Mastery - By Robert Greene

ISBN: 
014312417X
Date read: 
January 4, 2016
Rating: 
10
/10
See My Collection of 100+ Book Notes

My Thoughts

Amazing deconstruction of what it takes to become the very best in a field. From Ben Franklin to Paul Graham, figure out how they overcame obstacles, combined their skills, and changed the world. A must read for anyone who wants to accomplish great things..

Summary Notes

Mastery: The feeling that we have a greater command of reality, other people, and ourselves.

Three Phases of Mastery:

  1. You stand outside of the field, learning the basic elements and rules.
  2. You gain an understanding of the field through practice, immersion, and connecting concepts. Experiment abundantly.
  3. You see the whole picture with great granularity

When we take our time and focus in depth, when we trust that going through a process of months or years will bring us mastery, we infallibly move to higher and higher levels of intelligence.

Natural talent or a high IQ cannot explain future achievement.

Our levels of desire, patience, persistence, and confidence end up playing a much larger role in success than sheer reasoning powers. Feeling motivated and energized, we can overcome almost anything. Feeling bored and restless, our minds shut off and we become increasingly passive.

What most Masters have in common:

  • A youthful passion;
  • A chance encounter that allows them to discover how to apply it;
  • An apprenticeship in which they come alive with energy and focus;
  • They practice harder and move faster through the process;
  • They feel an intense connection to their field;
  • Their deep and powerful inclination towards their field allows them to go further and worked harder than any other. This inclination is a reflection of a person’s uniqueness.

People get the mind and quality of brain that they deserve through their actions in life.

“Just as a well-filled day brings blessed sleep, so a well-employed life brings a blessed death.”

Connect or reconnect with your inclinations, that sense of uniqueness. The first step is always inward.

See your career or vocational path as a journey with twists and turns rather than a straight line. Choose a field or position that corresponds to your inclinations. Then you'll discover certain side routes that attract you. You adjust and perhaps move to a related field, continuing to learn more about yourself, but always expanding off your skill base.

Eventually, you will hit upon a particular field that suits you perfectly. You will recognize it when you find it because it will spark that childlike sense of wonder and excitement; it will feel right.  

What man in the world would not find his situation intolerable if he chooses a craft, an art, indeed any form of life, without experiencing an inner calling?
—Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Primal Inclination Strategy

For Masters, their inclination often presents itself in childhood. Your interest must transcend the field itself and border on the religious. For Einstein, it was not physics but a fascination with invisible forces that governed the universe.

Dig for signs of such inclinations in your earliest years. Look for its traces in visceral reactions to something simple; a desire to repeat an activity that you never tired of; a subject that stimulated an unusual degree of curiosity; feelings of power attached to particular actions.


The Darwinian Strategy.

Find a niche in the ecology that you can dominate. In the beginning you choose a field that roughly corresponds to your interests (medicine, electrical engineering). From there you can go in one of two directions.

  • From within your field, look for side paths that attract you. Make a move to this narrower field. Continue this process until you eventually hit upon a totally unoccupied niche. The narrower the better.
  • Once you have mastered your first field, look for other subjects or skills that you can conquer, on your own time if necessary. Combine this added field of knowledge to the original one, perhaps creating a new field, or at least making novel connections between them. Create a field that is uniquely your own.

It struck him that people suffered more from sameness, from the inability to think of doing things differently, than from nonconformity.

You cannot have everything in the present. The road to mastery requires patience. You will have to keep your focus on five or ten years down the road.

When you are faced with deficiencies instead of strengths and inclinations: ignore your weaknesses and resist the temptation to be more like others. Direct yourself toward the small things you are good at. Do not dream or make grand plans for the future. Concentrate on becoming proficient at these simple and immediate skills.

Do not envy those who seem to be naturally gifted; it is often a curse, as such types rarely learn the value of diligence and focus.

In the stories of the greatest Masters, past and present, we can inevitably detect a phase of five to ten years where they were developing their future knowledge and skills.

The goal of an apprenticeship is not money, a good position, a title, or a diploma, but rather the transformation of your mind. Choose places of work and positions that offer the greatest possibilities for learning. Practical knowledge is the ultimate commodity. do not choose apprenticeships that seem easy and comfortable.

Step One: Deep Observation—The Passive Mode

The greatest mistake you can make in the initial months of your apprenticeship is to imagine that you have to get attention, impress people, and prove yourself. If you impress people in these first months, it should be because of the seriousness of your desire to learn, not because you are trying to rise to the top before you are ready.

Observe the rules and procedures.

Observe is the power relationships that exist within the group.

Every task you are given, no matter how menial, offers opportunities to observe this world at work. No detail about the people within it is too trivial.


Step Two: Skills Acquisition—The Practice Mode

We learn best through practice and repetition. We learn a foreign language by actually speaking it as much as possible, not by reading books and absorbing theories. The more we speak and practice, the more fluent we become.

Keep your eyes on the cycle of accelerated returns in which the practice becomes easier and more interesting, leading to the ability to practice for longer hours, which increases your skill level, which in turn makes practice even more interesting. Reaching this cycle is the goal you must set for yourself

Begin with one skill that you can master, and that serves as a foundation for acquiring others. You must avoid at all cost the idea that you can manage learning several skills at a time.

The initial stages of learning a skill invariably involve tedium. Yet rather than avoiding this inevitable tedium, you must accept and embrace it.

It is better to dedicate two or three hours of intense focus to a skill than to spend eight hours of diffused concentration on it.

Get as much feedback as possible from others

Those who have researched the subject repeatedly come up with the number of 10,000 hours

Although the number of hours might seem high, it generally adds up to seven to ten years of sustained, solid practice. In other words, concentrated practice over time cannot fail but produce results.

Step Three: Experimentation—The Active Mode

As you gain in skill, move to a more active mode of experimentation. Most people wait too long to take this step, generally out of fear. The future belongs to those who learn more skills and combine them in creative ways.

1. Value learning over money

Train yourself to get by with little money and make the most of your youthful energy. Value learning above everything else. You must never disdain an apprenticeship with no pay.

2. Keep expanding your horizons

If you desire an apprenticeship, you have to do it yourself. When you enter this phase, you generally begin at the lowest position. Your access to knowledge and people is limited by your status.

Reading books and materials that go beyond what is required is always a good starting point.

Be relentless in your pursuit for expansion. Whenever you feel like you are settling into some circle, force yourself to shake things up and look for new challenges,

3. Revert to a feeling of inferiority

When you enter a new environment, your task is to learn and absorb as much as possible. Try to revert to a childlike feeling of inferiority—the feeling that others know much more than you and that you are dependent upon them to learn and safely navigate your apprenticeship.

4. Trust the process

Many of those who succeed in life have had the experience in their youth of having mastered some skill. Buried in their minds is the sensation of overcoming their frustrations and entering the cycle of accelerated returns. Filled with trust in the process, they trudge on well past the point at which others slow down or mentally quit.

When it comes to mastering a skill, time is the magic ingredient.

Frustration is a sign of progress

5. Move toward resistance and pain

He spent hours exercising, well past any feelings of boredom or pain. To continue his education, he would return to his school in his off-hours and read as many books as he could in the library.

Never again would he suffer from writer’s block—he had trained himself to write past any obstacle. He had acquired now the habit of writing quickly, with intensity and focus—concentrating his work in a few hours.

Once we grow adept at some aspect of this skill, generally one that comes more easily to us, we prefer to practice this element over and over. Our skill becomes lopsided as we avoid our weaknesses. Go in the opposite direction of all of your natural tendencies when it comes to practice.

Resist the temptation to be nice to yourself.

  • Train yourself to concentrate in practice with double the intensity, as if it were the real thing times two.
  • Invent exercises that work upon your weaknesses.
  • Give yourself arbitrary deadlines to meet certain standards.

Five hours of intense, focused work are the equivalent of ten for most people.

6. Apprentice yourself in failure

Two kinds of failure:

  1. From never trying because you are afraid, or because you are waiting for the perfect time. This kind of failure you can never learn from, and such timidity will destroy you.
  2. from a bold and venturesome spirit. If you fail in this way, the hit that you take to your reputation is greatly outweighed by what you learn.
    To apprentice as an entrepreneur you must act on your ideas as early as possible, exposing them to the public
7. Combine the “how” and the “what”

We must make ourselves study as deeply as possible the technology we use, the functioning of the group we work in, the economics of our field, its lifeblood. We must constantly ask the questions—how do things work, how do decisions get made, how does the group interact?

8. Advance through trial and error

Although there are many ways in which this could influence the concept of apprenticeship, it is the hacker approach to programming that may offer the most promising model for this new age. Learn as many skills as possible but only if they are related to your deepest interests.

A study of some seventy great classical composers determined that with only three exceptions, all of the composers had needed at least ten years to produce their first great work.

What in fact separates Mozart and Einstein from others is the extreme youth with which they began their apprenticeships and the intensity with which they practiced, stemming from their total immersion in the subject. It is often the case that in our younger years we learn faster, absorb more deeply, and yet retain a kind of creative verve that tends to fade as we get older.

There are no shortcuts or ways to bypass the Apprenticeship Phase. The very desire to find shortcuts makes you eminently unsuited for any kind of mastery.

Michael Faraday:

“He had never met someone quite so intense at such a young age.”

The owner encouraged him to read whatever he liked in his off-hours, and Faraday obliged by devouring almost every single book that passed through his hands. One evening he read an encyclopedia passage on the most recent discoveries in electricity, and he suddenly felt as if he had found his calling in life. Science, it seemed to him, was a great quest to unravel the mysteries of Creation itself. Somehow, he would transform himself into a scientist.

For Watts, learning had to be an active process. He recommended not just reading about scientific discoveries, but actually re-creating the experiments that led to them.

Arriving early each time and gaining the closest seat he could find, he soaked up every aspect of Davy’s lectures, taking the most detailed notes he had ever attempted.

The pay was low, considerably lower than what he could gain as a bookbinder, but Faraday, hardly believing his good fortune, accepted on the spot.

His education was so rapid it shocked him; it was nothing like the progress he had made on his own.

Although Faraday did not relish the thought of acting as a personal servant, the chance to meet some of Europe’s most preeminent scientists and work so closely with Davy on his experiments was too much to pass up. It was best to be around him as much as possible and soak up his knowledge.

All that should concern you in the early stages of your career is acquiring practical knowledge in the most efficient manner possible.

Mentors do not give you a shortcut, but they streamline the process. What took you ten years on your own could have been done in five with proper direction.

To initially entice the right Master to serve as your mentor, you will want to mix in a strong element of self-interest. You have something tangible and practical to offer them, in addition to your youth and energy. Before he had ever met him, You may not want to go in search of mentors until you have acquired some elementary skills and discipline that you can rely upon to interest them.

Work on yourself first by developing a solid work ethic.

You want person-to-person access, however you can get it.

You will want as much personal interaction with the mentor as possible. A virtual relationship is never enough.

If your circumstances limit your contacts, books can serve as temporary mentors. Convert such books and writers into living mentors. You personalize their voice, interact with the material, taking notes or writing in the margins.  

It is often a curse to learn under someone truly brilliant and accomplished—your own confidence becomes crushed as you struggle to follow all of their great ideas.

Gain your mentors respect for how teachable you are,

He had no chance for a formal education, and nobody crossed his path who could serve as a teacher or mentor. In every city he spent time in, he frequented the public library. Through books, experiments, and practical experience at various jobs, Edison gave himself a rigorous education that lasted about ten years, up until the time he became an inventor. He had developed the habit of overcoming his lack of an organized education by sheer determination and persistence. He worked harder than anyone else.

Develop extreme self-reliance. Push yourself to learn from every possible source. Read more books than those who have a formal education

Social intelligence is nothing more than accepting people as they are.

Because we are all a mix of unique qualities and traits common to our species, only the possession of both forms of knowledge can give you a complete picture of the people around you.

Specific Knowledge—Reading People

Not inward-directed but attending more deeply to another person. Train yourself to pay less attention to the words that people say and greater attention to their tone of voice, the look in their eye, their body language.

What might seem like small issues—chronically being late, insufficient attention to detail, not returning any favors on your part—are signs of something deeper about their character.

General Knowledge—The Seven Deadly Realities

  1. Envy:
    If you have a gift, make a point of occasionally displaying some weakness. Avoid appearing too perfect, too talented. If you are dealing with insecure types, you can display great interest in their work.
    You must be particularly careful to never make people feel stupid in your presence
  2. Conformism:
    If you have a rebellious or naturally eccentric streak, be careful in displaying your difference too overtly. Let your work subtly demonstrate your individual spirit.
    Reserve your most interesting and colorful thoughts for your friends, and for those whom you can trust outside work.
  3. Rigidity:
    If you press your case with logic and reason, you will tend to make them even more defensive and resistant. If you are an adventurous, open-minded type, your very spirit will prove disruptive and upsetting. Simply accept rigidity in others, outwardly displaying deference to their need for order.
  4. Self-obsessiveness:
    When it is time to ask for a favor or help, you must think first of appealing to people’s self-interest in some way.
    In your interactions with people, find a way to make the conversations revolve around them and their interests, all of which will go far to winning them to your side.
  5. Laziness:
    Your best defense is prudence. Keep your ideas to yourself, or conceal enough so that it is not possible to steal them. If you are doing work for a superior, be prepared for them to take full credit and leave your name out Secure your credit in advance as part of the terms of working together.
    In general, be wary of people who want to collaborate—they are often trying to find someone who will do the heavier lifting for them.
  6. Flightiness:
    It is best to cultivate both distance and a degree of detachment from other people’s shifting emotions. Focus on their actions, which are generally more consistent, and not on their words
  7. Passive Aggression:
    Procrastinating on a project, showing up late, or making offhand comments designed to upset people are common forms of low-level passive aggression.
    Either get out of their way and leave their presence, or return the attack with something equally indirect, signaling in some subtle way that messing with you will come with a price.

To develop your intellectual powers at the expense of the social is to retard your own progress to mastery, and limit the full range of your creative powers.

He allowed his book to speak for itself, knowing that by asserting himself after its publication, he would merely call attention to the person and not the work.

Your work is the single greatest means at your disposal for expressing your social intelligence. By making what you write or present clear and easy to follow, you show your care for the audience or public at large.

2. Craft the appropriate persona

By working at night had other advantages she could focus deeply. She could experiment with her pieces, make mistakes that no one would see. She could be fearless and take chances. Because few people had seen her at work, it appeared that these sculptures flowed out of her effortlessly—as if she had some unusual gift. It would be a mistake to deflate the powerful effect her work had on others by suddenly revealing to everyone how many hours she had applied herself to these sculptures, and how they were really the product of intense labor and discipline. What you do not reveal to people is all the more eloquent and powerful.

3. See yourself as others see you

Ever since she was a child, Grandin had the peculiar ability to see herself from the outside, as if she were looking at another person. She realized she could use this gift for practical effect, by looking at her past mistakes as if watching another person in action.

Her realization of what had gone wrong did not stem from empathy as it might have for other people—it was an intellectual exercise. But because her emotions were not so deeply involved, it was easier to go through the process and make the necessary corrections.

4. Suffer fools gladly

He would observe them as if they were figures in a stage play. They would reveal to him their secrets, their petty dramas, and their inane ideas, and all the while he would smile and always take their side.

He could hear their possible criticisms in his head, and he addressed them one by one in his subsequent writings. This made him a better writer and thinker. In the end, he came to welcome the attacks of his enemies for how much they had improved his work and toughened him up.

What should matter is getting long-term results, and getting the work done in as efficient and creative a manner as possible. But fools carry with them a different scale of values. They place more importance on short-term matters.

In dealing with fools you must adopt the following philosophy: they are simply a part of life, like rocks or furniture.


For Mozart, if the piece was new and hard to figure out, he would attack it day and night with such tenacity that it would soon become part of his repertoire. At night, his parents would have to force him to stop practicing and send him to bed. This love of practice only seemed to increase with the years.

Sensing that his time was short and that he had almost too much to express, he threw himself into his music with an intensity that was even greater than what he had displayed in childhood. As if all of his ideas had been pent up for too long, he exploded in a creative outburst unprecedented in the history of music.

Some people maintain their childlike spirit and spontaneity, but their creative energy is dissipated in a thousand directions, and they never have the patience and discipline to endure an extended apprenticeship. Others have the discipline to accumulate vast amounts of knowledge and become experts in their field, but they have no flexibility of spirit, so their ideas never stray beyond the conventional and they never become truly creative. Masters manage to blend the two—discipline and a childlike spirit.

Step One: The Creative Task

You could have the most brilliant mind, teeming with knowledge and ideas, but if you choose the wrong subject or problem to attack, you can run out of energy and interest. The task that you choose to work on must have an obsessive element.

If you are excited and obsessive in the hunt, it will show in the details. Choose something that appeals to your sense of unconventionality and calls up latent feelings of rebelliousness.

The task that you choose must be realistic. To reach your goal you may have to learn a few new things, but you must have mastered the basics.


Step Two: Creative Strategies

Truly creative people in all fields can temporarily suspend their ego and simply experience what they are seeing, without the need to assert a judgment, for as long as possible. The need for certainty is the greatest disease the mind faces. Suspend the need to judge everything that crosses your path.

Invite serendipity into the creative process by taking two simple steps.

  1. Widen your search as far as possible. You expand your search into other fields, reading and absorbing any related information.  The second step is to maintain an openness and looseness of spirit.
  2. In moments of great tension and searching, allow yourself moments of release. You take walks, engage in activities outside your work (Einstein played the violin), or think about something else, no matter how trivial.

Anthony Burgess decided on several occasions to choose random words in a reference book and use them to guide the plot of a novel, according to the order and associations of the words.

Keep a notebook with you at all times.

Fuller noticed that many people have great ideas, but are afraid to put them into action in any form. He created a strategy of forging what he called “artifacts.” Working off his ideas, which were sometimes quite wild, he would make models of things he imagined, and if they seemed at all feasible, he would proceed to invent prototypes of them. By actually translating his ideas into tangible objects, he could gain a sense of whether they were potentially interesting or merely ridiculous

In general you want to pay greater attention to the relationships between things, because that will give you a greater feel for the picture as a whole.

Shift our focus from the macro to the micro—place much greater emphasis on the details, the small picture.

Anomalies tend to be ignored or explained away. In truth, anomalies themselves contain the richest information. They often reveal to us the flaws in our paradigms and open up new ways of looking at the world.

In business, the natural tendency is to look at what is already out there in the marketplace and to think of how we can make it better or cheaper. Focus our attention on some need that is not currently being met, on what is absent. If the need is too obvious, others will already be working on it.

If there are no words for certain concepts, we tend to not think of them. And so language is a tool that is often too tight and constricting, compared to the multilayered powers of intelligence we naturally possess.


Step Three: The Creative Breakthrough—Tension and Insight

In the creative lives of almost all Masters, they begin a project with an initial intuition and an excitement about its potential success. Their project is deeply connected to something personal and primal, and seems very much alive to them.

As the process begins that idea once so alive in them starts to seem somewhat dead or stale. The harder they try, the more inner tension and frustration they create. In the beginning, their mind teemed with rich associations; now it seems condemned to a narrow track of thought that does not spark the same connections.

They understand that they must plow forward, and that the frustration, or the feeling of being blocked, has a purpose.

At a particular high point of tension, they let go for a moment. What almost inevitably happens in such moments is that the solution, the perfect idea for completing the work comes to them.

If we remained as excited as we were in the beginning of our project, maintaining that intuitive feel that sparked it all, we would never be able to take the necessary distance to look at our work objectively and improve upon it.


Emotional Pitfalls
  • Complacency:
    We cannot help but feel satisfaction in what we have learned and how far we have progressed. We stop asking the same kinds of questions that plagued us earlier on. We already know the answers.
    Fight this downhill tendency as much as you can by upholding the value of active wonder. Constantly remind yourself of how little you truly know, and of how mysterious the world remains.
  • Conservatism:
    You begin to fall in love with the ideas and strategies that worked for you in the past. Creativity is by its nature an act of boldness and rebellion. Make creativity rather than comfort your goal and you will ensure far more success for the future.
  • Dependency:
    You rely on mentors and those above you to supply you with the necessary standards of judgment for your field. But if you are not careful, you will carry this need for approval over into the next phase. Instead of relying on the Master for evaluation of your work, you come to rely on the opinions of the public.
  • Impatience:
    Impatience haunts you, no matter how disciplined you might think you are. You will convince yourself that your work is essentially over and well done. Cultivate a kind of pleasure in pain—like an athlete, you come to enjoy rigorous practice, pushing past your limits, and resisting the easy way out.
  • Grandiosity:
    Praise generally does harm. Without realizing it, we alter and shape our work to attract the praise that we crave. What must ultimately motivate you is the work itself and the process. Public attention is actually a nuisance and a distraction. Such an attitude is the only defense against falling into the traps set by our ego.
  • Inflexibility:
    You must know your field inside and out, and yet be able to question its most entrenched assumptions.

In any event, you must avoid emotional extremes and find a way to feel optimism and doubt at the same time.

The creative process

1. The Authentic Voice

Coltrane was not sure how he could reach such heights, but he knew that Parker practiced the instrument harder than anyone.

By spending so long learning structure, developing technique, and absorbing every possible style and way of playing, Coltrane built up a vast vocabulary. Once all of this became hardwired into his nervous system, his mind could focus on higher things. With all that he had learned and mastered, he could combine ideas and styles in unique ways.

The greatest impediment to creativity is your impatience, the almost inevitable desire to hurry up the process, express something, and make a splash.

2. The Fact of Great Yield

We often find people going at them from the wrong end —they begin with an ambitious goal, a business, or an invention or a problem they want to solve. They then search for ways to reach that goal. Such a search could go in thousands of directions, each of which could pan out in its own way, but in which they could also easily end up exhausting themselves and never find the key to reaching their overarching goal.

Go in search of the fact of great yield—a bit of empirical evidence that is strange and does not fit the paradigm, and yet is intriguing.

3. Mechanical Intelligence

The key to building anything right is repetition.

Because the designers of the flying machines could not fly for more than a minute, they were locked into a vicious cycle—they were never airborne long enough to learn how to fly and properly test out their designs, or get a feel for what might work. They were doomed to failure.

The Wright brothers would have to slowly evolve the perfect design. In the year 1900 alone they were able to perform more test flights than their competitors had attempted over many years

Their model depended not on superior technology, but on the highest number of test runs, creating an optimal learning curve. The emphasis was not on the parts, but on the overall flying experience; not on power, but on control. Since money was a factor, supreme importance was placed on ingenuity in getting the most out of the least.

Whatever you are creating or designing, you must test and use it yourself. Separating out the work will make you lose touch with its functionality. In doing this work, you see and feel the flaws in the design.

4. Natural Powers

Build into the creative process an initial period that is open-ended. You give yourself time to dream and wander, to start out in a loose and unfocused manner.

Have wide knowledge of your field and other fields, giving your brain more possible associations and connections.

Never settle into complacency, as if your initial vision represents the endpoint. You must cultivate profound dissatisfaction with your work and the need to constantly improve your ideas. Any kind of resistance or obstacle that crosses your path should be seen as yet another chance to improve your work.

Embrace slowness as a virtue in itself. Time is always relative. Whether your project takes months or years to complete, you will always experience a sense of impatience and a desire to get to the end.

5. The Open Field

With age comes conservatism and the need for comfort.

The work elicited extremes of reaction, a sign of its power.

Do not mistake newness with wild spontaneity. There is nothing that becomes repetitive and boring more quickly than free expression that is not rooted in reality and discipline.

6. The High End

Technical lock: Becoming locked into seeing every problem in the same way, using the same techniques and strategies that we've successfully used in the past.

7. The Evolutionary Hijack

What really makes successful entrepreneurs is not the nature of their idea, or the university they went to, but their actual character—their willingness to adapt their idea and take advantage of possibilities they had not first imagined. The other essential character trait was supreme tenacity.

What constitutes true creativity is the openness and adaptability of our spirit.

8. Dimensional Thinking

He wanted to get at the truth, not gain fame. Because he saw the translation of the Rosetta stone as his Life’s Task, he was willing to devote twenty or more years to the job, or whatever it took to solve the riddle. He did not attack the problem from the outside and with formulas, but rather went through a rigorous apprenticeship in ancient languages and Coptic.

You are not in a hurry. You prefer the holistic approach. You look at the object of study from as many angles as possible, giving your thoughts added dimensions

9. Alchemical Creativity and the Unconscious

To imagine that something can be intellectual and sensual, pleasurable and painful, real and unreal, good and bad, masculine and feminine is too chaotic and disturbing for us. Life, however, is more fluid and complex; our desires and experiences do not fit neatly into these tidy categories.

To create a meaningful work of art or to make a discovery or invention requires great discipline, self-control, and emotional stability. It requires mastering the forms of your field. Drugs and madness only destroy such powers. Do not fall for the romantic myths and clichés that abound in culture about creativity.  When you look at the exceptionally creative work of Masters, you must not ignore the years of practice, the endless routines, the hours of doubt, and the tenacious overcoming of obstacles these people endured.

Haunted by the sense that he would not live long, he would have to hurry this process and do all that he could to develop his writing powers.

He had long thought of life as an apprenticeship in which we are all slowly instructed in the ways of the world. Some people learn to read the signs and heed the lessons from this apprenticeship, developing themselves in the process; others do not. He had served an elaborate twenty-year apprenticeship in writing and in human nature. His time had not been wasted.

The ability to have this intuitive grasp of the whole and feel this dynamic is simply a function of time. Since it has been shown that the brain is literally altered after approximately 10,000 hours of practice, these powers would be the result of a transformation that happens in the brain after some 20,000 hours and beyond


The reasoning of Masters is guided by intuition; their intuition springs from intense rational focus. The two are fused.

It is not a matter of studying a subject for twenty years, and then emerging as a Master. The time that leads to mastery is dependent on the intensity of our focus. Make your years of study qualitatively rich.

What made those twenty years qualitatively different from those of an ordinary person was the intensity of his attention. He did not simply read books—he took them apart, rigorously analyzed them, and learned valuable lessons to apply to his own life. He did not merely socialize—he strained to understand people at their core and to uncover their secret motivations.

If we are half listening to a vocabulary lesson in a foreign language, we are not likely to retain it on any level. But if we are in the country where the language is spoken; we will tend to pay deeper attention because we need to,

The Return to Reality

Keep reminding yourself of the way things are connected, of their relatedness.

Mastery is not a function of genius or talent. It is a function of time and intense focus applied to a particular field of knowledge.

1. Connect to your environment—Primal Powers.

The information afforded to us through various media is only one small component in our connection to the environment. It is easy to become enamored with the powers that technology affords us, and to see them as the end and not the means. When that happens, we connect to a virtual environment, and the power of our eyes and brain slowly atrophy

2. Play to your strengths—Supreme Focus

Although we like to assume that a genius like Albert Einstein had powers far beyond our capabilities, his great discoveries depended on two very simple decisions he made as a young man. First, at the age of twenty he determined that he would be a mediocre experimental scientist. Second, he would consider his primal distaste for authority and conventions as a great strength. He would attack from the outside and unburden himself of all the assumptions that were torturing scientists in relation to Newton.

There are many paths to mastery, and if you are persistent you will certainly find one that suits you. But a key component in the process is determining your mental and psychological strengths and working with them. To rise to the level of mastery requires many hours of dedicated focus and practice. You cannot get there if your work brings you no joy and you are constantly struggling to overcome your own weaknesses.

3. Transform yourself through practice—The Fingertip Feel

The golden boys would ace these maneuvers in no time. For Rodriguez, it would require a lot of repetition and intense focus every time he entered the cockpit.

He also noticed a slight gap between himself and the golden boys. They had relied for so long on their natural skills that they had not cultivated the same level of concentration that he now possessed.

If we are learning a complex skill, such as flying a jet in combat, we must master a series of simple skills, one on top of the other. Each time one skill becomes automatic, the mind is freed up to focus on the higher one. At the very end of this process, when there are no more simple skills to learn, the brain has assimilated an incredible amount of information, all of which has become internalized, part of our nervous system. The whole complex skill is now inside us and at our fingertips.

In our culture we tend to denigrate practice. We want to imagine that great feats occur naturally—that they are a sign of someone’s genius or superior talent. They cloak from us the fact that almost anyone can reach such heights through tenacious effort, something that should encourage us all.

As individuals we must resist such a trend, and venerate the transformative powers we gain through practice.

4. Internalize the details—The Life Force

In going so deeply into their details, he had fleeting intimations of what animated these plants from within, what made them distinct and alive. Soon, thinking and drawing became fused in his mind. Through drawing things in the world around him, he came to understand them.

To other artists, Leonardo seemed insane for all of this attention to detail, but in the few paintings that he actually completed, the results of such rigorous practice can be seen and felt.

Most people don’t have the patience to absorb their minds in the fine points and minutiae that are intrinsically part of their work. They are in a hurry to create effects and make a splash; they think in large brush strokes.

A character in a novel, for instance, will come to life for the reader if the writer has put great effort into imagining the details of that character. The writer does not need to literally lay out these details; readers will feel it in the work and will intuit the level of research that went into the creation of it.

Seeing your work as something alive, your path to mastery is to study and absorb these details in a universal fashion, to the point at which you feel the life force and can express it effortlessly in your work.

5. Widen your vision—the Global Perspective

As someone who enjoyed practicing and training, the number of hours he spent in the gym as a professional boxer was much higher than that of other fighters.

In any competitive environment in which there are winners or losers, the person who has the wider, more global perspective will inevitably prevail.

“Look wider and think further ahead” must be your motto.

6. Submit to the other—The Inside-out Perspective

studying from the outside, many would say, preserves our objectivity. But what kind of objectivity is it when the researcher’s perspective is tainted by so many assumptions and predigested theories?

We always remain on the outside looking in, and this is the cause of so many misunderstandings and conflicts.

7. Synthesize all forms of knowledge—The Universal Man/Woman

He had the sensation that he possessed a type of inner spirit that he named his daemon. This spirit was an incarnation of all of his intense, restless, demonic energy. It could turn destructive or he could master it and channel it into something productive.

That year initiated one of the strangest and most amazing periods of productivity in the history of the human mind, stretching from his midfifties to his late sixties. The daemon he had repressed for several decades broke loose once more, but now he had the discipline to channel it into all kinds of work. Poems, novels, and plays came pouring out of him. He took up Faust again, writing most of it in this period. His day was an almost insane medley of different studies—writing in the morning, experiments and scientific observations (which were now expanded to chemistry and meteorology) in the afternoon, discussions with friends about aesthetics, science, and politics in the evening. He seemed to be tireless, and to be going through a second youth.

Why should any individual stop at poetry, or find art unrelated to science, or narrow his or her intellectual interests? The mind was designed to connect things, like a loom that knits together all of the threads of a fabric

He chose his own unique and strange path in life, guided by an inner force that he called his daemon—a spirit of restlessness that impelled him to explore beyond literature, to the core of life itself.

Goethe epitomizes what was known in the Renaissance as the Ideal of the Universal Man—a person so steeped in all forms of knowledge that his mind grows closer to the reality of nature itself and sees secrets that are invisible to most people.


Genius too does nothing but learn first how to lay bricks then how to build, and continually seek for material and continually form itself around it. Every activity of man is amazingly complicated, not only that of the genius: but none is a ‘miracle.
— Friedrich Nietzsche

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