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How long does it take you to be a master of your art? Is your genius innate or can it be learned?
In his book “Mastery” Robert Greene extracts from his latest research interviews modern masters and examines the lives of ancient geniuses like Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci and Mozart to find out what it takes to achieve excellence.
He argues that if you have discipline, patience, and follow a few key steps, success is available to everyone.
With Greene’s permission, we’ve extracted the following tips to help you master something from his book:
1. Find your purpose in life. Many people have an intense feeling for what they have mastered. Very often they become alienated from it by other people.
The first step is to trust yourself and align your career with what is unique about you. Leonardo da Vinci did not recognize this as an artist, but rather when he followed his curiosity as a child and became a consultant and expert on topics from architecture to anatomy.
2. Instead of competing in a crowded field, find a niche that you can dominate. The legendary neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran was a restless and dissatisfied professor of psychology. What seemed like a calling felt more like a job. When he started learning about phantom limbs and abnormal brain disorders, he found questions about the brain and consciousness that fascinated him. Find your niche and get noticed.
3. Rebel against the wrong path and use this anger as motivation. Mozart was a child prodigy at the piano. His domineering father traveled with him through Europe at a young age. When he discovered his unique talent for composing, his father suppressed it. Until Mozart rejected him completely, he became a teacher. Often times, we are drawn to the wrong things, be it money, fame, or acceptance.
4. Love your subject on a very simple level. The things that paralyzed and upset you as a kid weren’t a fad, but a message about what to do. For Marie Curie it wandered through her father’s laboratory and was fascinated by the instruments.
5. Find the ideal study. Charles Darwin was a mediocre student. He was more interested in the specimens than in the classes. One fine day he had the opportunity to go on an expedition to America and what he saw on that boat led him to his destination and to one of the most influential theories of all time. They often train us as dependents. It is experience and exploration that transform us and make us master.
6. Participate in deep observation, practice a lot, and experiment.
Observation: You don’t have to impress people, you have to watch them. By learning the rules, you can dominate.
Exercise: Our brain is set up to master certain skills. Repeatedly repeating a thing, neurons are recruited, wired and copied. It’s one of the reasons you never forget how to ride a bike.
Experiment – You won’t know if you are a teacher until you try. Do it before you are ready to really learn.
7. Learn worth before money so that you are not a slave to people’s opinions. Instead of a more lucrative commercial job, Martha Graham took one as a teacher who gave her time to train and develop the innovations in dance that made her as revolutionary as Picasso was in painting. Training and learning don’t come from jobs that make you strain and pay more. These will guide you down a conservative path that will keep others happy.
8. Have a sense of inferiority to really learn. Daniel Everett, a talented linguist, found it difficult to learn the language of the Paraha tribe in the Amazon, which held his research withheld for years. He failed because he proceeded from a superior position as a Christian linguist and missionary.
He only mastered the language when he learned it as one of Paraha’s children, depending on the tribe and subject to the same limitations, inferiorities and needs for support. To enter a new place or path, you need to learn as much as you can as soon as possible. Persistent prejudices and feelings of superiority hinder this.
9. Participate in intense exercises and approach resistance and pain. The Bill Bradley Hall of Fame was made only on high for basketball. He was slow, couldn’t jump, and didn’t care about the game. He would exercise for three or more hours after school on weekends, and even put weights on his feet. That was just the beginning of his regime. Intensive practice paired with resistance can be twice as effective and easy.
10. Above all, trust trial and error. Paul Graham was always fascinated by computers. Eventually he understood that he was learning more by tackling problems, failing, and trying again, as if someone were teaching him something. That experience led to the creation of the YCombinator, which gave entrepreneurs the support to do what it did. Today apprentices are less and less formal. You need to improve based on a unique learning style.
11. Pick up a master power. The best mentor-protégé relationship is the most efficient and best way to learn. You focus on a great source of knowledge rather than looking for others. You can acquire a great mindset that will take a lifetime to develop in a fraction of the time. But the goal must always be to overcome it.
12. Choose a mentor who will challenge you intensely. Carl Jung admired Freud as a pioneer in his field, but he was ambivalent in certain parts of his theory. By having him as a mentor, although he eventually broke up, he knew where he disagreed with Freud, learned a lot, and sharpened his own ideas and identity. The more your mentor challenges others, the more he will challenge you.
13. Absorb your mentor’s knowledge in full and then transform it. Glenn Gould was Alberto Guerrero’s most promising student. Gould learned what Guerrero had taught him and took a different direction. They separated at 19, but much later, Guerrero could still see the things he was teaching Gould, totally absorbed but transformed by his genius.
It is almost a curse to learn from someone who is brilliant. It can be very intimidating.
14. Create a back and forth dynamic with all of your relationships. Freddie Roach, a legendary boxing coach, found his most promising student in future eight-division world champion Manny Pacquiao. He was the most intense of the students, and over time he learned to take Roach’s strategies and instructions a step further than he could have done on his own.
The best relationships are interactive. Learning another’s dogma is never as effective as adapting and improving it.
15. Master social intelligence. One of the biggest obstacles to becoming a teacher is interacting with others. It is very easy to live life as a series of battles and skirmishes for power that turn out to be minor. The idea that many people can be brilliant and not have to deal with a society is wrong. Teachers use social intelligence to improve their skills instead of making others an obstacle.
16. Accept criticism and adapt to power structures and society. Ignaz Semmelweis was one of the pioneers in the use of antiseptic techniques, which has saved millions of lives. He was never actually adopted in his day due to the arrogant people he dealt with and their refusal to test his ideas. He died penniless and was abandoned at the age of 47.
Use those in power, don’t drive them away. Otherwise the genius is wasted.
17. Create your character meticulously. Teresita Fernández, a sculpture and winner of the MacArthur Genius College Scholarship, could have been defined by others. Sculpture and metalwork were a masculine medium and it could easily have been perceived as a passing fad. By spending time in his character and his art, he helped make him more successful.
We all wear masks in society. When we are aware of this instead of being aware of ourselves, we can be more effective in any situation.
18. Let fools suffer and learn to take advantage of them. The German poet and writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe spent some of his youth at the court of a prominent duke. In accepting it, he found himself in a claustrophobic and petty court culture. Instead of joining in, I use this behavior as a basis for his later works and novels.
There are many fools to avoid. Don’t participate or sink to their level.
19. Awaken the dimensional mind and be brave. After completion of the training, the tendency is conservative to work firmly in a fixed area and according to family rules. The key to becoming a teacher is to reject conservatism and be very brave.
20. Record it all and let your brain make the connections for you. The brain is supposed to make connections. When we are firmly focused on a particular task, we can tense up and our brains shut down. The teachers read and absorb everything that can be associated with it to get the brain to jump.
So Luis Pasteur made the leap to vaccines. He spent years developing a germ theory that enabled him to understand the importance of a group of chickens that survived injection with an ancient disease culture. As he said, “Happiness favors those who are ready.”
21. Avoid putting things into familiar categories. The most creative minds defy any of the tendencies of the brain, organize things into simple categories, and use a mental abbreviation to simplify everything. With an effort to change perspective, this can change.
Larry Page and Sergey Brin came up with the idea that Google made by seeing what appears to be a trivial mistake. An anomaly led them to a more effective path.
22. Don’t let impatience ruin your plans. John Coltrane’s great strength, his improvisation, was once a weakness. He resorted to intimidation rather than innovation. After years of picking up on other people’s styles and learning some vocabulary, he knew how to do it personally and differently from everyone else.
One of the biggest barriers to creativity is impatience. Follow the course and develop an authentic voice.
23. Also appreciate abstract intelligence and mechanics. The world’s brightest engineers couldn’t develop a working flying machine. Orville and Wilbur Wright were bicycle mechanics. A simple view that a flying machine had to move like a bicycle, rather than horizontal lines like a ship, helped them beat the men who had attacked the problem for years.
Mechanical intelligence and a focus on functionality can be important, creative, and abstract.
24. Avoid the “technological lockdown” or engaging in engineering art instead of solving the real problem. Yoky Matsuoka had an impossible goal of building a robotic hand that looked real. For them it wasn’t a series of mechanical puzzles, but learning a process for understanding the human hand. Apparently irrelevant anatomical details became extremely important for the function.
The technological lockdown causes people to lose sight of more important issues. When Matsuoka saw the human hand, which was already perfect, he surpassed people who had been immersed in technical problems for years.
25. Merge the intuitive and the rational. This is the final step. Deep immersion in a particular area, learning experience, time with a mentor and unlocking creative potential create an extraordinary depth of knowledge and the ability to react quickly and instinctively to any situation.
The combination of this instinct with the rational process enables people to reach their highest potential and become teachers.
26. Build your world around your strengths. Albert Einstein was a bad scientist. He hated the way physics was taught and he didn’t like experiments. His greatest contributions come from elsewhere. His simple theory of relativity relies in part on thinking about an image in his head of trains, lights, men and women.
When Einstein decided at 20 to move away from conventional, experimental science and use his aversion to authority to remove conventions that held him back, he did something out of intuition, it seemed logical, but it was very rational.
27. Understand that exercise is just as important as the skill you were born with. Cesar Rodriguez, nicknamed America’s Last Ace, was not an inherently good pilot. At first it was one of the worst. He caught up and outperformed everyone through practice. He knew every control and reacted better than those who trusted his talent.
After thousands of hours of practice, he achieved what seems very common. But that’s how most people become teachers.