Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long Term Fulfillment by George Leonard

As coaches we often hear and preach the “process” over the result. Mastery by George Leonard takes that even further and helps us to understand more that the journey is the reward. Great knowledge nuggets are below on mastery, practice, focus and fulfillment.

“… perhaps we’ll never know how far the path can go, how much a human being can truly achieve, until we realize that the ultimate reward is not a gold medal but the path itself. “


  • P 17 – How do you best move toward mastery? To put it simply, you practice diligently, but you practice primarily for the sake of the practice itself. Rather than being frustrated while on the plateau, you learn to appreciate and enjoy it just as much as you do the upward surges.


  • P 39 – The achievement of goals if important. But the real juice of life — whether it be sweet or bitter, is to be found not nearly so much in the products of our efforts as in the process of living itself, in how it feels to be alive. We are taught in countless ways to value the product, the prize, the climactic moment. But even after we’ve just caught the winning pass in the end zone, there is always tomorrow, tomorrow and tomorrow


  • P 47 – But recognition is often unsatisfying and fame is like seawater for the thirsty. Love of your work, willingness to stay with it even in the absence of extrinsic reward, is good food and good drink.


  • P 49 – To love the plateau is to love what is most essential and enduring in life.


  • P 58 – (John) Wooden was observed to maintain approximately a fifty fifty ratio between reinforcement and correction, with exceptional enthusiasm on both sides of the equation.


  • P 67 – When you learn too easily, you’re tempted not to work hard, not to penetrate to the marrow of a practice.


  • P 70 – He or she is not necessarily the one who gives the most polished lectures, but rather the one who has discovered how to involve each student actively in the process of learning.


  • P 75 – There’s another secret: The people we know as masters don’t devote themselves to their particular skill just to get better at it. The truth is, they love to practice— and because of this they do get better. And then, to complete the circle, the better they get the more they enjoy performing the basic moves over and over again.


  • P 77 – The master of any game is generally a master of practice. In his prime, Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics was perhaps the most complete basketball player of all time. Unable to jump as high or run as fast as many other players, he was named NBA Rookie of the year in 1980. MVP, Champion, etc. Bird started at age 4, and never stopped practicing. “I’ve still got some things to work on.” … He does it to enjoy himself. Not to make money, to get acclaim, to gain stature. He just loves to play basketball.


  • P 82 – After all, learning almost any significant skill involves certain indignities. Your first few dive are likely to be belly flops — and they’ll draw the attention of almost everyone at the pool. Are you willing to accept that? If not, forget diving. … Punishment of this sort isn’t limited to beginners; it happens in the Olympics. If you want to get there, be prepared to take it.


  • P 85 – You might have to take your game apart before putting it back together… At first everything started falling apart. Where was my comfortable old  solo style? I had let go the cup and hadn’t yet grasped the quart. I was floundering in the scary, slippery space between competencies… (Letting go of a cup of milk to grab a quart of milk is comparable to improving at higher parts of mastery. The time that you are reaching from one to the next you are actually worse, without. But it takes that to get to the bigger cup/level of mastery.)


  • P 88 – Perhaps the best you can hope for on the master’s journey — whether your art be management or marriage, badminton or ballet — is to cultivate the mind and heart of the beginning at every stage along the way. For the master, surrender means there are no experts. Only learners.


  • P 89 – A successful shot, Nicklaus told us, was 50 percent visualization, 40 percent setup and only 10 percent swing.


  • P 114 – So don’t be surprised if some of the people you love start covertly or overtly undermining your self improvement. It’s not that they wish you harm, its just homeostasis at work (most people have a natural internal pull to keep things the same).


  • P 120 – A Human being is the kind of machine that wears out from lack of use. There are limits, of course, and we do need healthful rest and relaxation, but for the most part we gain energy by using energy. 


  • P 128 – Our generation has been raised on the idea of keeping your options open. But if you keep all your options open, you can’t do a damned thing. Its a problem: How can any one option, any one goal, match up to the possibilities contained in all others?


  • P 129 – By offering endless possibilities, it tempts you to choose none, to sit strain in endless wonder, to become comatose. Indecision leads to inaction, which leads to low energy, depression, despair.


  • P 130 – Take time for wise planning, but don’t take forever. Whatever you can do, or dream you can — begin it, Goethe wrote. Boldness has genius power and magic in it.


  • P 131 – You also learn that you can’t hoard energy you can’t build it up by not using it. Adequate rest is, of course, a part of the master’s journey, but, unaccompanied by positive action, rest may only depress you. It might well be, in fact, that much of the world’s depression and discontent, and perhaps even a good share of the pervasive malaise that leads to crime and war, can ultimately be traced to our unused energy, our untapped potential. People whose energy is flowing don’t need to take a drug, commit a crime, or go to war in order to feel fully awake and alive. There’s enough constructive, creative work for everybody, with plenty left over. All of us can increase our energy. Starting now.

Obsessive Goal Orientation: … the desire of most people today for quick, sure and highly visible results is perhaps the deadliest enemy of mastery. It’s fine to have ambitious goals, but the best way of reaching them is to cultivate modest expectations at every step along the way. When you’re climbing a mountain, in other words, be aware that the peak is ahead, but don’t keep looking up at it. Keep your eyes on the path. And when you reach the top of the mountain, as the Zen says, keep going.

Prizes and Medals: Excessive use of external motivation can slow and even stop your journey to mastery. Studies show that rewarding school children by giving them gold stars initially speeds up their progress but their progress soon levels off, even if you increase the number of stars. When you stop giving stars, their progress falls to a level lower than that of matched groups of children who get no stars in the first place. A report on the psychological limits of running speed shows that the major factor stopping the improvement of a champion runner’s speed is setting a record or winning an important medal. … perhaps we’ll never know how far the path can go, how much a human being can truly achieve, until we realize that the ultimate reward is not a gold medal but the path itself. 

To be deadly serious is to suffer tunnel vision. To be able to laugh at yourself clears the vision.”


  • P 146 – Life is filled with opportunities for practicing the inexorable, unhurried rhythm of mastery, which focuses on process rather than product, yet which, paradoxically, often ends up creating more and better products in a shorter time than does the hurried, excessively goal orientated rhythm that has become standard in our society.  — Mastery in the  Commonplace


  • P 148 – And you’ll eventually discover, in every significant area of your life, that the most important learning and development takes place during your time on the plateau.


  • P 164 – Relaxing for power – the word power springs from French and Latin roots meaning “to be able.” At best, this ableness applies not to achieving dominance over other people but to realizing your own potential for mastery. Power, in any case, is closely allied with relaxation. Just as a tense muscle loses in strength, so rigid, tense and overbearing attitude eventually fails.


  • Whatever your age, your upbringing or your education, what you are made of is mostly unused potential. It is your evolutionary destiny to use what is unused, to learn and keep on learning for as long as you live. To chose this destiny, to walk to path of mastery, isn’t always easy, but it is the ultimate human adventure.


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