6/3/21: Mastery is a measure of execution, not results

Sent 6/3/21

This week's Think Better Newsletter is about viewing mastery through a lens of execution, not results. 

The Idea

I've been thinking a lot about mastery and the aging process this year. Tom Brady won the Super Bowl, Phil Mickelson won the Master's, and my guest last week on Fueling the Pursuit, Dede Griesbauer, set an Ultraman world record at age 49.

They are truly masters of their crafts. But they are also outliers, because they are literally still winning!

What's much more common is for athletes to continue to improve their skills and understanding, but to gradually "lose a step" and be unable to compete with the best of the best. This can push some to reinvent themselves--think Michael Jordan developing a post-up game--but age is undefeated.

In an endurance sport, this can be stark. Olympic medalist Nick Willis just finished 13th in a race in which US high schooler Hobbs Kessler finished 5th. Nick Willis is arguably the greatest 1500m racer of his generation. He is a master at executing the 1500 meter distance. And as amazing as Kessler is, nobody would argue he has "mastered" the mile.

Aging highlights this disconnect between mastery and ability. Sometimes, talent and youth trump knowledge and experience.

But it isn't just a disconnect for older athletes. For example, I believe there are 2:30 marathoners who know just as much about racing an ideal marathon as many of the 2:08 runners out there. There are mid-pack runners who consistently race better than the runners ahead of them. 

The reality is there are many factors that go into the final results, and some of those are outside our control. Mastery of a craft is about how you can execute what you do control.  

The System

Five Levels of Mastery

Last year I wrote an article on the The Five Levels of Mastery. I outline what they are, the 10x rule for advancing to the next level, and how to know how good is good enough. You absolutely should read the article, but here is a shortened version of the Five Levels:

LEVEL 1: UNDERSTANDING - You know a little about the field and who the major players are.

LEVEL 2: BASIC COMPETENCE - You can do most of what you need to do, albeit slowly and inefficiently. 

LEVEL 3: FLUENCY - The level of a typical professional. You know all of the key aspects of your job/craft and you can execute them efficiently and without assistance.

LEVEL 4: CREATIVITY - You are a professional with a specialty or unique ability that sets you apart from the average person at level 3.

LEVEL 5: MASTERY - This is the final level and it involves understanding your field, craft, or skill so well that there is virtually nothing you can’t do.

It's important that we work toward mastery in some area of our lives. It satisfies part of our core drive for self-determination.

But mastery doesn't need to mean being the best. A more productive definition is "knowing the right thing to do in every situation and doing it the right way."

Knowing the right thing to do requires you to create a strong mental representation of the activity. To develop the ability to break down and comprehend all the steps required. This comes from years of study and experience.

Doing it the right way requires preparing correctly, getting in the right environment and frame of mind, and making the right decisions at the right times. It also requires developing the physical skills to perform the actions.

If you can do this, you will consistently execute well. Whether or not you ever become "the best," you will become your best, and gain the fulfillment of having mastered your craft while you do.

The Question

How good do you need to be to get what you want out of your training?


Go Be More,

Bryan Green
Author of Make the Leap: Think Better, Train Better, Run Faster and the companion Think Better Workbook
Co-host of the Go Be More Podcast
Co-host of the Fueling the Pursuit Podcast

"Mastery, I learned, was not something genetic, or for a lucky few. It is something we can all attain if we get rid of some misconceptions and gain clarity as to the required path." - Robert Greene



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