Building Mastery

Can you recall a recent experience of being successful or doing something well? Take a moment to reflect on what it felt like to accomplish this task. Even if it is a smaller task, such as successfully keeping up with your laundry, cleaning up the kitchen, or making a healthy meal; engaging in things we are good at provides us with a reminder of our capabilities and strengths.

Building mastery is a dialectical behavior therapy skill that involves finding actives each day that allow us to connect with a sense of accomplishment as well as increased confidence and self-esteem. Although we may view everyday tasks as necessary or mundane, we can still experience mastery as we continue to learn how to accomplish such tasks in new ways or feel good about our success. In addition to basic needs, such as cooking and cleaning, we can also practice mastery by engaging in more tasks we enjoy. This might involve walking in nature, exercising, drawing or painting, practicing an instrument, completing a journal entry, or reaching out to a friend. All of these activities can be seen as opportunities to build mastery and experience greater self-confidence and a sense of strength. Successfully completing both tasks of daily living and small activities for enjoyment can help us feel more prepared to deal with the challenges we face throughout the week.

A practice of building mastery involves doing at least one thing each day that provides you with a sense of competence and encourages you to feel good about yourself. Spend just 10 minutes each day engaging in this task and take time to reflect on your thoughts and feelings afterwards. It is good to find a task that is difficult or requires some extra motivation, while also not being overly difficult or taxing. If you aren’t sure, start with something small and something you have been successful with in the past. Over time, you can challenge yourself to more difficult tasks or work to improve the current activity. As an example of this process, you might start with simply cooking dinner at home. Just the act of making a complete meal is an opportunity for connecting with a sense of mastery. Once you have successfully cooked a simple dinner, you could add the challenge of making a healthier meal or cooking something new or more complex.  

One final tip for practicing mastery involves paying attention to your mindset and self-talk. This practice will be less helpful if you are unnecessarily critical of yourself or judgmental about your efforts. If you notice such thoughts, work on taking a step back and refocusing on what you are doing well. You could even remind yourself that the choice of engaging in this practice of building mastery is an inherent accomplishment as you work to support your well-being.  

In the end, there is no specific task or set of items for this practice as it will depend partly on each person. If you are struggling, very simple or small tasks (brushing your teeth or making breakfast) are the best places to start and should rightly be viewed as accomplishments or instances of building mastery. If you are doing fairly well, you might decide to push yourself a bit more and try new things or find new challenges (cooking a new type of food or learning some other new skill). In some cases, you may simply incorporate some of your current activities and use mindfulness to focus more attention on these tasks, while reframing them as opportunities to connect with a sense of mastery. In the end, your goal should be to intentionally engage in a task that leaves you experiencing some level of accomplishment and positive self-regard, while making sure to connect with these feeling when you are successful.

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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Published by tlindquistpsyd

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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