Mastery And Why It Should Matter To You

I'm going to take a break from This Week in Running a Gym and share an article that will be sent to everyone in the beginner class today.

This week I want to talk about the concept of mastery and why it should matter to you. Mastery is the ability to perform a skill with maximum efficiency and grace. Research into motivation and performance psychology shows a pattern, which is that people who enjoy practice the most, continue to practice throughout their lifetimes, and perform at the highest levels are all in some way motivated by the desire to master their activity.

The desire for mastery is more important than external rewards, winning, and even social pressure.

To be motivated by the desire for mastery is to find something intrinsic in the practice, something of value regardless of the external stuff. I personally think that every human being is an artist or wants to be an artist of some form, whether that be the art of war, the art of motherhood, or the art of movement. The become a master is to find expression and fulfillment through your skill.

Alright, so mastery is the cat’s pajamas, but what does it mean to seek mastery? Let’s look at our definition.

First is efficiency, the greatest return for the invested energy. Technical proficiency can mean a lot of different things across a spectrum of skills, so lets look at the general stages we go through when learning a skills. We’ll use the Squat as our example (although this would apply to any skill).

  1. The first stage of skill acquisition: unconscious incompetence where you don’t even know what you can’t do.
  2. Next is when you try a Squat and can’t do it, that’s called conscious incompetence. In this stage you know a little something about the movement, and you know you can’t do it. This is probably the most uncomfortable stage because we realize just how little we know and how much work it’ll take to get to the next stage. To move on, you must break it down to its component skills or areas of difficulty and work on improving each one.
  3. Over time you finally work your way toward your first full quality rep. This moves you to the third stage of conscious competence. Now you can do it but you have to stay focused. Here is where we really build our knowledge of the movement while practice it.
  4. After a while we slip into unconscious competence which is where we stop having to think about it. This is the “good enough” stage. Skill basically stops improving.

The second aspect to mastery is grace. Sometimes we can look at exercise as purely mechanical. Do this do that go down go up. But there is always an element of expression to every movement. It’s the outwardly projecting energy. In yoga they use the term “organic energy.” We want to move fluidly, with grace and beauty. Even if we’re popping a vein and drooling while deadlifting. I don’t have precise directions for how you do this. I think there is something intuitive and subjective about it that you need to figure out for yourself. The journey is the destination, or something like that.

The key to this process is that when you reach stage four, you need to get back to stage three, and you do that by pursuing grace. At some point in the near future, you will all be able to squat with technical proficiency. It’ll be “good enough.” But if you leave it there on the shelf, you won’t get much better. You need to stay mentally present in the movement and find ways to move with grace, to create expression.

That might sound a little hokey at the end there, but it’s the truth and it’s the key to developing mastery and a lifetime of benefit.

By Morgan on Thursday, August, 28, 2014