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“To overcome the restraining forces of appetites and passions, I resolve to exercise self-discipline and self-denial.” S R Covey

In his seminal work The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People Dr Covey explained how the 7 Habits worked on a continuum, where self-mastery came before interpersonal mastery because, frankly and concisely, one could not master relationships until one had mastered oneself. You cannot truly be an effective part of a team/club/organisation/family until you have identified your part to be played in that structure, and prepared yourself to enact that role to the best of your ability. An effective individual contributes, provides advice and is able to consider the rights and wrongs of any action taken in respect of things which affect the ‘team’. An ineffective person is one who has not mastered self to any degree, and is therefore often a ‘people-pleaser’, who has no sense of self except to the degree that others define it for them. They tend to act in accordance with whatever the group supports, regardless of the rights and wrongs, because they want to be seen by that group as one of them. Ergo, self-mastery is a precursor to, and positively affects optimum interpersonal effectiveness.
This isn’t to suggest relationships weren’t possible without self-mastery, only that they aren’t all that effective.

To the degree that self-mastery is a pre-cursor to interpersonal effectiveness I would argue that of the Three Resolutions, this first one is a precursor to mastery of all three, and without it there can be no mastery of any of them. In fact, commitment to the Second and Third Resolutions requires adherence to, or application of the First Resolution in some respects, because discipline and self-denial serve one’s character, competence and ability to serve other people and noble causes. Without self-discipline one cannot be a true master of self, and this should be borne in mind by anyone seeking to ignore the benefits, strengths and challenges of self-discipline and self-denial.

To be accurate, Dr Covey’s work appears from its tone to refer only to self-discipline in terms of the physical self – control over ones physical appetites in terms of eating, drinking, rest and exercise. This is because (my readings of Mormon literature would suggest) his particular religion considered that proper respect of the body as the temple through which God’s work is done is an absolute requirement of their faith. I am not overly aware of any other religion that stands on this tenet but then I haven’t read that widely.

I, on the other hand, believe that the First Resolution can be interpreted more widely than that, and can be applied to our entire existence – physically, yes, but also mentally in terms of our application to education, relationships, work and personal lives. Application of the First Resolution is important in the physical dimension, certainly, but that is only part of the equation. It can apply to all four of the human dimensions identified by Dr Covey and whose existence has been supported in various ways by other respected writers in the fields of sociology and psychology; namely the physical, mental, social and spiritual dimensions.

For example, taking each in turn as it may be affected by self-discipline and self-denial:

Physically – do you exercise? Are your eating habits sustainable or are they killing you? Are you a slave to your stomach or to any other physical vices?

Mentally – are you a reader? Do you read pulp fiction or is your focus on non-fiction/quality fiction? Are you up to date professionally? How about current affairs – do you understand them or do you focus on ‘Okay’ and ‘Hello’ magazines?

Socially – do you spend all your time alone or do you mingle? Are you nice to people or do you detest company? Do you like yourself or not?

Spiritually – is your life filled with purpose or are you an example of Zig Ziglar’s ‘wandering generality’?
In all areas, are you exactly where and what you wish to be? If not, why might that be? Is it because you aren’t doing what you know you should be?

This question frequently arises in all of us and in all four areas: Where do you find yourself unable to apply self-discipline and self-denial to the degree that your conscience tells you is having an effect on your personal effectiveness in any area of your life?

I’ll continue on this vein next week.