The notion of “Mastery” has always been important to me. My approach to it was informed by my history.
I was involved with martial arts. On one hand I worked at an MMA school. On the other, I also attended classes in classical Japanese arts.
One group was headed by a celebrated expert of extreme rank that I had read about previously. His dojo often held many high ranked instructors from 5th dan to 10th. Being open minded to the fact that initially he was teaching “drills” not techniques, and feeling over repetition, I figured he must know what he was doing. There was much emphasis on philosophy, flow, feeling, higher end stuff. Long story short, after little time there I was accidentally beating the instructor in demonstrations when I was trying to let him win. Often I’d have him bent over backwards as he scratched at my cuticles while my hand tightened around his trachea. Most of the high end instructors didn’t know basics they taught, and couldn’t perform well because “you become less round and more square as you get old.” There, I frequently slapped around high ranking folks, and at a major seminar featuring leaders in the organization, I had the same experience. Disappointment.
On the other hand I also trained with a group from the same lineage, with much lower rank. They focused on repetition of basics, laying a solid foundation. Their instructor was originally the top student of the head of the lineage before he left. In this tradition I’d encountered several instructors who I not only couldn’t slap around, but outstripped me in all areas across the board. Their training sessions looked real enough that my mma comrades who would peer in would react in horror.
Were it not for the experience with the second group I would have flat out decided that traditional martial arts were bullshit. But instead, they were outstanding so I made a different distinction. “Foundation is central to true mastery.”
Later on I worked as an officer of a global spiritual development organization. There were many powerful shifts in people over the years. (My own was exceptional.) Yet I was frustrated with the fact that we had many teachers and people regarded as “masters” who I felt lacked basic competence, understanding, or reliability.
I used to say “Unless you can teach basic, intermediate, advanced, and mastery level classes that people really benefit from, naturally display your topic of mastery under stress in difficult situations, implement them into your daily life as a natural part of your being, you haven’t mastered it.”
I’ve received some flake for this point of view.
The concept of “Mastery” means many things to many people.
For some it’s about completion. Being done.
For others it’s having a basic intellectual grasp that you can recite.
I don’t believe that these are productive conceptions of the term.
I find that an effective place to begin this discussion lies within Maslow’s Levels of Competence.
Level One is called “Unconscious Incompetence.” This means that you don’t realize that there’s something to know. For example a person may watch a sport and think “It’s just kicking a ball.” They don’t realize that there are subskills involved, defense, strategy, faking out an opponent, misdirection to create an opening.
Another example is when someone struggles with their finances that there are actually guidelines that make it easier, rather than just spending whatever comes in.
The classic example is that a child continually trips because their shoes are untied. They don’t realize that there is an option to not trip over their laces, or that the laces event present a challenge.
Level Two is called “Conscious Incompetence.” This is when the prospective athlete realizes that others are able to do things which they are not. They aren’t just moving randomly and running at the ball. This is when the person with a similar income to expense ratio sees their friends doing well with money while they struggle to pay bills.
To return to the classic; the child realizes that tripping isn’t required. There are skills involving the laces which eliminate the problem. They just don’t have the ability.
Level Three is called “Conscious Competence.” This is the point where, with great effort and focus the skill can be executed. The ball can be maneuvered to the goal, the money can be managed, the shoes can be tied. It’s still somewhat difficult. But with attentive effort the deed is accomplished.
Level Four is called “Unconscious Competence.” At this stage the skill has been repeated so frequently that it does not require attention. You can have an intense discussion and tie your shoes at the same time. It is a part of what you are.
This is a productive foundation from which to begin the discussion on “Mastery.”
Anders Ericsson: The preeminent researcher of mastery and peak performance found that anyone who exhibits the high levels of excellence or “genius” in their field had accrued a minimum of 10,000 hours (Or 10 years) of a particular type of practice. This became known as the 10,000 hour rule.
What kind of practice? I am glad you’ve asked.
Ericsson called it “Deliberate Practice.” These are key points.
-The field has a history of accumulated practice(research and development. Don’t reinvent the wheel.)
– Deep absorption in what you’re doing
-A guide can give practical corrections
-Develop the skills already acquired to work towards tiny immediate improvement goals
-Work at the edge of your ability, pushing the comfort zone
-Develop sophisticated mental representations of the process
-Focus on what you’re doing, get feedback, fix it. (Note much of this can also put you into flow which we will discuss at a later time.)
Other factors that play a major part include believing that you can do it, and being in an environment that supports and reinforces it.
Robert Greene discussed this topic in his book aptly titled “Mastery.”
In his framework there were several components that we haven’t yet covered at length.
The Apprenticeship involves submission to a master’s ways in terms of their field of competence. Observe them deeply. Model what they do. Copy as closely as you can whatever aspects they’re revealing to you. Often there are things that serve them which are such an ingrained part of their being that they cannot consciously point them out, but an attentive apprentice can absorb. During this time, the basic skills are acquired.
Ones skills have been acquired there is also an active period of experimentation as you attempt to answer questions, find other ways of removing steps, or accomplishing the same tasks. As you hit sticking points you’ll feel tension, and eventually breakthrough to greater insight as new neuroconnections are made.
Beyond this, you’ll go into environments where others in your field congregate. There, from a position of high competence you can incorporate more distinctions into an ever more sophisticated mental representation. Of course, you’ll continue to practice as you discover.
Eventually you’ll accumulate a tremendous volume of experience in your field. This matrix of distinctions, learned from mistakes, countless sessions of absorption and deep study will give rise to masterful work. You’ll have your 10,000 hours.
Beyond that, the greatest of masters in their field have accumulated 50,000 hours or more.
As Self-Mastery is theoretically something that can be practiced during all waking hours, in less than 2 years you can accumulate your 10,000 hours of practice.
But don’t burden yourself with that.
Research shows that 95% of our lives our subconscious is living for us. We don’t need to think about how to walk or talk, these things just arise naturally. We have a history of data responding to sensory stimuli which assesses the situation and enacts what seems to be the most appropriate automatic response.
When it comes to our growth if we maintain this ratio of 95% of our behaviors being unconscious though you may have 20 years of experience, you’re not very experienced. 16 waking hours a day x 356 days a year x 20 years. Now take 5% of that being conscious, you’re down to 243 days of experience. Still a newbie.
Now I realize that’s a gross over-simplification, and we will naturally have behaviors that become unconscious through repetition. But you start to get an idea of how much potential for improvement is available.
Stay tuned in future posts, videos, podcasts and more I’m going to be presenting many vehicles through which to develop and express that vast potential for growth.
Don’t burden yourself by trying to be 100% conscious at all times.
Let’s strive for 1% a day. The benefits of that will compound over time and take you to a profoundly different level than you’ve yet experienced.
To your Strength and Mastery,