Alex Preston / bookshelf

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


  • If you’re going to go for mastery, it’s better to start with a clean slate rather than have to unlearn bad habits you picked up while hacking around.
  • If we were to hold a mammal decathlon with events in sprinting, endurance running, long jumping, high jumping, swimming, deep diving, gymnastics, striking, kicking, and burrowing, other animals would win most of the individual events. But a well-trained human would come up with the best overall score. And in one event—endurance running—the human would outperform all other animals of comparable size, as well as some quite a bit larger.
  • But genius, no matter how bright, will come to naught or swiftly burn out if you don’t choose the master’s journey. This journey will take you along a path that is both arduous and exhilarating. It will bring you unexpected heartaches and unexpected rewards, and you will never reach a final destination. (It would be a paltry skill indeed that could be finally, completely mastered.)
  • To put it another way, the cognitive and effort systems “click into” the habitual system and reprogram it. When the job is done, both systems withdraw. Then you don’t have to stop and think about, say, the right grip every time you shift your racket.
  • Learning generally occurs in stages. A stage ends when the habitual system has been programmed to the new task, and the cognitive and effort systems have withdrawn.
  • 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.
  • American corporate managers by and large have joined the cult of the bottom line; their profile is often that of the Obsessive. They strive mightily to keep the profit curve angled upward, even if that means sacrificing research and development, long-term planning, patient product development, and plant investment.
  • The categories are obviously not quite this neat. You can be a Dabbler in love and a master in art. You can be on the path of mastery on your job and a Hacker on the golf course—or vice versa. Even in the same field, you can be sometimes on the path of mastery, sometimes an Obsessive, and so on. But the basic patterns tend to prevail, both reflecting and shaping your performance, your character, your destiny.
  • Every time we spend money, we make a statement about what we value; there’s no clearer or more direct indication.
  • The epidemic of gambling currently sweeping across the nation shows how explicit and blatant the campaign against any long-term effort has become. An ad for the Illinois lottery pictured a man scoffing at people buying savings bonds, and insisting that the only way an ordinary person could become a millionaire was by playing the lottery.
  • In any case, you might suspect that the disproportionate incidence of drug abuse in the United States, especially of drugs that give you a quick high, springs not so much from immoral or criminal impulses as from a perfectly understandable impulse to replicate the most visible, most compelling American vision of the good life—an endless series of climactic moments.
  • A pioneering study by Dr. Dean Ornish and his associates in San Francisco has proven conclusively that coronary artery disease, our number one cause of death, can be reversed by a long-term regimen of diet, moderate exercise, yoga, meditation, and group support. No drugs, no operations.
  • The same climate of thought that would lead some people to the promise that they can learn a new skill or lose weight without patient, long-term effort leads others to the promise of great riches without the production of value in return.
  • 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.
  • But recognition is often unsatisfying and fame is like sea-water 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.


  • The best teacher generally strives to point out what the student is doing right at least as frequently as what she or he is doing wrong,
  • UCLA coach John Wooden, perhaps the greatest basketball mentor of all time, managed to do all through his long, winning career. Wooden was observed to maintain approximately a fifty-fifty ratio between reinforcement and correction, with exceptional enthusiasm on both sides of the equation.
  • Knowledge, expertise, technical skill, and credentials are important, but without the patience and empathy that go with teaching beginners, these merits are as nothing.
  • “I have seen so many baseball players with God-given ability who just didn’t want to work,” Rod Carew said. “They were soon gone. I’ve seen others with no ability to speak of who stayed in the big leagues for fourteen or fifteen years.”
  • In his book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Zen master Shunryu Suzuki approaches the question of fast and slow learners in terms of horses.
  • 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 worst 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.
  • If a picture is sometimes worth a thousand words, then perhaps a moving picture is worth 10,000 words. But it’s also true that one good paragraph sometimes has more power to change the individual and the world than any number of pictures.
  • Visits to hundreds of schools have convinced me that the teacher who can make the present system work is undoubtedly a master. 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.
  • One award-winning mathematician at a major university was famous for intentionally making small mistakes when he wrote formulas on the chalkboard. Students sat on the edge of their chairs vying to be the first to catch the mistake and rush up to correct their professor—truly a master of the instructor’s art.
  • 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.
  • Actually, 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.
  • For the master, surrender means there are no experts. There are only learners.
  • “All I know,” said Arnold Schwarzenneger, “is that the first step is to create the vision, because when you see the vision there—the beautiful vision—that creates the ‘want power.’ For example, my wanting to be Mr. Universe came about because I saw myself so clearly, being up there on the stage and winning.” Intentionalty fuels the master’s journey. Every master is a master of vision.
  • Playing the edge is a balancing act. It demands the awareness to know when you’re pushing yourself beyond safe limits. In this awareness, the man or woman on the path of mastery sometimes makes a conscious decision to do just that.


    1. Be aware of the way homeostasis works. This might be the most important guideline of all. Expect resistance and backlash.
  • 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.
  • It’s easier to start applying the principles of mastery to your profession or your primary relationship if you’ve already established a regular morning exercise program. Practice is a habit, and any regular practice provides a sort of underlying homeostasis, a stable base during the instability of change.
  • the best learning of all involves learning how to learn—that is, to change. The lifelong learner is essentially one who has learned to deal with homeostasis, simply because he or she is doing it all the time.
  • 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. In the same way, mental and spiritual lassitude is often cured by decisive action or the clear intention to act.
  • Is it possible to be too positive? Only if you deny the existence of negative factors, of situations in your life and in the world at large that need correcting.
  • Acknowledging the negative doesn’t mean sniveling; it means facing the truth and then moving on. Simply describing what’s wrong with your life to a good friend is likely to make you feel better and more energetic.
  • Whenever possible, avoid teachers and supervisors who are highly critical in a negative sense. Telling people what they’re doing wrong while ignoring what they’re doing right reduces their energy. When it’s your turn to teach or supervise or give advice, you might try the following approach: “Here’s what I like about what you’re doing, and here’s how you might improve it.”
  • When people start telling the truth, you see almost immediate reductions in mistakes and increases in productivity.”
  • Set your priorities. Before you can use your potential energy, you have to decide what you’re going to do with it. And in making any choice, you face a monstrous fact: to move in one direction, you must forgo all others. To choose one goal is to forsake a very large number of other possible goals.
  • Especially, do you have your spouse’s support? “Never marry a person,” psychologist Nathaniel Brandon tells his clients, “who is not a friend of your excitement.” The point is, when things aren’t going well on your path of mastery, don’t forget to check out the rest of your life. Then consider the possibility that the rest of your life can be lived in terms of mastery principles.
  • People get hurt because of obsessive goal orientation, because they get ahead of themselves, because they lose consciousness of what’s going on in their own bodies, in the here and now. The best way of achieving a goal is to be fully present. Surpassing previous limits involves negotiating with your body, not ignoring or overriding its messages.
  • Avoiding serious injury is less a matter of being cautious than of being conscious. All of this is also true to some extent of mental and emotional as well as physical injuries.
  • Since it is the medal and not the speed that stops them, the speeds they reach cannot be considered in any way the ultimate physiological limit.” 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.
  • It’s possible that one of the reasons you got on the path of mastery was to look good. But to learn something new of any significance, you have to be willing to look foolish.
  • In any case, there are all of those chores that most of us can’t avoid: cleaning, straightening, raking leaves, shopping for groceries, driving the children to various activities, preparing food, washing dishes, washing the car, commuting, performing the routine, repetitive aspects of our jobs. This is the “in-between time,” the stuff we have to take care of before getting on to the things that count. But if you stop to think about it, most of life is “in between.”
  • The quality of a Zen student’s practice is defined just as much by how he or she sweeps the courtyard as by how he or she sits in meditation. Could we apply this way of thinking to less esoteric situations?
  • In the 1960s, UCLA brain researchers measured the brainwave activity of astronaut candidates practicing a moon landing in a simulator and also driving on a Los Angeles freeway. As it turned out, driving on the freeway occasioned more brain activity.
  • Ultimately, nothing in this life is “commonplace,” nothing is “in between.” The threads that join your every act, your every thought, are infinite. All paths of mastery eventually merge.
  • During a moment of crisis, for example, just touching yourself lightly at the physical center (a point in the abdomen an inch or two below the navel) can significantly alter your attitude and your ability to deal with whatever situation you face.
  • 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 choose this destiny, to walk the path of mastery, isn’t always easy, but it is the ultimate human adventure.