“Mastery” Quotes

I recently finished reading “Mastery: The Keys to Long-Term Fulfillment” by George Leonard. Here are the quotes I found interesting. As always, if you like the quotes, please consider buying the book here.

“If there is any sure route to success and fulfillment in life, it is to be found in the long-term, essentially goalless process of mastery.” (xiii)

“You have to be willing to spend most of your time on a plateau, to keep practicing even when you seem to e getting nowhere.” (15)

“When your tennis partner starts improving his or her game and you don’t, the game eventually breaks up. The same thing applies to relationships.” (24)

“Unlike the Hacker, we were working hard, doing the best we could to improve our skills. But we had learned the perils of getting ahead of ourselves, and now were willing ot stay on the plateau for as long as was necessary. Ambition still was there, but it was tame.d Once again we enjoyed our training. We loved the plateau. And we made progress.” (44)

““A lot of people go for things only because a teacher told them they should, or their parents,” said Olympic gymnast Peter Vidmar. “People who get into something for the money, the fame, or the medal can’t be effective. When you discover your own desire, you’re not going to wait for other people to find solutions to your problems. You’re going to find your own. I set goals for myself, but underlying all the goals and the work wast he fact that I enjoyed it.”” (45)

“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.” (47)

“Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is not a man of small ego. I’m sure he loved the money, the fame, the privileges his career brought him. But he loved the sky-hook more.” (48)

“The human individual is equipped to learn and go on learning prodigiously from birth to death, and this is precisely what sets him or her apart from all other known forms of life. Man has at various times been defined as a building animal, a working animal, and a fighting animal, but all of these definitions are incomplete and finally false. Man is a learning animal.” (53)

“If you intend to take the journey of mastery, the best thing you can do is to arrange for first-rate instruction.” (55)

“Even those who will some day overthrow conventional ways of thinking or doing need to know what it is they are overthrowing.” (55)

“It’s particularly challenging, in fact, for a top performer to become a first-rate teacher. Instruction demands a certain humility; at best, the teacher takes delight in being surpassed by his or her students.” (57)

“The essence of the instructor’s art lies in the ability to work effectively and enthusiastically with beginners and to serve as a guide on the path of mastery for those who are neither as fast nor as talented as the norm.” (58)

“In his book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Zen master Shunryu Suzuki approaches the question of fast and slow learners in terms of horses. “In our scriptures, it is said that there are four kinds of horses: excellent ones, good ones, poor ones, and bad ones. The best horse will run slow and fast, right and left, at the driver’s will, before it sees the shadow of the whip; the second best will run as well as the first one, just before the whip reaches its skin; the third one will run when it feels pain on its body; the fourth will run after the pain penetrates to the marrow of its bones. You can imagine how difficult it is for the fourth one to learn to run.
“When we hear this story, almost all of us want to be the best horse. If it is impossible to be the best one, we want to be the second best.” But this is a mistake, Master Suzuki says. When you learn too easily, you’re tempted not to work hard, not to penetrate to the marrow of a practice.
“If you study calligraphy, you will find that those who are not so clever usually become the best calligraphers. Those who are very clever with their hands often encounter great difficulty after they have reached a certain stage. This is also true in art, and in life.” The best horse, according to Suzuki, may be the worst horse. And the worse horse can be the best, for if it perseveres, it will have learned whatever it is practicing all the way to the marrow of its bones.” (67)

“Learning eventually involves interaction between the learner and the learning environment, and its effectiveness relates tot he frequency, quality, variety, and intensity of the interaction.” (68)

“If the traveler is fortunate – that is, if the path is complex and profound enough – the destination is two miles farther way for every mile he or she travels.” (74)

“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.” (75)

““The master,” an old martial arts saying goes, “is the one who stays on the mat five minutes longer every day than anybody else.”” (76)

“The master of any game is generally a master of practice.” (77)

““How long will it take me to master aikido?” a prospective student asks. “How Long do you expect to live?” is the only respectable response.” (79)

“The courage of a master is measured by his or her willingness to surrender. This means surrendering to your teacher and to the demands of your discipline. It also means surrendering your own hard-won proficiency from time to time in order to reach a higher or different level of proficiency.” (81)

“The essence of boredom is to be found in the obsessive search for novelty: Satisfaction lies in mindful repetition, the discovery of endless richness in subtle variations on familiar themes.” (83)

“For the master, surrender means there are no experts. There are only learners.” (88)

“Now we come, as come we must in anything of real consequence, to a seeming contradiction, a paradox. Almost without exception, those we know as masters are dedicated to the fundamentals of their calling. They are zealots of practice, connoisseurs of the small, incremental step. At the same time – and here’s the paradox – these people, these masters, are precisely the one who are likely to challenge previous limits, to take risks for the sake of higher performance, and even to become obsessive at times in that pursuit. Clearly, for them the key is not either/or, it’s both/and.” (97)

“The trick here is not only to test the edges of the envelope, but also to walk the fine line between endless, goalless practice and those alluring goals that appear along the way.” (98)

In the words of the ancient Eastern adage: “Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.”” (99)

“The new black belt is expected to be on the mat the next day, ready to take the first fall.” (99)

“But before you can even consider playing this edge, there must be many years of instruction, practice, surrender, and intentionality. And afterwards? More training, more time on the plateau: the never-ending path again.” (101)

“Backsliding is a universal experience. Every one of us resists significant change, no matter whether it’s for the worse or for the better. Our body, brain, and behavior have a built-in tendency to stay the same within rather narrow limits, and to snap back when changed – and it’s a very good thing they do.” (107)

“If an organization or cultural reform meets tremendous resistance, it is because it’s either a tremendously bad idea or a tremendously good idea. Trivial change, bureaucratic meddling, is much easier to accept, and that’s one reason why you see so much of it.” (112)

“The fine art of playing the edge in this case involves a willingness to take one step back for every two forward, sometimes vice versa. It also demands a determination to keep pushing, but not without awareness. Simply turning off your awareness to the warnings deprives you of guidance and risks damaging the system. Simply pushing your way through despite the warning signals increases the possibility of backsliding.” (115)

Tools for mastery:

  1. Be aware of the way homeostasis works.
  2. Be willing to negotiate with your resistance to change.
  3. Develop a support system.
  4. Follow a regular practice.
  5. Dedicate yourself to lifelong learning. (114-118)

“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. Often the best remedy for physical weariness is thirty minutes of aerobic exercise.” (120)

Getting energy for mastery:

  1. Maintain physical fitness
  2. Acknowledge the negative and accentuate the positive.
  3. Try telling the truth.
  4. Honor but don’t indulge your own dark side.
  5. Set your priorities
  6. Make Commitments
  7. Get on the path of mastery and stay on it. (123-131)

“Priorities do shift, and you can change them at any time, but simply getting them down in black and white adds clarity to your life, and clarity creates energy.” (129)

“The gift of an externally imposed deadline isn’t always available. Sometimes you need to set your own. But you have to take it seriously. One way to do this is to make it public.” (130)

“You can’t build energy 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.” (131)

““Never marry a person,” psychologist Nathaniel Brandon tells his clients, “who is not a friend of your excitement.”” (134)

Pitfalls along the path to mastery:

  1. Conflicting way of life
  2. Obsessive goal orientation
  3. Poor instruction
  4. Lack of competitiveness
  5. Over-competitiveness
  6. Laziness
  7. Injuries
  8. Drugs
  9. Prizes and medals
  10. Vanity
  11. Dead seriousness
  12. Inconsistency
  13. Perfectionism (133-140)

“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 saying goes, keep on climbing.” (134)

“If you’re always thinking about appearances, you can never attain the state of concentration that’s necessary for effective learning and top performance.” (138)

“To be deadly serious is to suffer tunnel vision. When choosing fellow voyagers, beware of grimness, self importance, and the solemn eye.” (139)

“Even without comparing ourselves to the world’s greatest, we set such high standards for ourselves that neither we nor anyone else could ever meet them-and nothing is more destructive to creativity than this. We fail to realize that mastery is not about perfection. It’s about a process, a journey. The master is the one who stays on the path day after day, year after year. The master is the one who is willing to try, and fail, and try again, for as long as he or she lives.” (140)

“Psychologist Abraham Maslow discovered a childlike quality (he called it a “second naivete”) in people who have met an unusually high degree of their potential.” (175)

If you liked the book, please buy it here.

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