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Lesson 18: Developing and Teaching Self-Mastery

“Lesson 18: Developing and Teaching Self-Mastery,” Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood: Basic Manual for Priesthood Holders, Part B (2000), 163–71

“Lesson 18: Developing and Teaching Self-Mastery,” Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood: Basic Manual for Priesthood Holders, Part B, 163–71

Lesson 18

Developing and Teaching Self-Mastery

The purpose of this lesson is to help us develop greater self-mastery and to teach us how to help our children develop this strength.


A story is told about how Arabian horses are selected and trained. Because these horses are used in important service, they must have unquestioning obedience to their masters. Early in their training they are taught to respond instantly to the master’s command. Then they are given a test to see how they behave under pressure. For a long period of time they are kept in an enclosure away from water that is available just outside the gate. After a period of time the gate is opened, and the horses run for the water. Just before they reach the water, however, the master blows a whistle. Because of their thirst, some of the horses pay no attention. But others immediately turn and go to the master. These obedient horses have learned discipline and are accepted for the most important jobs. The others are used in less important work. (Adapted from Sterling W. Sill, Leadership [1958], 1:62–63.)

The Lord has given us our agency. Thus, we are free to make choices. These choices determine our future: As we choose righteousness, we prove ourselves worthy to serve in the kingdom of God. But to choose righteousness, we, like the horses, need training, discipline, and obedience. These things help us control our appetites and passions and teach us to follow the promptings of our Master, even when we are tempted.

Self-Mastery Is Necessary for Eternal Progression

Self-mastery is the power within us to control our desires and actions. Such power is necessary to return to live with Heavenly Father. It requires continual effort on our part, but as we develop self-mastery, we become better prepared to make correct decisions.

Self-mastery is especially important for us as priesthood bearers. We cannot effectively counsel and serve others unless we are striving to master ourselves. As we strive for self-mastery we are an example to our children and others.

When we are baptized, we begin a new life devoted to following the Savior. But to follow Him we must overcome worldliness, weakness, and imperfection. The Savior taught, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). He also taught, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:13–14).

Entering into the narrow way requires self-restraint and self-denial. It means overcoming temptations. But the Lord promises to reward us for mastering ourselves and following His commandments.

Self-Mastery Makes Us Free

Heavenly Father has given us commandments because He loves us and wants to protect us from sorrow. Following His commandments will make us free.

Developing self-mastery will help us form positive habits such as arising early, studying the scriptures daily, and fulfilling our assignments promptly. Such habits can free us from confusion. Following are other principles that bring us freedom when we obey them:


By obeying the law of tithing, we learn to overcome selfish desires.

The Word of Wisdom

By living this law we can be free of the harmful effects of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs.


Keeping our actions and thoughts within the boundaries the Lord has set frees us from sorrow and regret.

  • What other gospel principles bring us freedom when we follow them? How do they free us?

Gaining Self-Mastery

  • Read Alma 37:32–37. What does this scripture teach us about self-mastery? (We should feel disgust for sin and iniquity, repent, have faith in Christ, be humble, make the effort to withstand every temptation, never become weary of good works, learn wisdom, keep the commandments of God, pray, and counsel with the Lord in all our doings.)

Gaining self-mastery is a lifelong process. It requires a knowledge of ourselves and of gospel principles. It means setting goals to live those principles and relying on the Lord for strength and support as we do our best to reach those goals.

  • Display a poster of the following list, or refer to the information on the chalkboard:

    How to Gain Self-Mastery

    1. Know yourself.

    2. Set righteous goals.

    3. Rely on the Lord through prayer and scripture study.

Know Yourself

As we gain experience and learn more about the gospel, we come to recognize our strengths and weaknesses. With this recognition comes a desire to overcome bad habits and feelings and a motivation to improve strengths we already have.

President David O. McKay said that some of the evils we find in ourselves are jealousy, hatred, envy, and animosity. Of them he said: “All such evils you must overcome by suppression. That is where your control comes in. Suppress that anger! Suppress that jealousy, that envy! They are all injurious to the spirit” (Gospel Ideals [1954], 356).

Overcoming these feelings is not easy; it takes time to change. But as we make the effort and depend on Heavenly Father’s help, we will develop the patience and courage to overcome the evils we find in ourselves.

Set Righteous Goals

A good way to gain self-mastery is to set and achieve goals. If we have a goal firmly set in our minds and work to accomplish our goals with the Lord’s help, we will achieve self-mastery. This process requires endurance, but the Lord has told us that we must endure to the end in righteous living to achieve the goal of exaltation, or eternal life (see D&C 14:7).

  • Ask the class members to ponder for a moment the goals they are presently working toward.

Rely on the Lord through Prayer and Scripture Study

It takes faith in Jesus Christ to overcome our temptations and achieve our eternal goals. Regular prayer and scripture study promote this faith and help us gain the strength to overcome our problems. In addition, the lives of the Lord’s servants detailed in the scriptures set examples for us to follow; they help us realize that if others have gained self-mastery, we can gain it too.

  • Invite class members to tell how they have gained self-mastery through reading the scriptures and praying.

Helping Children Develop Self-Mastery

Our homes should be places where our children can learn self-mastery. The following four principles can help us teach our children self-mastery.

  • Display a poster of the following list, or refer to the information on the chalkboard:

    How to Teach Children Self-Mastery

    1. Establish and enforce rules early.

    2. Teach children the principles of the gospel.

    3. Give children responsibility.

    4. Discipline with love.

Establish and Enforce Rules Early

President David O. McKay taught that a child should learn obedience at an early age. If parents do not teach their children obedience early, they may have difficulty doing so later on. He stressed that we should let the child be free to develop; but if the child goes beyond the established rules, we should be gentle, yet firm, in our restraint. (See Stepping Stones to an Abundant Life, comp. Llewelyn R. McKay [1971], 38.)

President N. Eldon Tanner also discussed the importance of teaching children while they are young: “While we are teaching [our children], we have the responsibility to discipline them and to see that they do what is right. If a child is [covered] with dirt, we do not wait until he grows up to decide whether or not he will bathe. We do not let him wait to decide whether or not he will take his medicine when sick, or go to school or to church” (Seek Ye First The Kingdom of God, comp. LaRue Sneff [1973], 87).

Teach Children the Principles of the Gospel

President N. Eldon Tanner said: “Parents also should teach their children early in life the glorious concept and fact that they are spirit children of God, and [that] choosing to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ is the only way to enjoy success and happiness here and eternal life hereafter. They must be taught that Satan is real and that he will use all agencies at his disposal to tempt them to do wrong, to [try to] lead them astray, make them his captives, and keep them from [the] supreme happiness and exaltation they could otherwise enjoy” (Seek Ye First The Kingdom of God, 87).

If we want to teach our children gospel principles, we must also set proper examples for our children to follow. If we fail to control our appetites and passions, we cannot expect our children to control theirs.

Give Children Responsibility

Elder L. Tom Perry said: “We must be … certain that our teaching is adequate and that we have instilled a faith and trust in the Lord in [our children’s] lives. We must be certain that they have been trained properly, and as they start to mature spiritually, we need to give them opportunities to express the strength that is growing within them. We need to give them our faith and trust and then give them responsibility” (in Conference Report, São Paulo Area Conference 1975, 12).

There are many ways to teach children responsibility. Elder F. Enzio Busche gave one example:

“We try to guide our children toward self-respect … and mostly leave it up to them to judge themselves. We have experienced the fact that one is not as good a teacher when one discovers and points out mistakes … as when one helps a child to discover for himself that he is doing wrong. When a child can comprehend his mistakes himself, the first step to change has already been taken.

“I remember once how we asked our son, after a transgression, to set his own punishment. He decided that he should not be allowed to watch television for one month. That seemed to us to be considerably too severe, but how happy we were to hear from his grandmother that while visiting her he had insisted she was wrong to encourage him to watch a certain television program, even though his parents would never know. I don’t think there can be a greater joy for parents than to see a child handle himself well in a difficult situation” (“Provoke Not Your Children,” Ensign, Mar. 1976, 42).

  • What did Elder Busche do to help his children develop self-mastery? (He helped them gain self-respect by discovering their own mistakes. He encouraged them to discipline themselves.)

Before we give our children responsibilities, we as parents must ensure that they are ready for them. President Tanner explained: “Children do not learn by themselves how to distinguish right from wrong. Parents have to determine the child’s readiness to assume responsibility and his capacity to make sound decisions, to evaluate alternatives, and [to experience] the results of doing so” (Seek Ye First The Kingdom of God, 87).

Discipline with Love

When we discipline our children, we should do so with firmness but not cruelty. We should clearly state our expectations of them and give appropriate punishments. After we discipline our children, we should show an increase of love toward them.

  • Discuss the following examples with the class. Emphasize that the solutions require self-mastery. You may want to ask for personal examples from class members instead of listing these examples.

    1. Sven and Inger have three teenage children who argue and quarrel constantly. How could they help their children stop quarreling and develop self-mastery?

    2. John and Elsie want to have family prayer in their home each day, but work schedules, school schedules, and other duties interfere. Family members feel that it is impossible to get together for family prayer. What can John and Elsie do to help the family develop the self-mastery to have family prayer?

    3. The Unga family recognizes the need to pay tithing, but the family members never feel that they have enough money to meet their other expenses. However, they always seem to have enough money for recreation, new clothing, and nonessential items as they desire them. How can these family members develop the self-mastery to pay tithing?

  • How will individuals who have mastered themselves act toward others in their family?


Using our God-given agency and working diligently, we must develop self-mastery if we want to prepare ourselves and our families to meet challenges. We must be able to make proper choices and to control our desires and emotions if we are to prepare to return to our Father in Heaven.

  • Bear your testimony that as family members consciously develop self-mastery, they can overcome many of the problems in their lives.

  • Sing “Choose the Right” (Hymns, no. 239), or read the words, found below.

Choose the Right

Choose the right when a choice is placed before you.

In the right the Holy Spirit guides;

And its light is forever shining o’er you,

When in the right your heart confides.

[Chorus] Choose the right! Choose the right!

Let wisdom mark the way before.

In its light, choose the right!

And God will bless you evermore.

Choose the right! Let no spirit of digression

Overcome you in the evil hour.

There’s the right and the wrong to ev’ry question;

Be safe through inspiration’s pow’r.


Choose the right! There is peace in righteous doing.

Choose the right! There’s safety for the soul.

Choose the right in all labors you’re pursuing;

Let God and heaven be your goal.



Select a problem in your life or in your family. Follow the steps outlined in the lesson to master the problem. Read the scriptures for appropriate models in developing self-discipline.

Additional Scriptures

Teacher Preparation

Before presenting this lesson:

  1. Study Gospel Principles chapter 4, “Freedom to Choose.”

  2. Prepare the posters suggested in the lesson, or write the information on the chalkboard.

  3. Prepare to have the class sing at the conclusion of the lesson “Choose the Right” (Hymns, no. 239), or plan to read the words in class.

  4. Be prepared to bear your testimony that as family members consciously develop self-mastery, they can overcome many personal problems.

  5. Assign class members to present any stories, scriptures, or quotations you wish.