The Three Phases of Mastery: From ‘I’m Excited’ to ‘This Sucks’ to ‘I’m Good at This!’

The Three Phases of Mastery: From ‘I’m Excited’ to ‘This Sucks’ to ‘I’m Good at This!’

Phase I: ‘Wow, this is exciting. I’m learning a lot’

When you are going from zero to one, everything feels exciting. You are on a deep learning curve. For months, every day can feel like cloud nine.

With every action you take, you are rewarded with results.

You feel naturally motivated, jumping on the project every day. You can’t help but talk about it constantly.

At this stage, success feels imminent. With such good feelings, what could go wrong?

Phase II: ‘Nothing works’

The problem with Phase I is that it makes you feel like you will always be experiencing excitement.

So when you get to Phase II, you will naturally feel discouraged. Instead of getting rewarded by results, your actions feel like punches in the air: you put in a lot of effort but get nothing in return.

This is the stage where nothing you write goes viral. Nobody buys your product. Nobody cares about what you do.

Many people drop off at this Phase. They stop writing. They stop learning the guitar. They stop trying to make a new website work. They stop building.

Doubt creeps in.

You feel like you are wasting your time, like a failure.

‘If nothing works, why even bother? Maybe I’m really not cut out for this like all the pros out there,’ they imagine to themselves.

Then, when a new project or opportunity comes along, they jump on it. This is how the Shiny Object Syndrome develops: when you can’t stick through the hard times on an existing project and want to jump on something new again.

When you give in to the Shiny Object Syndrome, it feels like the right thing to do. The good feelings of being involved with something new come rushing back. You feel excited and motivated again.

But the problem is every time you do this you are back in Phase I again. Over and over, you repeat the same cycle.

If you repeat this many times, you will find yourself, ten years later, having done nothing significant in your life. None of your projects would have been completed, and you would not have become the master of a skill.

It takes someone brave with a vision for the long-term to carry on.

Think of this stage like pulling the rubber on a slingshot. When you are pulling it you will feel like nothing is happening. But something is indeed happening: with every effort you put into pulling, potential energy gathers inside the rubber.

But you need to pull it long enough to gather enough potential energy for you to enter the next Phase of mastery.

If you let go now, the rubber will become loose and you might not hit your target.

Phase III: ‘Everything works’

For those who manage to push themselves past Phase II, they become the few people who experience Phase III.

Everything you do appears to work. Everyone reads what you are writing. Everyone buys what you are selling.

Opposite of what you experienced in Phase II, with little effort, you experience great rewards.

At this stage, you feel like you have developed a magic touch.

You feel powerful.

You have become a master of your craft.

The Science Behind Mastery

The question is: Why does this happen?

The answer is that this is how our brain works.

When you start learning something, you take up a lot of brain power. Then, as you become good at it, you take up a very small portion of your brain to perform the same task.

Read about this here and here.

This is why experts appear to have the magic touch. Their brains are so well developed in that specific skill that they can think and act fast.

More than that, they have become so skillful that they can pick up new things in a specific area more quickly than anyone else.

Like any other organ in our body, the brain can be trained to act quickly.

The Keys to Becoming Good

The first thing is: there are no secrets.

People are always looking for secrets. But the big secret is this: there are no secrets. What you need to know to succeed is out in the open.

The only problem?

Not many people want to accept that most success is a result of hard work, patience and persistence. Instead, they would rather imagine that success is a combination of luck and skills born to a person.

Why?

That’s because while they can use the latter to justify their own lack of success (‘I am not born with it’, ‘I am not as lucky as her’), admitting that the former is true would make them look lazy and impatient.

I remember when I was still doing my ‘A’ Levels, a classmate of mine told me, ‘Lu Wee, I know our teacher hates me. Look at this question. I could have gotten full marks but he only gave me half marks. He’s the reason I keep getting a B.’

I argued with her that even if your teacher really hated you, you could still do well if you adopted a different study habit.

But she fought back saying, ‘No, he’s the reason. If I had a different teacher, I would gotten an A.’

And a B student she remained until the day we graduated.

Seven years later, I started my first job as an engineer. At the time, the idea of starting a business was fresh in my mind. I recruited a few friends who appeared keen about doing the same thing to begin discussing and working on starting our own businesses.

At first, we were all enthusiastic. We talked to each other every week about our progress. Most of us worked hard on it.

But as the excitement of novelty faded, one by one, my friends stopped working on their ideas. By the end of the year, none of them were keen on their projects anymore.

Their day jobs got in the way. School got in the way. Social life got in the way. Something always got in the way.

Something always got in the way.

I felt discouraged by their departure, but yet I understood that the journey was tough and not everyone prioritized such adventures.

I pushed on.

Now, almost six years later, I have achieved a small portion of what I set out to do.

Seeing this, one of them told me, about a year ago, ‘Lu Wee, I wish I could do what you do. But I am just not as lucky as you to have the opportunities you have to do what you want. If I did, I would have jumped on it.’

I almost wanted to say, ‘No I did not. I worked very hard’, but stopped myself. I realized that her beliefs about success had already been rooted: success goes to the lucky. No matter how hard I work, I will never be lucky enough to make it.

So I smiled and said, ‘Yeah, I probably am.’

Our beliefs control our future. If you believe is that you will never get what you want because of who you are, where you are, or what you do, then you won’t.

If you believe that you will get what you want in spite of who you are, where you are, or what you do, then you will.

Though successful people can appear like Magicians with powers. They can turn nothing into something exciting and rewarding. In reality, they are humans who have pushed themselves through Phase I and Phase II to end up in Phase III.

In reality, the successful people you see are mere mortals who have pushed themselves through Phase I and Phase II to end up in Phase III to appear like magicians.

If you have worked with a master before, you will see that they do not have typical mindsets or limiting beliefs. Though they were born typical, they have always pushed themselves in an atypical way.

So in the end, they are not magicians, but experts who know their craft better than anyone else. In this way, they can move and think faster than anyone else.

To people who don’t understand their craft well enough, everything they do appears like magic.

Second: do a few things well

Multi-tasking may make you feel successful or productive, but it actually hurts your progress if you want to become really good at something.

Saying ‘yes’ to many projects means having little time to work on each one. This may mean that you end up spending just one or two hours a week on each project.

When you spend a measly amount of time on each project, you get good at none of them.

It might have been better if you had taken on fewer projects and spent more time on each one.

‘But I don’t want to limit my options,’ you may say.

Unfortunately, if you can’t spend at least one hour a day on a project, you would not have gotten good at it anyway. Being so-so at one thing would not have given you many opportunities anyway.

Think of the hundreds of thousands of people who are doing exactly what you are doing now: juggling 1 – 2 hours a week on ten different things.

Instead of being different, you would be the same.

Multi-tasking is easy. Staying focused is hard.

A better way to increase your options is to go the reverse way. Choose not to be good at everything. Instead, select to become good at specific things.

Then, commit yourself to spending at least 1 hour a day on it. Spending one hour a day or seven hours a week will make you ten times better than someone spending just one hour a week on the same thing.

If you find that you can’t even spend one hour a day on one thing, you are again doing too much.

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So, how good do you want to be?

If you want to be really good, push yourself through Phase II and don’t give in to the Shiny Object Syndrome.

If being really good matters less to you than feeling excited all the time, then keep cycling through the Shiny Object Syndrome.

 


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