The Principles that Underlie Mastery
True masters of craft realize that their journey has no end. The best — be it athletes, artists, entrepreneurs, physicians, writers, or business professionals — have at least one thing in common: they are all constantly focused on getting better. That’s precisely what makes them the best. Their goal is their path and their path is their goal. They are every bit as concerned with being peak people as they are with being peak performers.
Some call this orientation mastery. Staying on its path is not easy. But it is rewarding. Immersing yourself deeply in the process of growth and development for growth and development’s sake is a wonderful way to enrich and enlarge your life.
Below are 15 key practices of mastery. Think of them as modes of being and doing, as ways of engaging with both your interior and exterior worlds. These practices serve as the foundation — the pavement, if you will — for your ongoing path.
If you really care about what you do you’ll put your all into it. If you really care about the people with whom you interact you’ll put your all into them. Caring serves as the cutting edge of personal and social evolution. Caring is quality. Caring is love. You’ve got to care.
Health is multidimensional. It is physical and mental and emotional and spiritual. It is also integral to lasting progress. It is true that you can burn bright for a while without a foundation of health, but keep existing in this way and eventually you’ll burnout. Sacrificing health is myopic. The long-game requires it.
Once you think you know you cease to keep knowing. Once you think you’re good you cease to keep getting better. But there is always more to know. Always room to get better. Without humility there can be no growth.
In a scientific sense, stress is a stimulus for growth. Without stress living organisms don’t adapt, don’t change. So you need stress. But stress is only beneficial in the right dose and when you have the capacity, resources, and support to absorb it. And stress is only valuable when it’s followed by rest.
The space during which growth occurs. Without rest, we stand no chance at absorbing and growing from challenges we face. Stress + rest = growth. If you want to develop your body, mind, or soul you’ve got to understand that rest — that simply “being” — is every bit as important as doing.
Show up, even when you don’t want to. Doing so makes you better not only at your craft — via compounding gains — but also at the skill of exerting effort itself. The path of mastery isn’t about being consistently great. It’s about being great at being consistent.
A first cousin to humility. It’s knowing, based on a body of evidence, what you can and can’t do, and then moving forward accordingly. Confidence isn’t something that you have or you don’t. It’s not something you’re born with. Confidence is something you build.
A coach is there to see what you don’t see and to point you in the direction of growth. The best coaching relationships are rooted in shared humility and caring. A good coach doesn’t just show or tell. They walk with with you on your path — sometimes leading and sometimes following.
Research shows that the people with whom you surround yourself influence your performance and wellbeing by up to 30 percent. When things are going well community pushes you and celebrates you and keeps you grounded. When things aren’t going well a tribe of support is everything.
Drive means relentless pursuit. Often born out of insecurity, at its best it’s fueled by love. Drive must be channeled. It can be productive and beautiful and enlarging when pointed toward growth and development. It can be destructive and diminishing when pointed at external validation. The best drive comes from the inside.
Patience is letting things happen instead of making them happen. Not to be confused with passivity, patience is about persistence. Gentle persistence. It’s about surrendering to a process and being present as it unfolds. Staying on the path of mastery in any endeavor requires patience.
Toughness is about doing the hard thing because it’s the right thing. Sometimes this means putting your head down and grinding it out. Other times this means backing off and asking for help. Toughness lives on the inside. The people who don’t act tough are generally the toughest of all.
You’ve got to be honest — and okay — with yourself. Acceptance does not mean doing nothing but rather acknowledging and starting where you are. Not where you think you should be. Not where you want to be. Where you are. Because if you don’t start where you are, you’ll never really get anywhere.
In many ways, presence is synonymous with peak performance. When you are fully there — completely immersed in your pursuit with concentrated attention — you are almost always at your best. Practicing presence leads to a better body of work and a richer, more textured life.
Vulnerability starts with being honest with yourself. Why are you doing what you’re doing? What are you seeking? What could you be doing better? Are you open to receiving help? Answering these questions — being vulnerable — is uncomfortable. But being uncomfortable leads to growth.
When it comes to mastery, this is where I'm at at my thinking, which is still evolving! If you enjoyed this and aren't on Twitter, consider following along. I've enjoyed exploring these topics for myself, and will continue to make one post (exploring a single word/concept) in this light every morning.
Coaching Corner: Focus on What Matters
Show up to any track meet and pick an athlete to watch warming-up before a race. Chances are you'll see them go through an elaborate set of "drills" that include skips and jumps of various kinds. These drills are designed to prepare an athlete for the act of running itself, and often represent one part or segment of the running motion. (Think: high knees or butt kicks for those not familiar with running)
Some athletes look sloppy as if they are going through the motions or lack the coordination needed to execute these exercises. Others, meanwhile, perform these drills with military-like precision. There's an ease of movement and flow about them.
If you were a betting person, you might pick the latter athlete to perform the best. But that's not always the case. More often than not, the best athlete at running drills is not the fastest runner. In fact, there are many athletes who look amazing performing drills and then perform very poorly out on the track.
In coach-speak, we call these athletes "drill champions." They nail all of the drills, looking like studs, but when it comes to the act of running/racing itself, it doesn’t translate.
Why does this occur? Often these athletes spend their time perfecting the drill itself. Because the drill only constitutes a small part of the whole (i.e., running) simple repetition can lead to quick improvement. Yet they forget that what matters is not whether the drill is perfect, but rather does it help the thing I'm trying to get better at -- running!
Drill champions don't just occur in the athletic realm, they are in our workplace too. A businessperson who spends hours answering e-mails, a writer spending time obsessing over word choice before they've nailed down their storyline and structure, or an entrepreneur who spends hours perfecting his slide deck for her pitch instead of figuring out how to make her startup work.
It's not to say that these things aren't important. They can be. But it's far easier to focus on perfecting details that make us feel like we are getting better, than it is to focus on the items that actually improve our performance.
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