Mastery by George Leonard
A book on the process of learning
In my work with students, I often hear the term, tip and tricks. When I talk to students about how to interview well, they ask, “Can you share your tips and tricks?” Tricks, now that’s an interesting word. Am I fooling someone, or am I performing a magic trick? The mentality is that I just want the payoff (the job, the promotion, the achievement) but I don’t actually care about getting better at or learning about the thing itself.
Get rich quick schemes rarely succeed, and even when it does, it brings about no real fulfillment. People then need to look to the next get rich quick scheme to satisfy the need for the next fix. When you get things without the proper effort, it is empty. The real reward is the path of practice and the effort leading to mastery.
What It’s About. This book begins by contrasting prevailing views in society about achieving external success with the mindset it takes to create authentic success. This mindset is required to navigate the mastery process, which is not linear. There are practical warnings about the challenges you will face and how to overcome them. For example, we all have a certain inertia (he uses the term homeostasis) about initiating action, and he offers ideas about overcoming that inertia. This book, while offering a discerning commentary in the beginning, pivots rather quickly toward practical guidance on staying on a path of learning, practice, and mastery.
I would like to offer three take-aways from the book.
- Are you the “dabbler, hacker, or obsessive”? There are three mindsets that people often use in approaching learning and practice. These are actually counterproductive to learning. I admit that I can be a bit of a dabbler, I like to be the jack-of-all-trades. Learning new things is fun in the beginning, but when the novelty wanes, so does my effort.
- There are plateaus. In the process of learning, there are periods of rapid improvement, followed by plateaus. It is not a straight line upwards. The plateaus are challenging because it causes us to doubt and can cause us to over-compensate by practicing even harder or to abandon the practice once we are not seeing the improvement in the timeline that we expect. So be patient and continue to practice through the plateaus.
- There is inertia. How much do you really want it? Have you ever set goals that you didn’t take action on? There are two forces at play here. One is inertia; it is hard to get started. There is a process to build emotional leverage and get moving. The second is the question, “How much do you really want it?” We sometimes think we want something, only to find out that we only wanted the payoff, but not the process. For the things you actually want, you want the process (practice) and the payoff is a byproduct.
Our preoccupation with goals, results, and the quick fix has separated us from our own experiences.
― George Leonard
Who Might Benefit From Reading? Do you want tips and tricks? Then this is not for you. Do you want to work hard at something and see yourself grow in that skill? Then this book is an invaluable guide to help you understand the process and persevere through doubts and setbacks on that path. Mastery is a way of life. This way of life allows you to experience, through practice, a way of self-expression that is authentic and fulfilling.
Of what is the body made? It is made of emptiness and rhythm. At the ultimate heart of the body, at the heart of the world, there is no solidity… there is only the dance.
― George Leonard