Sunday, November 9, 2014

Mastery by George Leonard

I finished reading Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment by George Leonard.

The first sentence of the back cover sums up this book well: "Drawing on Zen philosophy and his expertise in the martial art of aikido, bestselling author George Leonard explains how the process of mastery will enable you to vault over the pitfalls of the quick fix to attain a higher level of excellence and a deeper sense of satisfaction."

The path to mastery, Leonard claims, is not linear; it's a bunch of plateaus with brief spurts of improvement.

People become frustrated on those plateaus, thinking they should be progressing, but aren't. In some cases, your output could actually be worse on a plateau just before you put it all together and get to the next level of mastery. The language Leonard uses reminds me a lot of Seth Godin's more recent The Dip. Godin's picture is different, but the language he uses to describe the dip is very similar to how Leonard describes the plateau.

The big point (once Leonard presents what the path to mastery looks like) is this: to achieve mastery, you have to love the plateau; you have to find joy in regular practice. "At the heart of it," he says, "mastery is practice. Mastery is staying on the path."

I found this book to be a nice description of how learning is not linear and self-improvement is hard. Mastery takes work, and you have to love that work, not just the end result.  In addition to emphasizing the importance of tools to improve your internal well-being and mindset (e.g. use visualization, maintain physical fitness, avoid drugs, negotiate with your own resistance to change),  I also appreciated Leonard's nod to to how external factors positively and negatively affect your path to mastery (e.g. quality of instruction, external motivation such as prizes). A lot depends on our own actions, but sometimes others' actions matter, too.

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