Derek Sivers
Mastery - by George Leonard

Mastery - by George Leonard

ISBN: 0452267560
Date read: 2012-10-01
How strongly I recommend it: 8/10
(See my list of 360+ books, for more.)

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

A description of the path to mastery in any field: to enjoy regular practice for its own sake, to push your capabilities but to accept the plateau, to surrender to the path and exercises your teacher gives you. Stay focused, not distracted like the dabbler, impatient like the obsessive, or complacent like the hacker.

my notes

Mastery is available to anyone willing to get on the path and stay on it.

To take the master's journey, you have to practice diligently and hone your skills to attain new levels of competence, willing to spend more of your time on a plateau, to keep practicing even when you seem to be getting nowhere.

Learning occurs in stages. When you can perform the task without making a special effort to think of its separate parts.

Practice for the sake of practice itself. Love the plateau.


The dabbler loves the newness. Enthusiasm quickly wanes, with rationalizations. The dabbler might think of himself as an adventurer, a connoiseur of novelty, but he's probably the eternal kid.

The obsessive finds himself on a plateau, and won't accept it. He redoubles his effort. He doesn't understand the necessity for periods of development on the plateau.

The hacker is willing to stay on the plateau indefinitely.

TV says our lives consist of one climax after another.

Sports photography shows "the thrill of victory / agony of defeat". We're shown climactic moments, but mastery's true face is relaxed and serene.

Man is a learning animal.


The best thing you can do is to arrange for first-rate instruction.

When you learn too easily, you're tempted not to work hard.

The best horse 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.


Practice is best conceived of as a noun, not as something you do, but as something you have, something you are.

Anything you practice on a regular basis as an integral part of your life, not in order to gain something else, but for its own sake.

Masters love to practice.


Surrender to your teacher and to the demands of your discipline. Surrender your proficiency to reach a higher level of proficiency.

The essence of boredom is in the obsessive search for novelty.

Surrender means there are no experts, only learners.


Viseo-motor behavior rehearsal (VMBR) combines deep relaxation with vivid mental imaging of the skill to be learned.

Every master is a master of vision.


Masters are dedicated to fundamentals.

The paradox : masters challenge previous limits, take risks for higher performance, and even become obsessive in that pursuit. It's not either/or. It's both/and.

Many people run to savor life. For those runners, the dangers of the sport are moot. They run as consenting adults, to press the edges of the possible.

Julie Moss - in the Ironman - collapsed and started crawling across the finish line, and passed out. It was stupid and heroic. But what type of world would it be without such heroics? People such as Julie Moss run for all of us, re-affirming our humanity.

But before you 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.


Backsliding is a universal experience. Everyone resists significant change. We tend to stay within narrow limits, and snap back when changed.

This equilibrium is called homeostasis. It applies to psychological states as well as physical functioning.

A national culture is held together by legislation, law, education, arts, sports, and a complex web of mores, prestige markers, and style that relies largely on the media as a national nervous system. The predominant function of this: the survival of things as they are.

After 20 years without exercise, your body regards a sedentary life as normal. The beginning of change for the better is interpreted as a threat.

Realizing your potential in almost anything can change you in many ways.

You'll meet with homeostasis sooner or later. You might unknowingly sabotage your own best efforts, or get resistance from family.

If you really do want to spend the time and effort, here are 5 guidelines:

1. Be aware of homeostasis. Expect resistance and backlash. Don't give up at the first sign of trouble.

2. Negotiate with your resistance, by using pain as a guide to performance. Play discontent, the inevitable escort of transformation. Keep pushing, but not without awareness to the warnings. Pushing your way through despite the warning signals increases the possibility of backsliding.

3. Develop a support system of other people who share the joys of the change you're making.

4. Regular practice - the path of mastery for its own sake. A stable base during the instability of change.

5. Dedicate to lifelong learning. The lifelong learner learned to deal with homeostasis, because he is doing it all the time.


A human is a machine that wears out from lack of use. We gain energy by using energy. The best remedy for physical weariness is 30 minutes of aerobic exercise.

I don't want to be saved. I want to be spent!

Watch an 18-month-old. This raw, unadulterated learning energy exploits everything he can see, hear, taste, smell, and feel. We adults are easily exhausted, so we say, "Why can't you be still?" We park the learner in front of the TV. Now the kid's as lethargic as we are.

The conventional classroom - with kids forced to do the same thing at the same time - makes individual initiative and exploration nearly impossible.

Albert Einstein said, "It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by coercion and a sense of duty."

Set your priorities. To move in one direction, you must forgo all others. To choose one goal is to forsake other possible goals.

Our generation has been raised on the idea of keeping your options open. But if you keep all your options open, you can't do a damned thing.

Liberation comes through the acceptance of limits. You can't do everything, but you can do one thing, and then another, and another.

There's nothing like the path of mastery to lead you to an energetic life. A regular practice not only elicits energy, but tames it.

It's easy to get on the path of mastery. The real challenge lies in staying on it.

Never marry a person who is not a friend of your excitement.

Vanity; It's possible that the reason you got on the path of mastery was to look good. You have to look foolish, and take pratfalls. If you're always thinking about appearances, you can never attain concentration.

Continuity of time and place can establish a rhythm that buoys you up, carries you along. Inconsistency makes everything more difficult. But don't use that as an excuse to quit. The path calls for flexibility of strategy and action.

Mastery is not about perfection. It's a process.

All those chores that we can't avoid: Reclaim the lost hours by making everything part of our practice.

Maintain full awareness of each of your movements. Pay attention to the rest of your body. Go for efficiency, elegance, and grace in your motions. Stay wholly focused on the moment. Above all, don't hurry.

All of life is seamless. The way we walk, talk to our children, study, or do our jobs.

Nothing is commonplace. Nothing is in between.

You are made of mostly unused potential.

What if out of the infant's babble comes the syllable "da", then the father looks down sternly and says, "No! That is wrong! It's dad-dy!" Consider the learnings in life you've forfeited because other people have not allowed you to be playful, free, and foolish in the learning process. How often have you censored your spontaneity out of fear of being thought childish?