“If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.”
So you want to improve yourself?
According to K. Anders Ericsson, real mastery of a skill may require 10,000 hours or more of sustained, deliberate, focused practice¹. Natural talent seems to be something maximized thru nurturing and effort. Good news for average Joes. But if talented people possess a champion quality the rest of us do not, that quality would be perseverance. What Ericsson calls “deliberate practice” is not simply doing the same thing over and over; it’s practice with purpose. It’s a stubbornness to improve, to continually set higher goals. Diligence and resolve will unearth your true genetic potential.
Consider this. Look at your body and your lifestyle, the way a building engineer looks at a structure. How would that change your approach to nutrition and training?
An engineer works within essential routines, schedules; system checks for operability, repair or upgrade. He looks for elements that have failed and need changing out. The interior mechanisms that keep a skyscraper running are more critical than the facade. Think plumbing, air conditioning, electric, heat, and ventilation.
Without regular checks any one of the components could fail, causing stress upon the others. Without care the building ceases to function in the way it was designed. It falls into disrepair. First comes neglect, then decay. A working, living structure has thorough, even exhaustive maintenance schedules. Yet, we often neglect our own bodies’ systems until they send us warning signals.
We can improve upon a building and its functions. We can add on, build up or build out. We can modify components that make the whole work more efficiently. We can perk up its appearance. We can reinforce parts that have succumbed to age. But we can do none of it without a solid foundation and a strong core—neither can your body. The core of a building is concrete and steel. The core of the human vessel is lean body mass and functionality.
What Can You Do?
I like 30-day programs. They are long enough to judge results and short enough to tolerate if you don’t like them. Your muscles must be shocked to grow, the body likes and adapts to novelty, but that doesn’t mean your training should be haphazard. Design a 30-day total-body routine, include a mix of aerobic and resistance training. Plan your meals. Then, stick with it. Push through it, taking note of how you respond, what could be improved, kept or discarded.
Our bio-mechanical systems keep us viable. They are both the tool and the project. But there is another level, those systems that elevate our sense of self and bring us to mastery. The higher order systems are intended to enlighten, to elucidate, to master the space of ourselves. They are lifelong learning, curiosity, mindfulness, introspection and gratitude.
It’s fun to build muscle, increase stamina, look good in jeans or just have that walking-around strength. But like those things that can be counted, they don’t count unless you begin to exert influence over yourself and unlock your personal mastery systems. No one becomes a champion without devoting time to excellence.
There is no such thing as quality time. That’s just a goofy phrase invented by overworked single parents to help them feel better about neglecting their children. The quality comes from actually spending more time with what and who is important. You have to be tenacious.
Habits are bricks. Desire is mortar. Two bricks together begin a process. One brick becomes a course, and then a wall, and then a building. These structures, like your way of life, become a place to create, to indulge, to parent, to learn, to achieve and to dream of more places. Mastery doesn’t appear through mysticism; it arises from vision, planning, diligence, patience and productive habits.