Book Review: Mastery by Robert Greene

April 1, 2018

We all are searching for power of some type. We may not say it out loud, but deep inside we all know that this is a true statement. Whether it’s power through success or power through knowledge or whatever, we are all searching. On this quest for power we usually find that we have personal obstacles that get in our way, that we struggle to overcome, and block us at every turn. This book, Mastery by Robert Green wants to teach you how to overcome one of the biggest obstacles we face. The obstacle that holds us back the most. The obstacle of ourselves.The top takeaways and lessons learned in this book are:

1.You don’t need inborn talent to become a master; just follow the steps of masters before you:

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2.Each of us has an inner calling which guides us towards our vocation in life – a discipline or field that we wish to master:

Have you ever had the feeling that a discipline or field was tailor-made just for you, and that working in that field is your destiny?You need to trust that feeling!Each of us is unique – an original, through and through. Due to the endless possible combinations of DNA in our bodies, we are a one-off phenomenon; like snowflakes, no two humans are exactly alike.

So why is it, then, that we don’t all act unique?

Due to incredible social pressure to blend in, we suppress our uniqueness in the vain hope that just doing what everyone else does will keep us out of trouble.While adopting this “disguise” might have its advantages, it’s actually our uniqueness as individuals which spurs us to find our inner calling.In fact, many of history’s geniuses experienced a moment of clarity when everything “clicked into place” and they suddenly knew what they wanted to do in their life. Many of them felt that, during their entire lives, a force had guided them towards a certain field.For Leonardo Da Vinci, this “clicking moment” was when he stole sheets of paper from his father’s office so that he could indulge his deep fascination and sketch animals in the forest.And for others, such moments are even experienced in the form of an “inner voice” – as is the case with profoundly religious Christians who reported hearing the voice of God telling them to use their lives to pursue a specific task.Rather than using your energy to blend in with the crowd, recognize instead that you’re unique, and that you have a specific calling in life which can be found quite simply by listening to – and following – your inner voice.

3.Your main goal in a new field should not be immediate success or money, but to learn as much as possible:

When people look for a “way in” to a particular field – an internship or first job – they often search for positions which promise the greatest prestige or financial reward.

But there are other, more important rewards to consider.

For one, a job that gives you an opportunity to learn can be worth doing, even if it doesn’t pay well. Other more prestigious, well-paid positions will be available to you later, and the practical knowledge you gain from those early, badly-paid jobs will ultimately pay off for decades to come.Consider boxer Freddie Roach: he chose to take an unpaid position at a boxing center, using his time there to develop the skills necessary to his professional career. Ultimately, his decision paid off; Roach eventually earned far more money than if he’d taken a different, paid job early on.Many other masters made a similar choice in their early years. For example, in his youth, Charles Darwin rejected both a place at medical school and a well-paid job in the church. Instead, he convinced his father to allow him to work as an unpaid naturalist on the HMS Beagle, where he could study exotic plants and animals. The observations he made during that voyage helped him to develop his famous theory of evolution.Or consider Benjamin Franklin, who – rather than taking over his father’s lucrative candle-making business – chose to work at a printing business. This meant a far longer apprenticeship, and financial uncertainty, but Franklin recognized he could use this position to learn how texts were composed – a skill that would later benefit him greatly.So when you’re looking for an internship or that first job, don’t fixate on prestige or money. Instead, sniff out those that offer you an opportunity to gain knowledge and develop your skills. Such jobs will lead you to reap greater financial rewards in the future.

4.You can learn to problem-solve in new and creative ways by broadening and training your mind:

Who among us has not wished for the ability to solve problems in original and creative ways? Well, luckily, this ability can be trained.

First, we must unshackle and broaden our minds, because we have a natural tendency to think too narrowly.

Humans quickly become creatures of habit, loyally repeating the same actions without reflection. Once a process has been proven to work in a particular situation, we tend to use it for every similar situation without pausing to ask: “Is this really the best way to solve this particular problem?”Similarly, the standards and conventions our culture depends on might be essential for quick, functional communication, but they can also seriously hinder our potential for creative, innovative thinking.For example, in order to identify things quickly, we use clear, binary distinctions – man/woman, body/mind, fiction/fact. As we become habituated to using them, we also become desensitized to the nuances that lie between.The second thing we must do to improve our creative thinking is to train our brains to quickly make new and uncommon connections.One famous study showed that after 10,000 hours of practice in a given field, the brain is qualitatively changed, and makes brand new connections between formerly unconnected areas. This enables you to quickly see any given problem in that field in a new and broader way.This is best demonstrated in the human ability to solve a specific problem while apparently thinking about something completely different. Ever had a eureka moment while in the shower, or taking a walk? You’re in good company: Einstein, for example, played the violin while he pondered theoretical problems, claiming that this helped lead him to the solution.So don’t resign yourself to the notion that people are either born creative thinkers or not. You can control and train your brain. By following the above steps, a more open and creative mind can be achieved much faster than you might believe.

5.Mastery: practice a skill until it’s automatic, so your mind and body act as one, freeing you to focus on the bigger picture:

So, what exactly is mastery?

You might’ve experienced it already in high-pressure situations when your body responded immediately – and automatically – to your mind’s commands.This enables masters to see the big picture, rather than just the details, and indeed many masters have described their talent in these terms.Chess master Bobby Fischer, for example, saw beyond the individual moves of a game, instead perceiving moving “fields of forces” that revealed the many ways a game could play out.Similarly, pianist Glenn Gould “saw” the entire architecture of a given piece of music as he played, not only the part he was playing at that moment. This freed him to masterfully coordinate the different parts of a composition as he performed.

Masters can do this because they’ve developed an automatic connection between mind and body – a connection that is actually deeply rooted in our nature.In fact, for every animal, mental decisions and physical actions are experienced as one. For example, in the exact moment a bee “decides” to sting you, it acts on it. The bee simply reacts to sensory input, its nerves issuing a command to the body. No second-guessing the reflex; no abstract thinking.And, according to one theory, our primal ancestors didn’t separate mind and body either. Separation occurred once we’d developed the capacity for abstract thought. This is what enabled us to suppress certain reflexes. For example, when threatened, humans don’t automatically attack or run away; they try to talk things out. But this separation also meant that any sense of a unified mind and body was lost.As a master, your mind and body will become one, enabling you to reach a new level of understanding and skill. And even when you’re in the thick of practicing your discipline, you’ll also be able to see the bigger picture, and to use this knowledge to accomplish great things in your field.


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