally experience events much larger in their scope, although these are less frequent than small events. When these high impact major life events occur, they engage much more of our time and effort, and they can have a life-changing impact on us. Some are desirable like getting married or having a child, while others, oppositely valenced, are undesirable, such as having a car accident or experiencing the trauma of a battle injury. In the Introduction, I presented the story of Jeff Lewis, a Mesa, Arizona high school teacher, who was seriously injured by an accidental gunshot, clearly a "major life event." But the story only began there: He bounced back, later enjoying his new life as a multiple amputee, playing golf and dancing. Some people can display remarkable resilience in the face of a major negative event, while others retreat under the pressure. To explain these differences, research has compared the effects of small daily events and major life events, with surprising results which I will present.

In sum: For this particular event property of event magnitude, the question you would ask yourself is, "Is this a small daily event that I can easily handle, or is it major and going to require a lot of my resources to handle?"

Events vary in their chronicity (recurrence). Thinking of events as having a discrete beginning helps you regard them as distinct occurrences, but how they end, if they do, is an important additional distinction. Many events do not have a sharp, distinct ending such as a growing illness, a recurring infection from an injury, or a flare-up of a chronic illness like arthritis or experiencing chronic PTSD. On the positive side, a happy marriage infuses our life every day, while birthdays have a dependable recurrence once every year. This property of chronicity has an effective continuing influence on our ability to anticipate and prepare for each occurrence and this in turn helps us maintain our resilience and outlook on life. Sudden and unexpected event occurrences put stress on our coping capacity, while expected ones motivate us with anticipation and preparation, thereby strengthening our resilience when they occur.


Excerpted from Mastering Your Self, Mastering Your World by John William Reich. Copyright © 2014 John William Reich. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements vi

Preface 1

Introduction 5

Chapter 1 Paying Attention to Your Daily Events 26

Chapter 2 Mastery Regarded as a Character Trait 39

Chapter 3 What Events Can Tell Us about Our Mastery 67

Chapter 4 Undesirable Events Can Threaten Mastery 94

Chapter 5 Desirable Events Support Our Mastery 123

Chapter 6 Intervention Projects Enhance Well-Being 156

Chapter 7 Opportunities and Threats to Your Mastery 184

Chapter 8 Now You Have Two Mastery Templates 201

Chapter 9 A Proven Personal Mastery Intervention 237

References 261

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