I love to garden. One of the lessons I’ve learned after years of doing it is that if certain critical elements aren’t present, things aren’t going to grow the way I want. The other is that I can end up doing something that gets me the opposite results I’m looking for, like pinching off tomato blossoms in order to stimulate blossom growth ( by the way, the only thing that will get you are no tomatoes!)
I see the same principle at work way too often when it comes to leaders and organizations seeking to motivate people; they often do things that get them just the opposite of what they want. For example although only autonomy can lead to engagement which is essential for mastery, most of the time control and compliance are forced instead.
Mastery is the second of 3 keys to internal motivation and can be defined as the desire to get better and better at something that has meaning and matters to you.
The equation for “mastering” mastery is: 1 Part Autonomy + 1 Part Flow + 3 Laws of Mastery.
Since I’ve discussed autonomy in another post, I’ll start with the next part of the equation which is “flow”. Flow is an autotelic experience in which both the goal and activity itself are the reward. When your in flow during a task, time seems to stand-still or be non-existent; any sense of place and self melt away. Although to an outsider you may seem to be in a trance, you’re anything but…..you’re at the peak of your game.
Flow is called “oxygen of the soul” by Dan Pink and has two distinct qualities:
- “Goldilocks” difficulty- Not too hard, not too easy. A beautiful balance where you’re being stretched and have to focus but have a competency that yields continual satisfaction
- “Tom Sawyer” nature- This means extrinsic rewards don’t kill play and turn it into work. Likewise, there is a perspective that turns work into play, which is especially important in more mundane tasks.
While flow is essential to mastery, it’s short-term and doesn’t guarantee it. To get long-term results and acquire mastery means you have to observe, embrace and get under the three laws related to mastery, which are:
- Perspective- This deals with your mindset about intelligence and learning. Is it fixed or flexible? According to Dweck, a fixed mindset views intelligence as an entity, something you have or don’t have. A flexible or “Growth mindset”, on the other hand, views intelligence as something you develop. Having a growth mindset puts you on the path to mastery as it allows you to adopt learning goals as opposed to only performance goals. With a learning goal you’re not trying to prove anything; the learning is the reward. Because this mindset views adversity as something to be expected, it fosters resiliency and accepts setbacks as inevitable and part of the process.
- Pain- Learning can be a pain..literally! However, If people know what puts them in flow they can choose to focus on those things to push through and eventually get to new horizons on the other side of the grind. Having expended effort to get there makes the journey worthwhile. In addition, it provides both a sweetness for having arrived at a goal as well as fuels the tank so you’re ready to take another challenging trip and get to the next level.
- Plateau- You get closer and closer to your ideal but you never quite arrive….and you know you never will. No matter how good you are, there is always room from improvement. Again, the real joy is in the journey and not the destination. Professional athletes and musicians are great examples of this. For them, its “for the love of the game” or “for the love of music” that matters.
Mastery is hard. If it were easy, everybody would have it or be a master of something. Having a model and equation for mastery can give you the edge and perhaps fuel the motivation you need to get to the next level of mastery you seek.
We’ve all been frustrated at times with not being able to master something. Before you give up or move on, take a good look and see which part of the mastery equation you need to be different in order to get to where you want to be. Perhaps you can see it more clearly for someone else who is currently struggling. Whether for you or someone else, what’s your next best step here?