In today’s world of hacks, shortcuts and instant money-making blueprints, I think we have lost appreciation for slow-brewing mastery in our work.
Through the years, I have worked with many martial artists, cultural leaders and business mentors who have taught me that trying to finish first in a short race is not only stressful, it works against developing deep expertise.
Here are ten ways to develop a mastery mindset:
- Learn patience
My mother in law has taught me that Diné people (Navajos) have ceremonies for every part of life. There are baby’s first laugh ceremonies and puberty ceremonies and seasonal ceremonies. There are water ceremonies and lightening ceremonies and beauty way ceremonies. In these sacred gatherings, conversation is slow and deliberate and unhurried. An elder can take an entire hour to share a teaching, or bless food before eating. I have watched elders see a young person squirm with impatience, then choose to talk slower and longer. They do this because they know that learning to settle down and develop patience is going to help young folks develop thoughtfulness, depth and wisdom.
- Practice the basics
When we first learn a new skill, we dive into it with abandon, taking classes, learning from mentors and practicing like crazy. When we reach a certain level of success, we often get lazy. True masters never stop practicing the basics. Martial artists do push ups and sit ups every day of their lives. Artists practice brush strokes. Writers write daily. Entrepreneurs create, market and sell. When you don’t practice the basics, they go away.
- Appreciate the source of your materials
In Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Jiro’s son walks slowly around the fish market, looking for the perfect fish for the evening meals. He has relationships with fishermen who will not sell their product to anyone but him. Great work is built with great materials, by people and partners who care as much about what they do as you care about what you do. Avoid cheap, sloppy and poorly constructed source materials.
- Deconstruct everything
Often, success is random. If you started a business in 1996 like I did, you might have thought you were naturally talented. The market was flourishing. Companies were throwing huge sums of money around for training, employee perks and expensive toys. If you do well, take the time to figure out exactly what were the conditions that led to your success. If you have a raging failure, figure out exactly which conditions, personal and environmental, led to your failure. As Don Miguel Ruiz says in The Four Agreements, “Don’t take things personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dreams.”
- Set boundaries
You cannot create great work if you are in a constant state of reaction. You must protect your creative work time by blocking out your schedule, turning off your phone and closing down your email. You must protect your creative energy by avoiding “life sucking squids,” as my friend Martha Beck calls people who only care about their own edification and not about your needs or soul. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can take advantage of you without your permission.”
- Make your space holy
When you respect your work, you want to create a beautiful, clean, sacred container for it. Regardless of the size, cost or fanciness of your physical space, treat it with reverence. Pay attention to what you bring into it. Take time to clean the floor and wash the windows. Surround yourself with images of beauty and inspiration. Give gratitude to the tools that you use to do your work, and to all the masters who have come before you.
- Cultivate your voice
While you can become fluent in another language, you will never feel more anchored and at home than when you are speaking your native tongue. Explore your voice. Listen to your intuition. Write down your thoughts. Develop your ideas. Don’t get distracted by your love for someone else’s voice, that will only lead to cheap knock-offs.
- Swallow your pride
True mastery is based on a love affair with your work. You want to take a great photograph, or write a great paragraph, or lead a transformational coaching call because you want to make the profession proud. You want to please the past masters and the art itself. If your work is criticized, or isn’t up to your own standards, don’t take it personally. If you receive lots of accolades and exposure, don’t let it get to your head. Keep your focus on honoring your profession.
- Punch through the bag
My mixed martial arts teacher Mr. Fiori always tells me to “punch through the bag” when I am practicing jabs and crosses. If you just focus on hitting the target itself, your punch will be weak. Set your target a foot behind the bag, and aim to hit that. The same applies to your work. How does today’s goal relate to tomorrow’s goal, and next year’s goal? How will your choices today affect your relatives in seven generations? Always think ahead.
- When imitated, don’t retaliate, innovate
When you are great at what you do, people are bound to imitate you. Sometimes they will try to steal your intellectual property, or students, or employees or business model, or artistic genre. It is natural to get upset when this happens. But instead of fighting with the imitator, move on to innovate the next stage of your work. If you are doing your job well, your work is constantly improving and growing. Imitate that.
Once you begin to cultivate a mastery mindset, life slows down and you appreciate the delicious nuances in every moment. And when you sink into that way of living, you may realize that mastery is not even the goal.
“Science is not about control. It is about cultivating a perpetual condition of wonder in the face of something that forever grows one step richer and subtler than our latest theory about it. It is about reverence, not mastery.” – Richard Powers