Monday, October 10, 2011

The Art of Mastery

What does it take to achieve true mastery, whether in a skill, a subject or an activity? The answer seemingly is straightforward and simple...practice. What is not so simple perhaps is the amount of practice required. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book The Outliers, speaks about the 10,000 hour rule. Studies from various disciplines show consistently that 10,000 hours of practice are required to achieve the level of mastery needed to be considered a world-class expert in anything. 10,000 hours.

In fact, no one has yet been able to document a case of someone whose mastery was achieved in anything less than that. Practice is therefore the key to becoming truly excellent at anything requiring:
  • Clarity of intention
  • Dedication of effort
  • Focus of mind
  • Commitment to achievement

What then for those of us that are only beginning our journey into mastery? Do we feel weighed down by the seeming impossibility of ever achieving that magical number of 10,000 hours and give up before beginning? I believe this question should be answered with a clear and resounding NO!
 “ The Master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence in whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he is always doing both. -- Zen Buddhist Text
The important catch-phrase in the 10,000 hour rule, that most seem to miss, is that it is a requirement for achieving 'world-class' mastery. Your goal of personal mastery can be something less than world dominance in a field. In fact, you need only look to your field and strategically plan for 20%, perhaps 10%, better than those around you to be considered an expert. Let's face it, even doing 1% better, knowing 1% more, achieving 1% greater results can often be enough to put you ahead of the game being played by those around you.

Regardless of your target though, mastery both begins and ends with practice. You have to put in the time to net the results and it is this time that separates the achievers from the non-achievers. Those that are truly dedicated to gaining a level of mastery over a subject, a discipline, an activity, will invest the time needed to learn and develop an area.

I heard an alarming statistic this weekend. The average American tends to spend 4 hours a day watching television. This is 4 hours a day that they are not working on or practicing their mastery of anything. 4 hours a day that they choose not to dedicate toward becoming excellent at something. To take this statistic even further, consider that if you take someone in their teens, through to the age of 66, those four hours a day turn into 13 years. 13 years of your life that you have devoted yourself to watching television rather than devoting yourself to your development.

A further thought...the biggest reason I am given by clients as to why they have not taken action on a desired goal is that they did not have time. My follow up question of course is whether they had watched any television in that same week in which they had not found any time to work on their stated purpose. (and yes, YouTube counts!) The answer of course was that they had. Could you have responded differently?

I'm not suggesting that you run home and sell your television sets, but I am suggesting that you take a serious and long look at where and how you could be investing your time to develop your level of expertise. The fastest way to a promotion and increased career opportunities is to become better at what you do, to develop your level of mastery. Even small investments of time can accumulate big results.

For instance...

1/2 hour per day spent in study and practice would give you a total of 78 hours of study over the course of a year. Given an 8 hour workday, this represents the equivalent of just under 10 business days of focus and growth.

Would you not be significantly ahead of your competition at the end of a year in which you set aside just 30 minutes a day to practice, hone and refine your craft, to dedicate to extending your level and area of expertise? The answer seems pretty clear to me.

Your choice then...Master or Disciple? How you choose to spend your time will contribute greatly to the answer to this question not to mention what you achieve and experience in your life.

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