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Control your thoughts and you have self-control.

At the height of his success, at Microsoft, Bill Gates was paranoid and unsatisfied with his achievements. He knew he could do better. He was relentless in his vision—which only he knew. He reached his impossible dream because of his belief in himself. Today, he can relax in comfort. But, in true ‘Bill Gates’ fashion, he is far from taking it easy. He now dedicates all his time to learning and philanthropy. He is using his fortunes to the betterment of mankind—truly a man with self-control and great vision.

In the book, ‘The Law of Success’, a student asked the author, Napoleon Hill, how does one get self-control. The author responded by asking him a question, “what do you do when the doorbell rings and you are in a quarrel with someone?” The answer is obvious, you compose yourself and answer the door with a smile—that is the power of thought. You know what the situation calls for, so you change your attitude and demeanor. You dust yourself off, roll back your shoulders, and present your best face forward. The stranger on the other side of the door only sees what you want him to see — that is self-control.

Let’s look at successful people and analyze three characteristics that they share. They have a ‘vision that is their mission’. They understand ‘the Zen of craft’. And, they understand that ‘suffering for their dream is the only purpose’. They have unapologetic self-control.

Your vision is your mission.

People that change the world many times do it by mistake. They are curious by nature, which makes them fearless. They detect problems everywhere. The wonderful thing is that they don’t see it as a problem, but an opportunity to make it better. They envision the solution and that becomes their driving force.

Having a clear vision of ‘what you want’ will allow you to act accordingly every day. It will direct you to improve your thoughts, your words, and your actions. But, keep in mind that society will only judge you for your actions. Imagine ACTION and keep your words sparse. Ever hear of the expression ‘words are cheap’, well — they are. The great thing about thoughts is that they are quiet and private. They help plan your mission. And if you are true to your vision, you will succeed. Ask any successful person if this is a theory or a fact. Their answer, unequivocally, is always — FACT.

The Zen of Craft

The wonderful thing about Zen is that it allows you to focus on purpose. I am not saying that you have to become a Zen practitioner. But, I think there is logic in following these four principles listed here.

The most obvious, but probably the hardest to follow is ‘repeated practice’. Yes, any master of ‘anything’ will tell you that this is above all things—true. You must turn whatever craft you have chosen in life into conscious repeated practice. You must force it into a habit that strives for perfection. It is unreachable, but the mere process will make you humble and determined.

The next principle is ‘the single-minded devotion to the purpose‘. This takes great courage because every day people steal our precious time. Being social creatures we fall victim to the notion that we need to commune continuously. This is time-consuming. These are hours taken away from our life purpose — that is if we have chosen one. Warren Buffett says the secret to success is saying ‘No’ to almost everything.

Have you ever heard someone say they are too old to learn something new, start a new career, or go back to school? I say, “don’t let Gary Vaynerchuk hear you say that.” All kidding aside, ‘continual learning’ is a life purpose. The mind needs constant nourishment to stay alert and content. In Zen, any craftsman, which is everyone, has the sole purpose of constant improvement to his chosen field. We can only accomplish this through continual learning and conscious practice. The two principles are a married couple.

The final principle is ‘caring’ about everything you think, say, and do. This is your character — who you are. It is not what people perceive of you, but what you represent. This forces you to always take a firm stand. This is your moral compass, your guiding light in the chaos. Here is where your values live. This guides your actions in life. You understand that you are solely responsible for the consequences of your actions that derive from your thoughts.

Suffering for your dreams is the only purpose.

We all have dreams, but few of us fight to make them a reality. Published studies speak about the clarity of vision in people dying — most of them share regret. That is a disturbing fact. And listed below are the top three regrets mentioned in the book ‘The Top Five Regrets of the Dying’.

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to me, not the life others expected of me.” Wow, that is a hard pill to swallow, but that is the number one regret from people in their deathbeds. Letting other people fill your mind with their thoughts, dreams, and aspirations will bring you to this unwelcome conclusion. Live your life according to your desires.

“I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” This is the number two life-regret. Outside influences program us to live for material things: cars, homes, big-screen TVs, you name it. Why, because our peers, friends, and society influence our every thought. Follow only your dream.

“I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.” When you have a life goal, a vision, and a plan to get there you realize you are playing against the clock. You scheme in your head what must become action. You don’t waste time by meandering in frivolous activities. You work and work hard. You struggle to get ‘there’ at all costs. And, on the rare occasion that you speak — you express yourself with conviction and determination. You can express yourself freely because it is your truth.

Control your thoughts and you have self-control.

As Viktor Frankl learned, all we control in life is our imagination, which controls our attitude. Napoleon Hill has a section dedicated to self-control and thought control in his book ‘The Law of Success’. Both men learned that life is self-control and nothing else. I leave you with a closing statement from Pablo Picasso, “everything you can imagine is real.”

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