Mastery: The Foundation of Motivation (Part Two)Feb 15, 2018
by Peter Axtell
drawings by Peter Axtell
Discover how Mastery is a critical part of Motivation.
In this post we'll cover how and why Mastery (sometimes called Competence) is an essential element in Motivation. We'll describe the 5 keys on the path to Mastery and you'll understand how that builds our sense of Autonomy.
Years ago, in Monterey California, I went to hear a speaker on humanistic psychology. The lights went down, and a white-haired trim gentleman in his late sixties walked slowly and deliberately on stage. Another man slightly more than half his age and twice as heavy walked on the opposite side of the stage. They turned and faced each other. The younger man ran full speed straight at the older gentleman in an attempt to attack him. It happened so fast, I couldn't really tell what had occurred, but the younger man was flat on the floor in an instant. My jaw dropped at what I had just witnessed. That was the only time I saw the black belt Aikido master and author of the landmark book “Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment,” George Leonard. George was 47 when a friend introduced him to the martial art of Aikido.
The four factors of motivation – CAMP:
The goal of this series of four posts is to answer the question: “How do I figure out what motivates me?”
The second factor of motivation is Mastery or Competence. George gives us deep insight into what Mastery is. We'll see how this ties into Autonomy, Connection and Purpose, which are essential to motivation as explained in “Self-Determination Theory: Basic Psychological Needs in Motivation, Development, and Wellness.”
What is Mastery or Competence?
Mastery is a path, a journey. It's not perfection; it's a path of practice. It's wise to have an aspiration like a distant star that inspires you. The way to move forward is to practice diligently, and the diligence is for the sake of practice and learning to love the Plateau. The Plateau is how you build intrinsic motivation and Autonomy little by little over time. There are five important keys to Mastery.
The 5 keys on the path to Mastery:
- Figure out what you LOVE. Figure out how you want to use your precious life. Consider that most of your waking hours you are going to spend in your career. Most people have never taken the time to ask: “What's my calling?” It's time to contemplate what that might be. I can hear you say for example, "I'd love to be an artist, but I have to make a living.” Then ask in a different way: "What's my intrinsic motivation to act on? What puts me in a state of flow?” Allow the thought process to go wild and be like an open vessel, open for the unexpected. Push the pause button and see what inspiration comes. This might take time, but it's worth it. Next, you have to find, listen, and surrender to a teacher.
- Find a teacher, the one who is best for you. Sometimes it takes a while until that person shows up in your life. Often it happens once you are ready and willing to listen, willing to be humble, and willing to leave everything you think you know behind. A great teacher is someone who can actually teach you what you want and need to learn. Someone who has your back, who believes in you, and who never gives up on you. It's not a Guru whom you follow blindly, it's someone who nurtures your Autonomy which is one of the major parts for self-motivation. And if that teacher is not around, try and take everything that happens to you – no matter how bad it might be – as a teaching and learn from it.
- Practice, Practice, Practice. The right kind of practice consistently done, is the key to improving. People who become masters have an important trait: They have tenacity or grit as it's sometimes called. Developing tenacity is like building a muscle, it hurts a bit at first and then it feels good as you become strong and resilient.
Now ask yourself these questions:
- What is my goal?
- What do I need to focus on?
- What are the details?
- What is my learning plan?
- Visualize the outcome you want as if it's already happened. Put all your intention into this. Visualize yourself succeeding while facing all the difficult obstacles that may get in your way. This is a mindset. See yourself already being the person you want to become. See it as a done deal, not as something you would like to see happen. Don't ask “what am I doing?” instead ask the critical question “who am I being?” Your state of being is the energy that propels you forward. When elderly people at the end of their life are asked: “What do you regret?” they often answer, “I wish I had tried more, dared more.”
- The Edge: Now the paradox. As George Leonard puts it, “the trick is to test the edges of the envelope, but also walk the fine line between endless, goalless practice and those alluring goals that show up along the way. Playing the edge is a balancing act that demands awareness to know when you're pushing yourself beyond safe limits.” He goes on to say that years of practice, surrender and intentionally must come first before attempting to play the edge. In the meantime, turn up the volume of your greatest fear and your greatest hope. Take chances!
The underlying cause of anger, violence, and depression is not living on a path to Mastery, not following your calling. To dive deeper, watch the full movie “The 5 Keys to Mastery.”
The Dabbler, the Obsessive, the Hacker…is one of them you?
How not to take the Master's Journey. The downfall of the peaks and plateaus.
- The Dabbler. The Dabbler jumps right into the next shiny object, full of enthusiasm. He loves buying the equipment, adopting the lingo and the sheer newness of things. When he hits his first peak of progress, he announces it to the world. He's so excited! He can't wait for the next lesson. The next peak doesn't come, however, and it's more of a fall off a small cliff. The Dabbler can't believe or understand how this could happen. His enthusiasm plummets and he starts to justify how this is the wrong thing to be pursuing: “There's too much competition. It's the crazy market. It's boring.” Soon he'll be off chasing the next shiny object.
- The Obsessive. The Obsessive is driven not to be second best. The bottom line is: get the results, it doesn't matter how, and get them fast. The Obsessive seeks out shortcuts and "hacks." He asks a million questions, wants to know every book on the subject. He wants to get it right immediately. Many times the Obsessive makes rapid progress…at first. When he hits the inevitable plateau, he won't accept it. He pounds and works harder, he doesn't listen to his colleague's counsel to slow down a little, to take it easy. He lives for the upward rush and tries to keep it going all the time. He completely misses the necessity for periods of input on the plateau. He's on an extreme up and down roller coaster headed for the sure fall. The Obsessive is highly likely to get hurt as well as people around him.
- The Hacker. The hacker sort of gets the idea of a thing, and once he's there, he's willing to hang out on the plateau forever. He often skips developing stages of Mastery and just hacks around with other hackers. At work, he does just enough to get by. In his profession, he learns just enough but doesn't take further education classes or go to seminars to master his skills and develop on his path. He seeks a comfortable, known refuge where there might not be too much trouble. He accepts the status quo.
Full disclosure: I have some of these traits in me, and I suspect many of you do as well. The point of this is not to beat ourselves up but to gain awareness and learn.
Learn to love the plateau
We live in a world of speed, instant gratification, hacks, shortcuts, and the desire for immediate results. We are bombarded by the media that we can have what we want now. The truth is we can't in most cases, and when we do, we miss our life, we miss the present moment.
When we engage in something that is sustainable like practice on the plateau, we build an internal energy that is fun, exciting and pulls us forward like an arrow. It all comes down to gaining an awareness of how satisfying the plateau is. If we diligently and consistently practice on the plateau, we'll automatically advance and get better without the hangover that being hooked on the growth spurts gives us. This builds our sense of Autonomy as we advance our own potential.
The rush is not sustainable just like the excessive use of drugs, alcohol, sex, money, or power always leads to a fall. Always. The rush sets our mind up to be continuously dissatisfied thinking about the future and killing the richness of the present moment.
If you want a rush that is sustainable, fulfilling and keeps you on the thrilling path of Mastery, learn to love the plateau.
There is an old Zen teaching that sums it up: “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”
The next blog post is about Connection which is the third factor of motivation.
Questions: Which character or blend of characters are you? The Dabbler, the Obsessive, or the Hacker? What are you going to commit to after reading this article?