Mastery - by Robert Greene

Mastery--the feeling that we have a greater command of reality, other people, and ourselves.

The great danger is that we give in to feelings of boredom, impatience, fear, and confusion. We stop observing and learning. The process comes to a halt. If, on the other hand, we manage these emotions and allow time to take its course, something remarkable begins to take shape. As we continue to observe and follow the lead of others, we gain clarity, learning the rules and seeing how things work and fit together. If we keep practicing, we gain fluency; basic skills are mastered, allowing us to take on newer and more exciting challenges. We begin to see connections that were invisible to us before. We slowly gain confidence in our ability to solve problems or overcome weaknesses through sheer persistence.

"Just as a well-filled day brings blessed sleep, so a well-employed life brings a blessed death."

In order to master a field, you must love the subject and feel a profound connection to it. Your interest must transcend the field itself and border on the religious.

Your power and future can depend on reconnecting with this core and returning to your origins. You must dig for signs of such inclinations in your earliest years. Look for its traces in visceral reactions to something simple; a desire to repeat an activity that you never tired of; a subject that stimulated an unusual degree of curiosity; feelings of power attached to particular actions. It is already there within you. You have nothing to create; you merely need to dig and refind what has been buried inside of you all along.

In dealing with your career and its inevitable changes, you must think in the following way: You are not tied to a particular position; your loyalty is not to a career or a company. You are committed to your Life's Task, to giving it full expression. It is up to you to find it and guide it correctly. It is not up to others to protect or help you. You are on your own.

Do not envy those who seem to be naturally gifted; it is often a curse, as such types rarely learn the value of diligence and focus, and they pay for this later in life. This strategy applies as well to any setbacks and difficulties we may experience. In such moments, it is generally wise to stick to the few things we know and do well, and to reestablish our confidence.

The goal of an apprenticeship is not money, a good position, a title, or a diploma, but rather the transformation of your mind and character--the first transformation on the way to mastery.

With the principle outlined above guiding you in your choices, you must think of three essential steps in your apprenticeship, each one overlapping the other. These steps are: Deep Observation (The Passive Mode), Skills Acquisition (The Practice Mode), and Experimentation (The Active Mode).

If we were to take a look at the frontal cortex of those who have mastered something through repetition, it would be remarkably still and inactive as they performed the skill. All of their brain activity is occurring in areas that are lower down and require much less conscious control. This process of hardwiring cannot occur if you are constantly distracted, moving from one task to another. In such a case, the neural pathways dedicated to this skill never get established; what you learn is too tenuous to remain rooted in the brain. It is better to dedicate two or three hours of intense focus to a skill than to spend eight hours of diffused concentration on it. You want to be as immediately present to what you are doing as possible. Once an action becomes automatic, you now have the mental space to observe yourself as you practice. You must use this distance to take note of your weaknesses or flaws that need correction--to analyze yourself.


  1. Value learning over money

  2. Keep expanding your horizons

  3. Revert to a feeling of inferiority When you enter a new environment, your task is to learn and absorb as much as possible. For that purpose you must try to revert to a childlike feeling of inferiority--the feeling that others know much more than you and that you are dependent upon them to learn and safely navigate your apprenticeship. You drop all of your preconceptions about an environment or field, any lingering feelings of smugness. You have no fears. You interact with people and participate in the culture as deeply as possible. You are full of curiosity. Assuming this sensation of inferiority, your mind will open up and you will have a hunger to learn. This position is of course only temporary. You are reverting to a feeling of dependence, so that within five to ten years you can learn enough to finally declare your independence and enter full adulthood.

  4. Trust the process When it comes to mastering a skill, time is the magic ingredient. Assuming your practice proceeds at a steady level, over days and weeks certain elements of the skill become hardwired. Slowly, the entire skill becomes internalized, part of your nervous system. The mind is no longer mired in the details, but can see the larger picture. It is a miraculous sensation and practice will lead you to that point, no matter the talent level you are born with. The only real impediment to this is yourself and your emotions--boredom, panic, frustration, insecurity. You cannot suppress such emotions--they are normal to the process and are experienced by everyone, including Masters. What you can do is have faith in the process. The boredom will go away once you enter the cycle. The panic disappears after repeated exposure. The frustration is a sign of progress--a signal that your mind is processing complexity and requires more practice. The insecurities will transform into their opposites when you gain mastery. Trusting this will all happen, you will allow the natural learning process to move forward, and everything else will fall into place.

  5. Move toward resistance and pain To attain mastery, you must adopt what we shall call Resistance Practice. The principle is simple--you go in the opposite direction of all of your natural tendencies when it comes to practice. First, you resist the temptation to be nice to yourself. You become your own worst critic; you see your work as if through the eyes of others. You recognize your weaknesses, precisely the elements you are not good at. Those are the aspects you give precedence to in your practice. You find a kind of perverse pleasure in moving past the pain this might bring. Second, you resist the lure of easing up on your focus. You train yourself to concentrate in practice with double the intensity, as if it were the real thing times two. In devising your own routines, you become as creative as possible. You invent exercises that work upon your weaknesses. You give yourself arbitrary deadlines to meet certain standards, constantly pushing yourself past perceived limits. In this way you develop your own standards for excellence, generally higher than those of others.

  6. Apprentice yourself in failure

  7. Combine the "how" and the "what"

  8. Advance through trial and error


  1. Choose the mentor according to your needs and inclinations

  2. Gaze deep into the mentor's mirror

  3. Transfigure their ideas

  4. Create a back-and-forth dynamic

To learn by example is to submit to authority. You follow your master because you trust his manner of doing things even when you cannot analyze and account in detail for its effectiveness. By watching the master and emulating his efforts … the apprentice unconsciously picks up the rules of the art, including those which are not explicitly known to the master himself.


In the end, the ability to think inside other people is no different from the intuitive feel Masters gain in relation to their field of study. To develop your intellectual powers at the expense of the social is to retard your own progress to mastery, and limit the full range of your creative powers.

  1. Speak through your work

  2. Craft the appropriate persona You must see the creation of a persona as a key element in social intelligence, not something evil or demonic. We all wear masks in the social arena, playing different roles to suit the different environments we pass through. You are simply becoming more conscious of the process. Think of it as theater. By creating a persona that is mysterious, intriguing, and masterful, you are playing to the public, giving them something compelling and pleasurable to witness. You are allowing them to project their fantasies onto you, or directing their attention to other theatrical qualities. In your private life, you can let the mask fall. In this diverse, multicultural world, it is best that you learn how to mingle and blend into all types of environments.

  3. See yourself as others see you To see ourselves objectively, we begin by looking at negative events in our past--people sabotaging our work, bosses firing us for no logical reason, nasty personal battles with colleagues. It is best to start with events that are at least several months old, and thus not so emotionally charged. In dissecting these occurrences, we must focus on what we did that either triggered or worsened the dynamic. In looking at several such incidents, we might begin to see a pattern that indicates a particular flaw in our character. Seeing these events from the perspective of the other people involved will loosen the lock our emotions have on our self-image, and help us understand the role we play in our own mistakes. We can also elicit opinions from those we trust about our behavior, making certain to first reassure them that we want their criticisms. Slowly, in this way, we can develop increasing self-detachment, which will yield us the other half of social intelligence--the ability to see ourselves as we really are.

  4. Suffer fools gladly In dealing with fools you must adopt the following philosophy: they are simply a part of life, like rocks or furniture. All of us have foolish sides, moments in which we lose our heads and think more of our ego or short-term goals. It is human nature. Seeing this foolishness within you, you can then accept it in others. This will allow you to smile at their antics, to tolerate their presence as you would a silly child, and to avoid the madness of trying to change them. It is all part of the human comedy, and it is nothing to get upset about or lose sleep over.


As you accumulate more skills and internalize the rules that govern your field, your mind will want to become more active, seeking to use this knowledge in ways that are more suited to your inclinations. What will impede this natural creative dynamic from flourishing is not a lack of talent, but your attitude. Feeling anxious and insecure, you will tend to turn conservative with your knowledge, preferring to fit into the group and sticking to the procedures you have learned. Instead, you must force yourself in the opposite direction. As you emerge from your apprenticeship, you must become increasingly bold. Instead of feeling complacent about what you know, you must expand your knowledge to related fields, giving your mind fuel to make new associations between different ideas. You must experiment and look at problems from all possible angles. As your thinking grows more fluid your mind will become increasingly dimensional, seeing more and more aspects of reality. In the end, you will turn against the very rules you have internalized, shaping and reforming them to suit your spirit. Such originality will bring you to the heights of power.

What kills our creativity force is not age or a lack of talent, but our own spirit, our own attitude. We become too comfortable with the knowledge we have gained in our apprenticeships. We grow afraid of entertaining new ideas and the effort that this requires. To think more flexibly entails a risk--we could fail and be ridiculed. We prefer to live with familiar ideas and habits of thinking, but we pay a steep price for this: our minds go dead from the lack of challenge and novelty; we reach a limit in our field and lose control over our fate because we become replaceable.

The Dimensional Mind has two essential requirements: one, a high level of knowledge about a field or subject; and two, the openness and flexibility to use this knowledge in new and original ways.

To awaken the Dimensional Mind and move through the creative process requires three essential steps: first, choosing the proper Creative Task, the kind of activity that will maximize our skills and knowledge; second, loosening and opening up the mind through certain Creative Strategies; and third, creating the optimal mental conditions for a Breakthrough or Insight. Finally, throughout the process we must also be aware of the Emotional Pitfalls--complacency, boredom, grandiosity, and the like--that continually threaten to derail or block our progress.

Step One: The Creative Task

The task that you choose to work on must have an obsessive element. Like the Life's Task, it must connect to something deep within you. With such a deep-rooted interest, you can withstand the setbacks and failures, the days of drudgery, and the hard work that are always a part of any creative action. You can ignore the doubters and critics. You will then feel personally committed to solving the problem and will not rest until you do so.

Think of yourself as an explorer. You cannot find anything new if you are unwilling to leave the shore.

Step Two: Creative Strategies

Think of the mind as a muscle that naturally tightens up over time unless it is consciously worked upon. What causes this tightening is twofold. First, we generally prefer to entertain the same thoughts and ways of thinking because they provide us with a sense of consistency and familiarity. Sticking with the same methods also saves us a lot of effort. We are creatures of habit. Second, whenever we work hard at a problem or idea, our minds naturally narrow their focus because of the strain and effort involved. This means that the further we progress on our creative task, the fewer alternative possibilities or viewpoints we tend to consider. This tightening process afflicts all of us, and it is best to admit that you share in this flaw. The only antidote is to enact strategies to loosen up the mind and let in alternative ways of thinking. This is not only essential for the creative process, but is also immensely therapeutic for our psyches. The following five strategies for developing such flexibility have been distilled from the lessons and stories of the most creative Masters, past and present.


Truly creative people in all fields can temporarily suspend their ego and simply experience what they are seeing, without the need to assert a judgment, for as long as possible. They are more than ready to find their most cherished opinions contradicted by reality. This ability to endure and even embrace mysteries and uncertainties is what Keats called negative capability.

To put Negative Capability into practice, you must develop the habit of suspending the need to judge everything that crosses your path. You consider and even momentarily entertain viewpoints opposite to your own, seeing how they feel. You observe a person or event for a length of time, deliberately holding yourself back from forming an opinion. You seek out what is unfamiliar--for instance, reading books from unfamiliar writers in unrelated fields or from different schools of thought. You do anything to break up your normal train of thinking and your sense that you already know the truth. To negate the ego you must adopt a kind of humility toward knowledge.

Negative Capability should not be a permanent state of mind. In order to produce work of any sort we must create limits on what we'll consider; we must organize our thoughts into relatively cohesive patterns, and eventually, come up with conclusions. In the end, we must make certain judgments. Negative Capability is a tool we use in the process to open the mind up temporarily to more possibilities. Once this way of thinking leads to a creative avenue of thought, we can give our ideas a clearer shape and gently let it go, returning to this attitude whenever we feel stale or blocked.


The brain is constantly searching for similarities, differences, and relationships between what it processes. Your task is to feed this natural inclination, to create the optimal conditions for it to make new and original associations between ideas and experiences. And one of the best ways to accomplish this is by letting go of conscious control and allowing chance to enter into the process.

You can invite serendipity into the creative process by taking two simple steps. The first step is to widen your search as far as possible. In the research stage of your project, you look at more than what is generally required. You expand your search into other fields, reading and absorbing any related information. The second step is to maintain an openness and looseness of spirit. In moments of great tension and searching, you allow yourself moments of release. You take walks, engage in activities outside your work, or think about something else, no matter how trivial. When some new and unanticipated idea now enters your mind, you do not ignore it because it is irrational or does not fit the narrow frame of your previous work. You give it instead full attention and explore where it leads you.

You should keep a notebook with you at all times. The moment any idea or observation comes, you note it down. You keep the notebook by your bed, careful to record ideas that come in those moments of fringe awareness--just before falling asleep, or just upon waking. In this notebook you record any scrap of thought that occurs to you, and include drawings, quotes from other books, anything at all. In this way, you will have the freedom to try out the most absurd ideas. The juxtaposition of so many random bits will be enough to spark various associations.


The Current is like a mental electrical charge that gains its power through a constant alternation. We observe something in the world that strikes our attention and makes us wonder what it might mean. In thinking about it, we devise several possible explanations. When we look at the phenomenon again we see it differently as we cycle through the various ideas we had imagined to account for it. Perhaps we conduct experiments to verify or alter our speculations. Now when we look at the phenomenon yet again, weeks or months later, we see more and more aspects of its hidden reality. By continually cycling between speculation and observation/experiment, we are able to pierce deeper and deeper into reality, like a drill that penetrates a piece of wood through its motion. The Current is a constant dialogue between our thoughts and reality.


The following are several of our most common patterns or shorthands, and how you can subvert them.

  • Looking at the "what" instead of the "how": focuse on the structure--how the parts relate to the whole.

  • Rushing to generalities and ignoring details: Our minds are always hurrying to generalize about things, often based on the most minimal amounts of information. We form opinions quickly, in conformity with our previous opinions, and we do not pay great attention to the details. To combat this pattern we must sometimes shift our focus from the macro to the micro--placing much greater emphasis on the details, the small picture. In general, try approaching a problem or idea with a much more open mind. Let your study of the details guide your thinking and shape your theories. Think of everything in nature, or in the world, as a kind of hologram--the smallest part reflecting something essential about the whole. Immersing yourself in details will combat the generalizing tendencies of the brain and bring you closer to reality. Make sure, however, that you do not become lost in the details and lose sight of how they reflect the whole and fit into a larger idea. That is simply the other side of the same disease.

  • Confirming paradigms and ignoring anomalies: In any field there are inevitable paradigms--accepted ways of explaining reality. This is necessary; without such paradigms we would not be able to make sense of the world. But sometimes these paradigms end up dominating our way of thinking. We routinely look for patterns in the world that confirm the paradigms we already believe in. The things that do not fit the paradigm--the anomalies--tend to be ignored or explained away. In truth, anomalies themselves contain the richest information. They often reveal to us the flaws in our paradigms and open up new ways of looking at the world.

  • Fixating on what is present, ignoring what is absent.

As you work to free up your mind and give it the power to alter its perspective, remember the following: the emotions we experience at any time have an inordinate influence on how we perceive the world. If we feel afraid, we tend to see more of the potential dangers in some action. If we feel particularly bold, we tend to ignore the potential risks. What you must do then is not only alter your mental perspective, but reverse your emotional one as well. For instance, if you are experiencing a lot of resistance and setbacks in your work, try to see this as in fact something that is quite positive and productive. These difficulties will make you tougher and more aware of the flaws you need to correct. In physical exercise, resistance is a way to make the body stronger, and it is the same with the mind. Play a similar reversal on good fortune--seeing the potential dangers of becoming soft, addicted to attention, and so forth. These reversals will free up the imagination to see more possibilities, which will affect what you do. If you see setbacks as opportunities, you are more likely to make that a reality.


Using images, diagrams, and models can help reveal to you patterns in your thinking and new directions you can take that you would find hard to imagine exclusively in words. With your idea exteriorized in a relatively simple diagram or model, you can see your entire concept projected at once, which will help you organize masses of information and add new dimensions to your concept.

Step Three: The Creative Breakthrough--Tension and Insight

Think of yourself as your own Zen Master. Such Masters would often beat their pupils and deliberately lead them to points of maximum doubt and inner tension, knowing such moments often precede enlightenment.

The feeling that we have endless time to complete our work has an insidious and debilitating effect on our minds. Our attention and thoughts become diffused. Our lack of intensity makes it hard for the brain to jolt into a higher gear. The connections do not occur. For this purpose you must always try to work with deadlines, whether real or manufactured. Faced with the slenderest amount of time to reach the end, the mind rises to the level you require. Ideas crowd upon one another. You don't have the luxury of feeling frustrated. Every day represents an intense challenge, and every morning you wake up with original ideas and associations to push you along. If you don't have such deadlines, manufacture them for yourself.

Emotional Pitfalls

  1. Complacency: After we pass through a rigorous apprenticeship and begin to flex our creative muscles, we cannot help but feel satisfaction in what we have learned and how far we have progressed. We naturally begin to take for granted certain ideas we have learned and developed. Slowly, we stop asking the same kinds of questions that plagued us earlier on. We already know the answers. We feel ever so superior. Unknown to ourselves, the mind slowly narrows and tightens as complacency creeps into the soul, and although we may have achieved public acclaim for our past work, we stifle our own creativity and never get it back. Fight this downhill tendency as much as you can by upholding the value of active wonder. Constantly remind yourself of how little you truly know, and of how mysterious the world remains.

  2. Conservatism: If you gain any kind of attention or success for your work in this phase, you face the great danger of creeping conservatism. This danger comes in several forms. You begin to fall in love with the ideas and strategies that worked for you in the past. Why risk changing your style in midstream, or adapting a new approach to your work? Better to stick to the tried and true. Make creativity rather than comfort your goal and you will ensure far more success for the future.

  3. Dependency: What you want in the end is to internalize the voice of your Master so that you become both teacher and pupil. If you fail to do so you will have no internal gauge as to the value of your work, and you will be blown here and there by the opinions of others, never to find yourself.

  4. Impatience: This is perhaps the single greatest pitfall of them all. This quality continually haunts you, no matter how disciplined you might think you are. You will convince yourself that your work is essentially over and well done, when really it is your impatience speaking and coloring your judgment. You tend to lose the energy you had when you were younger and hungrier. Unconsciously, you will veer toward repetition--reusing the same ideas and processes as a kind of shortcut. Unfortunately, the creative process requires continual intensity and vigor. The best way to neutralize our natural impatience is to cultivate a kind of pleasure in pain--like an athlete, you come to enjoy rigorous practice, pushing past your limits, and resisting the easy way out.

  5. Grandiosity: We fail to understand the element of luck that always goes into success--we often depend on being in the right place at the right time. Instead, we come to think that our brilliance has naturally drawn our success and attention, as if it were indeed fated. Once the ego inflates it will only come back to earth through some jarring failure, which will equally scar us. To avoid this fate, you must have some perspective. There are always greater geniuses out there than yourself. Luck certainly played a role, as did the help of your mentor and all those in the past who paved the way. What must ultimately motivate you is the work itself and the process.

  6. Inflexibility: Being creative involves certain paradoxes. You must know your field inside and out, and yet be able to question its most entrenched assumptions. You must be somewhat naïve to entertain certain questions, and optimistic that you will solve the problem at hand; at the same time, you must regularly doubt that you have achieved your goal and subject your work to intensive self-criticism. All of this requires a great deal of flexibility, which means you must not get too hung up on any single frame of mind. You must bend to the moment and adopt the attitude appropriate to the moment.


1. The Authentic Voice

The greatest impediment to creativity is your impatience, the almost inevitable desire to hurry up the process, express something, and make a splash. What happens in such a case is that you do not master the basics; you have no real vocabulary at your disposal. What you mistake for being creative and distinctive is more likely an imitation of other people's style, or personal rantings that do not really express anything. The best route is to follow Coltrane and to love learning for its own sake. Anyone who would spend ten years absorbing the techniques and conventions of their field, trying them out, mastering them, exploring and personalizing them, would inevitably find their authentic voice and give birth to something unique and expressive.

2. The Fact of Great Yield

In looking for facts of great yield, you must follow certain guidelines. Although you are beginning within a particular field that you understand deeply, you must not allow your mind to become tethered to this discipline. Instead you must read journals and books from all different fields. Sometimes you will find an interesting anomaly in an unrelated discipline that may have implications for your own. You must keep your mind completely open--no item is too small or unimportant to escape your attention. If an apparent anomaly calls into question your own beliefs or assumptions, so much the better. You must speculate on what it could mean, this speculation guiding your subsequent research but not determining your conclusions. If what you have discovered seems to have profound ramifications, you must pursue it with the utmost intensity. Better to look into ten such facts, with only one yielding a great discovery, than to look into twenty ideas that bring success but have trivial implications. You are the supreme hunter, ever alert, eyes scanning the landscape for the fact that will expose a once-hidden reality, with profound consequences.

3. Mechanical Intelligence

Mechanical intelligence is not a degraded form of thinking, as compared to abstract reasoning. It is in fact the source of many of our reasoning skills and creative powers. The principles behind mechanical intelligence can be summarized as follows: whatever you are creating or designing, you must test and use it yourself. Separating out the work will make you lose touch with its functionality.

4. Natural Powers

First, it is essential to build into the creative process an initial period that is open-ended. You give yourself time to dream and wander, to start out in a loose and unfocused manner. In this period, you allow the project to associate itself with certain powerful emotions, ones that naturally come out of you as you focus on your ideas. Second, it is best to have wide knowledge of your field and other fields, giving your brain more possible associations and connections. Third, to keep this process alive, you must never settle into complacency, as if your initial vision represents the endpoint. You must cultivate profound dissatisfaction with your work and the need to constantly improve your ideas, along with a sense of uncertainty--you are not exactly sure where to go next, and this uncertainty drives the creative urge and keeps it fresh. Any kind of resistance or obstacle that crosses your path should be seen as yet another chance to improve your work. Finally, you must come to embrace slowness as a virtue in itself. You take pleasure in the laborious research process; you enjoy the slow cooking of the idea, the organic growth that naturally takes shape over time. Imagine yourself years in the future looking back at the work you have done. From that future vantage point, the extra months and years you devoted to the process will not seem painful or laborious at all. It is an illusion of the present that will vanish. Time is your greatest ally.

5. The Open Field

Perhaps the greatest impediment to human creativity is the natural decay that sets in over time in any kind of medium or profession. A certain way of thinking or acting that once had success quickly becomes a paradigm, an established procedure. As the years go by, people forget the initial reason for this paradigm and simply follow a lifeless set of techniques.

6. The High End

In many fields we can see and diagnose the same mental disease, which we shall call technical lock. What this means is the following: in order to learn a subject or skill, particularly one that is complex, we must immerse ourselves in many details, techniques, and procedures that are standard for solving problems. If we are not careful, however, we become locked into seeing every problem in the same way, using the same techniques and strategies that became so imprinted in us. It is always simpler to follow such a route. In the process we lose sight of the bigger picture, the purpose of what we are doing, how each problem we face is different and requires a different approach. We adopt a kind of tunnel vision.

7. The Evolutionary Hijack

Creativity actually resembles a process known in nature as evolutionary hijacking. Creativity and adaptability are inseparable.

8. Dimensional Thinking

Many people in various fields tend to follow the Young method. If they are studying economics, or the human body and health, or the workings of the brain, they tend to work with abstractions and simplifications, reducing highly complex and interactive problems into modules, formulas, tidy statistics, and isolated organs that can be dissected. This approach can yield a partial picture of reality, much in the way that dissecting a corpse can tell you some things about the human body. But with these simplifications the living, breathing element is missing. You want to follow instead the Champollion model. You are not in a hurry. You prefer the holistic approach. You look at the object of study from as many angles as possible, giving your thoughts added dimensions. You assume that the parts of any whole interact with one another and cannot be completely separated. In your mind, you get as close to the complicated truth and reality of your object of study as possible. In the process, great mysteries will unravel themselves before your eyes.

9. Alchemical Creativity and the Unconscious

Your task as a creative thinker is to actively explore the unconscious and contradictory parts of your personality, and to examine similar contradictions and tensions in the world at large. Expressing these tensions within your work in any medium will create a powerful effect on others, making them sense unconscious truths or feelings that have been obscured or repressed. To create a meaningful work of art or to make a discovery or invention requires great discipline, self-control, and emotional stability. It requires mastering the forms of your field. Drugs and madness only destroy such powers. Do not fall for the romantic myths and clichés that abound in culture about creativity--offering us the excuse or panacea that such powers can come cheaply.


This unseen element that constitutes the animal's entire experience, and that makes battle a fluid, organic entity, can be called various things. To the ancient Chinese, who understood this very well, it was known as the Tao or Way, and this Way inhabits everything in the world and is embedded in the relationships between things. The Way is visible to the expert--in cooking, carpentry, warfare, or philosophy. We shall call it the dynamic, the living force that inevitably operates in anything we study or do. It is how the whole thing functions, and how the relationships evolve from within. It is not the moves of the pieces on the chessboard but the entire game, involving the psychologies of the players, their strategies in real time, their past experiences influencing the present, the comfort of the chairs they are sitting in, how their energies affect each other--in a word, everything that comes into play, all at once. Through intense absorption in a particular field over a long period of time, Masters come to understand all of the parts involved in what they are studying. They reach a point where all of this has become internalized and they are no longer seeing the parts, but gain an intuitive feel for the whole. They literally see or sense the dynamic.

The reasoning of Masters is guided by intuition; their intuition springs from intense rational focus. The two are fused.

The time that leads to mastery is dependent on the intensity of our focus. The key, then, to attaining this higher level of intelligence is to make our years of study qualitatively rich. We don't simply absorb information--we internalize it and make it our own by finding some way to put this knowledge to practical use. We look for connections between the various elements we are learning, hidden laws that we can perceive in the apprenticeship phase. If we experience any failures or setbacks, we do not quickly forget them because they offend our self-esteem. Instead we reflect on them deeply, trying to figure out what went wrong and discern whether there are any patterns to our mistakes. As we progress, we start to question some of the assumptions and conventions we have learned along the way. Soon, we begin to experiment and become increasingly active. At all points in the various moments leading to mastery, we attack with intensity. Every moment, every experience contains deep lessons for us. We are continuously awake, never merely going through the motions.

The Roots of Masterly Intuition

Intuition, primitive or high level, is essentially driven by memory. When we take in information of any kind, we store it in mnemonic networks in the brain. The stability and durability of these networks depends on repetition, intensity of experience, and how deeply we pay attention.

A desire for what is simple and easy infects all of us, often in ways we are mostly unaware of. The only solution is the following: We must learn how to quiet the anxiety we feel whenever we are confronted with anything that seems complex or chaotic. In our journey from apprenticeship to mastery we must patiently learn the various parts and skills that are required, never looking too far ahead. In moments of perceived crisis, we must develop the habit of maintaining our cool and never overreacting. If the situation is complex and others are reaching for simple black-and-white answers, or for the usual conventional responses, we must make a point of resisting such a temptation. We maintain our Negative Capability and a degree of detachment. What we are doing is gaining a tolerance and even a taste for chaotic moments, training ourselves to entertain several possibilities or solutions. We are learning to manage our anxiety, a key skill in these chaotic times.

To go along with this self-control, we must do whatever we can to cultivate a greater memory capacity--one of the most important skills in our technologically oriented environment. In our spare time we should not simply look for entertainment and distractions. We should take up hobbies--a game, a musical instrument, a foreign language--that bring pleasure but also offer us the chance to strengthen our memory capacities and the flexibility of our brain. In doing so, we can train ourselves to process large amounts of information without feeling anxious or overtaxed.


1. Connect to your environment--Primal Powers

2. Play to your strengths--Supreme Focus

Mastery is like swimming--it is too difficult to move forward when we are creating our own resistance or swimming against the current. Know your strengths and move with them.

3. Transform yourself through practice--The Fingertip Feel

If we are learning a complex skill, such as flying a jet in combat, we must master a series of simple skills, one on top of the other. Each time one skill becomes automatic, the mind is freed up to focus on the higher one. At the very end of this process, when there are no more simple skills to learn, the brain has assimilated an incredible amount of information, all of which has become internalized, part of our nervous system. The whole complex skill is now inside us and at our fingertips. We are thinking, but in a different way--with the body and mind completely fused. We are transformed. We possess a form of intelligence that allows us to approximate the instinctual power of animals, but only through a conscious, deliberate, and extended practice.

4. Internalize the details--The Life Force

All living things are an amalgam of intricate levels of details, animated by the dynamic that connects them. Seeing your work as something alive, your path to mastery is to study and absorb these details in a universal fashion, to the point at which you feel the life force and can express it effortlessly in your work.

5. Widen your vision--the Global Perspective

In any competitive environment in which there are winners or losers, the person who has the wider, more global perspective will inevitably prevail. The reason is simple: such a person will be able to think beyond the moment and control the overall dynamic through careful strategizing. Most people are perpetually locked in the present. Their decisions are overly influenced by the most immediate event; they easily become emotional and ascribe greater significance to a problem than it should have in reality. Moving toward mastery will naturally bring you a more global outlook, but it is always wise to expedite the process by training yourself early on to continually enlarge your perspective. You can do so by always reminding yourself of the overall purpose of the work you are presently engaged in and how this meshes with your long-term goals. In dealing with any problem, you must train yourself to look at how it inevitably connects to a larger picture. If your work is not having the desired effect, you must look at it from all angles until you find the source of the problem. You must not merely observe the rivals in your field, but dissect and uncover their weaknesses. "Look wider and think further ahead" must be your motto. Through such mental training, you will smooth the path to mastery while separating yourself ever further from the competition.

6. Submit to the other--The Inside-out Perspective

Our natural tendency is to project onto other people our own beliefs and value systems, in ways in which we are not even aware. When it comes to studying another culture, it is only through the use of our empathic powers and by participating in their lives that we can begin to overcome these natural projections and arrive at the reality of their experience. To do so we must overcome our great fear of the Other and the unfamiliarity of their ways. We must enter their belief and value systems, their guiding myths, their way of seeing the world. Slowly, the distorted lens through which we first viewed them starts to clear up. Going deeper into their Otherness, feeling what they feel, we can discover what makes them different and learn about human nature. This applies to cultures, individuals, and even writers of books. As Nietzsche once wrote, "As soon as you feel yourself against me you have ceased to understand my position and consequently my arguments! You have to be the victim of the same passion."

7. Synthesize all forms of knowledge--The Universal Man/Woman

Goethe epitomizes what was known in the Renaissance as the Ideal of the Universal Man--a person so steeped in all forms of knowledge that his mind grows closer to the reality of nature itself and sees secrets that are invisible to most people. Today some might see a person such as Goethe as a quaint relic of the eighteenth century, and his ideal of unifying knowledge as a Romantic dream, but in fact the opposite is the case, and for one simple reason: the design of the human brain--its inherent need to make connections and associations--gives it a will of its own. Although this evolution might take various twists and turns in history, the desire to connect will win out in the end because it is so powerfully a part of our nature and inclination. Aspects of technology now offer unprecedented means to build connections between fields and ideas. The artificial barriers between the arts and the sciences will melt away under the pressure to know and to express our common reality. Our ideas will become closer to nature, more alive and organic. In any way possible, you should strive to be a part of this universalizing process, extending your own knowledge to other branches, further and further out. The rich ideas that will come from such a quest will be their own reward.