Mastery - Day 19 - OPENNESS

Being open to input and ideas from those around us, and open to making shifts in our behaviour in response to the realities of the outside world is a strength and great contributor to eventual success.

We have discussed already the need to be observant, to recognise that nearly all of the data you will require exists in the world around you, it lies within you and within your family, friends, team-mates and colleagues - the key is being open to receiving it.

The greatest leaders look to build openness in their organisations and they push for candour, where people feel able to be open, they will share more and more, they will share new ideas, stories of successes and crucially the things that are not working.  Where there is an atmosphere, or a culture, that stops people being open - then things go unnoticed and mistakes get covered up or fudged around.    Look around your world today, how many people are holding back secrets, covering up big mistakes or letting little mistakes grow into big mistakes because the boss is arrogant and bad tempered, or because their partners or parents punish mistakes severely?
  • Openness requires a level of safety, safety from ridicule and negative judgements
That safety comes from being able to trust those around you - from the quality of the relationship. I have already suggested that if you are serious about your learning and development, it can be great to form an alliance with a friend, buddy up with them.

Promise to be open with each other about what you see in each other, tell each other when you see something good happen and be open with each other when you see something that is not so good. Make a little deal based on openness and recognise within it that at times there is the potential for some upset - pointing to where each other are going wrong could feel hurtful at times - the feedback you are offering each other might not always be well delivered.

Be clear on the purpose of feedback

I would like you to try something if you are able to, and it centres around the feedback that we give one another. Redefine what feedback represents to you and your purpose in receiving it and in offering it to others:
  • Feedback is not the celebration of success or the punishment of failure, that should sit elsewhere in our conversations - feedback is just the data.
  • Feedback is information given in order to improve or enhance performance.
We can now remove two unhelpful labels, 'good' and 'bad'. There is no bad feedback or good feedback, it is simply data an expression of things you are doing well, and things that need to improve - but it is all just data, which you need to know, in order to do better next time.

When you are offering feedback, tell yourself this first 'its helpful stuff, get set in your mind that you are there to provide support and to help, to give your colleague a gift. That little reminder in the moment will help you to find the right words - and if you simply can't, then be honest:

'look, I need to speak to you about something, I can't quite find the right words, but I want you know that I'm doing this because I want to support you, I noticed you did 'this' and it went really well, but when you did 'that', it just didn't work'.  What do you think you might need to do now?'

When you are receiving feedback, remember that same thing, 'this is helpful stuff' - you can't necessarily control the way it is delivered to you, but you can at least focus on the useful bits of information you are being given.

Openness then was the final word from this list of positive qualities relating to mastery. They all seem reasonable to me, they weren't mine remember, I simply took a list of words and had a play with them and thought about them using some principles around improving performance as a filter.

Tomorrow I will post a summary which you might find of value, and in Day 21 I will encourage us to create some outputs that may serve us.

Day 20

Mastery - Day 18 - BOLDNESS

It could be easy in a section on boldness to talk about big dreams, lofty ambitions, or having a great desire - which we looked at previously. I think there is some value in talking about some of the little bold actions which we could take daily, but often don't, the little obstacles we fail to address within ourselves.

It can take little individual acts of bravery, or boldness to overcome our fears, or take our space in the room, or on the pitch, on the gallery wall.

I have a small story, which I am not sure was based on boldness at all, but I can try to imagine it was.  I was at an industry event with a colleague, we had enjoyed a few drinks already and I suggested that we introduce ourselves to a high profile CEO, who was entertaining his crowd in a sectioned off piece of bar. I was told that we pretty much couldn't/shouldn't do it, we were both, when it boiled down to it, well pretty lowly in comparison.

I did it anyway and we ended up spending the rest of the evening as part of the party.  The guy knew all about the firm we worked for, he was charming and just one of the group. In the morning I guess was pretty pleased with myself and very hungover - so that is pretty much all I remember of the event today. Longer term the grapevine worked and our MD learnt we gave a good account of ourselves and of the firm, pats-on-back etc., a chance bit of boldness had some small but positive outcomes.

If I were preparing today, perhaps without a few drinks me in this time, I would be reminding myself:

'I'm going to introduce myself to that CEO, there's no reason not to, I've earned my right to be in this room just as anyone else here has, I am just as human as him, being successful doesn't mean you are 'better', I know what I am talking about, we could both find this interesting, it might be fun, the guy won't shoot me, fortune favours the brave...'

Often of course when faced with a challenge, big changes or in the presence of authority, when we can start to tell ourselves we are not good enough to be there, or simply 'I am shit'.

Boldness and bravery can be very personal then, what is an everyday parachute journey for Felix Baumgartner is 'jumping to my certain death' for others.

For me this is all about being on a journey, making the next day better than the last, so being able take each next step boldly, bravely and with confidence because we know certain things and can draw energy from them:
  • you are becoming ever more familiar with your strengths - you have been speaking them often, you know they will serve you
  • you know you are grounded in reality - you are honest about where you are and you recognise you can always improve
  • you know you are committed to getting better - you actively seek to learn and stretch yourself
Those are three powerful building blocks that many people don't have in place or have any type of commitment around, you can be bold because you are aware of what you are good at and you know where you need to improve.  That positive self-awareness and knowledge means you can make really effective contributions to what ever is going on - you won't be bullshitting and you won't be caught out, you won't need to visit the bit of you that is saying you are shit. 

This building self-awareness from little daily reflections and self-reminders will start to manifest themselves as behaviours that others find attractive.
  • You will be adding value when you speak or act
  • You will be learning and supportive the rest of the time
You can be bold in those circumstances, you will be building gravitas, you will be authentic, believable and real, those are qualities that create appeal and followership.

Last word tomorrow, followed by a summary on Day 20, and then some outputs on Day 21

Mastery - Day 17 - ADAPTABILITY

You will need to be willing to change at times, to renew and innovate yourself; as the world around you shifts, so you must shift in response - technology is driving change everywhere and constantly.

We are not talking here about you becoming a master in the world that you want it to be, but as it is.  There is an interesting little story here about the importance of being in touch with reality described as the Stockdale Paradox, Google it or read what I have written about it before here

I think we start to tick the adaptability box quite quickly by adopting a few principles or behaviours, that can help us to work through change and we have discussed throughout this exercise. 
  • Being really clear of your goal, the dream or desire you have and keeping it as your clear intent will give you direction in time of uncertainty.
  • Be clear about the other things that are important to you also - keep the balance in your life that you need
  • Maintain your energy
  • Remain open to learning - actively observing what is going on about you - continue the habit of reviewing what is working and what is not
  • Know your strengths - using them to help you adapt
  • Be honest in your reflections around where you do need to change and let others be honest with you also
'T' shaped people
These are people who have a deep technical knowledge, this knowledge is the leg of the 'T'. They also have broader interests - the horizontal top to their 'T'. Those broader interests bring different perspectives and experiences which when mixed with a deep technical knowledge allows them to see more and more possibilities for their designs and adapt other things they see in the world around them.


Jack would like to know...

Mastery - Day 16 - HUMILITY

To consider the value of humility, perhaps we should consider the polar opposite seen in the brashness of the know-it-all and the arrogance that precedes the fall… Fred 'the Shred' and Bob Diamond perhaps, Robert Maxwell (if you remember him). Were they closed off, command, control, boardroom tigers, criminals, corporate psychopaths?  For sure there was little humility present.

Humility takes bravery, the bravery to be vulnerable in front of others, to ourselves even, and admit that we are not yet the finished article, that no matter how far up the ladder we have risen, no matter how good our game, how great our achievements - we can still improve.

Humility does not equate to weakness, it does not mean to give in. As gentle as the word sounds and as ineffectual as it may feel in the moment, it is the greatest single piece of you that, if found within, will allow you to continue to learn and grow.

As a student it will remind you there is more to learn, and as a leader it will ensure you value the views of others. It promotes candor and honesty around us and lets us leverage every last drop of intellectual power in a room by showing we value others. As a creative it will allow an easier space for technical criticism to occur.  It can take bravery for some.
  • Rest in your strengths, no need to parade them on a platter before people, just use them and they will serve you
  • Be honest around your need to develop, and you will already be developing

A short entry for this series on attaining mastery - but the most important piece perhaps.

A view of Paros, from Naxos by me
I was thinking about where we might try and practice some, perhaps:

In conversation today, actively try to listen a little bit longer before replying - really hear what is being said by whoever you are talking to, switch off the internal commentary within you.

Deeper listening will bring you more - more effective conversation, more possibilities as a result, greater certainty around where you are and what is now right. 

Day 17

Happy in his purpose

this King of Razors is very happy
spotted by Kathryn, instagrammed by me


We can readily see the emotional commitment that sports people bring to their performance, we see them breakdown in a huge release of emotion when they win the greatest prizes. We see it in the crowds that follow them.

We can feel its presence in the best stage and film performances, witness it in the work of great artists. 

When we witness really high performance and great achievement it is not work at all - we call it 'work' of art, it has been created over many hours through great labour, but often for someone really lost in their creativity they are simply just there.  While they were lost in their work, absorbed and in flow, there was labour, but it was never work at all.

It can be hard to find an emotional connection and generate that deeper emotional commitment to work.  I worked in insurance, an industry which was filled with just so much paper and reading and words. Over time I did build an emotional connection of sorts, centred on just a few pieces of data:
  • Insurance is complicated and can be expensive - buyers of it can make mistakes
  • Bad things happen - in a claims department I know some days its a world of death of destruction
  • Insurances helps people to recover - which connects to my values
That changed how I felt about the work, for me I was simply helping people in anticipation that something awful might happen - that was my purpose and it made me feel good to help people.

If you are committed to becoming a master at what you do for a living you might be asking yourself some deeper questions, thinking beyond all the implications and advantages of financial reward perhaps:
  • What would you say is your purpose at work?
  • How do you help people?
  • How do you contribute?
  • What do you take most pride from in your work?
I bought this from

Spend some time in thought, looking beyond the task on the desk or the bit in the machine, or the mop in the bucket in front of you like the cleaner at NASA helping man to reach the moon.

Mastery - Day 14 - TRUST IN SELF

Yesterday we considered confidence, a form of trust, but this goes somewhat deeper.

There is only one guaranteed in your life, it is there with you from the beginning and throughout your life, until the very moment you expire. While people and possessions will come and go - the one constant in your life, the only one person you can really rely on, as unromantic and even dark as that may feel to conceive of, the only person that is always there - is you.
  • The first part of the support system we all need, in order to face whatever challenge we have set, must be ourselves - trust in ourselves helps to the bring confidence to tackle the challenge.
I can think of a few components that may help us to build trust in the one person that really counts, ourselves - I'm not sure this is all of them, but there is enough to think on here I am sure.

Create an accurate narrative

We tell ourselves stories, all day every day, there is something about the human spirit that loves a good tale and we tell them about, and to, ourselves all the time - often using one of the multitude of voices that exist within our head. The story is often not fully accurate, it is tainted by all our little peccadillos, our neuroses and cognitive biases.

You need to be able to tell yourself the actual truth about what has happened, reflect accurately on where you actually are. If we call life a journey, you want to know you are where you think you are - a map is useless if you have no idea where you are on it, or are claiming to be somewhere else altogether.
  • This is where partnering with someone in your learning can be very useful - taking a coach or learning how to coach each other can help you to find a truer and less biased reckoning of your true position.

Take responsibility

  • 'You made me angry/do it/etc.'
Try shifting to a more honest appraisal:
  • 'You did this, and I became angry/did that/etc.'
We make our own choices, they may be in reaction to an outside stimulus, but we make the choice in how we react.
  • Taking ownership for our reactions means we can start to tell ourselves a more accurate story of what is going on.

Be compassionate with yourself

We all make mistakes, we all get things wrong, we all have things that we don't know - sometimes we don’t know that we don't them. The cleverest, richest, most successful, most influential person in the room has and will make mistakes.

If we are forgiving of ourselves, whilst still taking responsibility for what we've done and for our learning in response we can start to trust that our responses to challenges and the decisions we make about where we focus our efforts to improve are going to be the right ones.

The more accurate the story you tell yourself, the more you can trust that the decision you make is the right one - the more you can trust your intuition and your gut, which at times you will have to do, particularly when the path is not clear.

We can build that more accurate picture by asking those now familiar questions, and answering them more honestly and accurately:
  • What went well? - do more of that (particularly now you know with greater certainty that it did go well)
  • What wasn't so great? - you can be accurate in your response now, shifting from 'Dave made me angry and the meeting feel apart' to 'Dave was so disrespectful, I reacted by getting angry, and I failed to run the meeting effectively after that'
  • What could I do differently? - 'next time I'm going to tell Dave to park his issues if he can't put them across respectfully, I'm going to bite my lip, think about my response and deal with him carefully later'.

Mastery - Day 13 - CONFIDENCE

Confidence, or the lack of, is rooted in our expectations that the outcome will be good, or not.  The word itself comes from the latin, fide or faith.

A person has confidence because they know, with a good degree of certainty that they will reach their goal.

There is something self-fulfilling around confidence or lack of it, confidence brings an energy to us - suffer a knock back, the confidence is dented and it can sap our energy to continue. Facing off a challenge, not believing that it can be overcome almost certainly guarantees that it won't be - without the confidence to do it, the necessary energy and effort simply isn't made available within us.

I have a high degree of confidence in your ability to succeed, I can have this confidence because experience and hard data tells me that people who spend a few minutes a day reflecting on how to get better at what they do, and take the time to do a little learning are more likely to reach their objectives.

I am confident, for example, that a leader who decides to develop their own ability to coach people will become not just a better leader, but also a better person, they will form better teams, who will produce better results.

I ask people to reflect on and speak their strengths regularly, where they do something well I want them to acknowledge they have done it well and understand why/how they did it well, and only then where they may have been able to do it better -  to return in the learning cycle to Conscious Competence.

There is a purpose in this, and it is to build confidence.  When we give someone a feedback report they immediately flick through the report looking for the page that details their development needs, "Where do I need to improve?", they virtually ignore the page that contains all their strengths and value add  qualities - but it is those strengths that will help them to meet their development needs so the suggestion must be:

  • Rest at ease in the strengths you already have, draw confidence from those, know that all the skills you have already acquired along with the positive aspects to your character and the fact that you are willing to enter voluntarily into a journey of learning is already enough - the rest from here on out is simply a matter of continuing to make the effort.

Things will go wrong along the way of course, you will not always get the result you want - but you are acquiring the skills to deal with those set-backs, because you take time to reflect, review your progress and learn you are making all the right moves, you are following a process that will support you, so you can be confident that you do have the skills to overcome those energy sapping set-backs.

  • Speak your strengths
  • Acknowledge your successes

Review your performance:

  • What did I do well there?  - Do more of that
  • What didn't work so well?
  • What shall I do differently next time?

Be compassionate in the face of failures and take confidence from your strengths.

Day 14

Mastery - Day 12 - OBSERVANCE

We need to be actively and consciously watching and noticing the things that are occurring around us. We are all standing on the shoulders of giants and there is nothing new under the sun..., pretty much.
  • Who is the most successful sales person in the office? What are they doing that you do not? How often do they call their clients?
  • Who do you know that can hit a golf ball 200 yards to the centre of the fairway pretty much every time they strike the ball? In what way does their stance differ from yours? How steady is their head? Where are their hips at the moment the ball is struck
  • Who in the class can draw the best nose?
This is a real question, that I asked one of my boys, Charlie, during a coaching session we held in the car one afternoon after he asked what I did, I asked him to tell me about a challenge he had and we would work through it, to help him understand a little about coaching. Under enquiry he told me that he was probably 4/10 at drawing noses.

Of the various options he came up with when we discussed some of the things he might do to accelerate his learning, he decided that he could have a chat with the one of his class mates and come to a little deal:
  • Charlie would spend time watching his school friend drawing noses, and in exchange he would spend some time showing the other budding Da Vinci how he might draw a more realistic hand.
In most jobs, pastimes, and sports you will know someone who is better at it, or at least one aspect of it, than you are.
  • The data you need to help you improve is all around you.
Why not try and team up with someone, invite them to be your partner in learning and improving, watch and learn from each other. Becoming a partner with someone in this way can be very powerful, two brains can be applied to a problem, two pairs of eyes and ears are now available to gather the data that is all around - you can learn from each other's experience.

Examine your own outputs, actively observe yourself asking:

  • What worked - what did I do really well there?
  • What wasn't so great?
  • How can I do better next time? Who can advise me?
  • How can I use my strengths to get better at this?

Most importantly:
  • Enjoy

Day 13

Mastery - Day 11 - OBSESSIVENESS

When I first saw this word appear as a quality that will help us to succeed on our journey to mastery, I was a little concerned, the word is used so often to describe the unhealthiness of fixation, the state of addiction and of course we hear all the time, "I'm OCD about…"

Being obsessive about reaching our goal, fulfilling our desire, will drive the persistence we need, it means we will be willing to train for a marathon all the through the winter, get up at 4 am to go and swim 100 lengths, to get home from the office and then start studying, to bring that extra bit of grit that we need to find before a tough conversation with a colleague or a client.

If we translate obsessiveness into 'a relentless focus on, and dogged pursuit of our goal or dream' then that might help to drive the other behaviours we need to reach mastery.

There is no question that to become really, really, great at something - we need to let it take us over - like David Beckham, who I referred to back on Day 6 of this journey.

Again we need balance though - we need the support system to help us face the challenge we face on the journey and that support must start within us, I would suggest we need to be able maintain some perspective and ensure we maintain the energy we need.

  • Our obsession may mean we can be unforgiving when we, or others, fail - we need to be compassionate with ourselves and those around us.
  • Our obsession may mean that what we work too hard and drive others to hard - if we burn out we might never get there.
In pursuit of our goal, if lost in our obsession, we can forget about some of the other important things in life - without recharging our energy, we will ultimately make the journey harder and longer - the pressure and stress we put on ourselves, if unchecked, will be the biggest obstacle we encounter.

Day 12

Mastery - Day 10 - ENERGY

If the word energy is traced back to its origin we end up ancient Greece, and a compound of words that if translated literally today we might read as 'in work'.

We are talking about our mental energy here, and even in sport it is the energy of our thought that makes the difference - it is the desire and want to achieve that allows people to push through 'the wall' when running a marathon. Pheidippides would probably never have made it from the Battle of Marathon to Athens, a distance of 240km give or take, in under 3 days, if he didn't have the mental energy gifted by the relief and joy at the defeat of the mighty Persian army that threatened his people.
  • Pursuing a dream, or avoiding a great hazard, will bring the mental desire, the energy, required to drive us forward.
  • Enjoying something, will bring the mental energy that drives us forward.
  • Learning will stimulate the mind and bring the mental energy that drives us forward.

Boredom and frustration will sap that energy.

Refresh your energy by doing something you love, or being with people you love - it is important to re-charge, to let the brain do something else for a while - sometimes to even let it do nothing - that’s why a walk around the block can refresh you enough to resume a draining task, we all have them, they are unavoidable.

A quick spoken reminder to ourselves can help, 'come on G, nearly finished' is often enough to help me complete a task late in the day, when all I really want to do is put my feet up.

A reminder of why we are doing something, the fulfilment of our dream, is often enough to bring that extra energy we need.


Stress generates an energy within us - but is the most dangerous, and unfortunately one of the most pervasive states we see in the world around us.
  • 'A little bit of stress helps me perform'
  • 'I work really well when I'm up against a deadline'

This IS dangerous bullshit.  The conscious mind, the pieces of brain that we think with, can rationalise away the need for stress, with the above excuses as our drivers for performance.

To the ancient brain, the deepest part of our brain that is common to virtually all animals, the unconscious brain that controls our breathing, heart rate and other unconscious physical reactions - there is no such rationalisation - the stress of running from a bear, is no different from the buzz your rational mind may feel as you work through the night to complete a report say. The ancient brain just knows that you need something extra and it releases all the hormones required to help you achieve it, it doesn’t know you are writing a report - it 'thinks' you are running from a bear - your heart rate increases, your muscles shake a bit, your breathing is irregular - you might even have to go to the loo suddenly - all ancient reactions to ancient threats which you are not facing.

  • Stress is very harmful for your body.
I know, from bitter experience - I woke on a Monday morning a quivering wreck, I didn't know why, I just knew that frankly, I felt totally fucked. I was signed off work for a month, and I hated it…


This is why balance is so important to our health, spend time doing things you love, spend time with people you love - this will recharge you mentally.

Exercise will help to use that adrenaline for its intended purpose.

Some people meditate to help calm and clear the mind, to remove the harmful inner thoughts and voices that create our inner stress, others go fishing, walking - I laugh with my kids when I can and take photographs.

There is nothing on earth to me so boring as stitching a sail - it is hard and laborious work, but there's also nothing quite so satisfying as hoisting a sail and moving somewhere in absolute silence using the power of nature alone - and I do prefer to sail alone.

    items found under a fridge
  • Unless you work in a role which really is about life and death - don't treat what you are doing as if it is life or death.

  • Find humour and fun in what you do - try and play at what you do.
I have written about creativity before - I really recommend spending time creating - the most important thing in the creativity exercises I recommend is that the result is never focused upon, quality is not the aim - it is the release found in the play of making that is important - if you happen to make something beautiful that's great, if it is fit only for the bin - well that's great too!

Day 11

Take a moment on a Friday...

  • What went really well this week? - Celebrate it.
  • What wasn't so good - where can you use your strengths to improve?
  • What's the one non-urgent thing, that if you committed to do next week, will generate lasting value?
  • When was the last time you had a day off? I thought so, book an afternoon off now - tell no one at home - go and spend two hours doing something for you for a change...

Mastery - Day 9 - PATIENCE

Sometimes I find the easiest way to understand something, we should consider the polar opposite.


As a society we see and feel the consequences of impatience every day, either directly in our own lives and if not then almost certainly when we look through the TV schedules and see how many programmes there are dedicated to what happens every minute on our roads.  I lost a friend in my early twenties, killed outright in head on collision.  My own life was undoubtedly saved one lunch time when I worked in London, I was about to step into the road when I was yanked fiercely back on to the pavement, I could almost feel the wing mirror of the bus brush my face as it whizzed by.

Impatience leads to frustration, often anger, and almost certainly very poor decision-making.  When I was a kid it led to me doing a fine job of building model cars and planes, until I came to about 80% completion - then I would start to rush, all my hard work undone at the end… 

That’s not to say a degree of impatience is not good at times, it can be a great driver of exceptional performance, but only when used for short periods of time and in the right circumstances.  Your impatience won't make a queue any shorter, or paint dry any quicker, financial year end will come no sooner and the post arrives, well, when it arrives…

Of course we are talking here about patience in relation to the attainment of mastery of whatever it is you are doing, so this is patience in the context of learning.

There is a cycle to learning:

  • Unconscious Incompetence: We have no idea that we don’t really know what we're doing, until someone tells us, or we find the output is not what we hoped for, this shifts us to the next stage of the cycle.
  • Conscious Incompetence: We are given a task or set our self a challenge and are quite aware that we don't know what we are doing, so we start to learn.
  • Conscious Competence: Having commenced learning, we build skills and gradually become competent at what we are doing but we have to think about what we are doing
  • Unconscious Competence: We are skilled at what we do, so skilled in fact that we no longer have to think about what we are doing - some of us are naturally skilled at certain things, we can do it, sometimes we don't even 'know' how or why we have the ability.

There is a journey to learning, to attaining mastery, it takes time to become competent, and longer to be so proficient that we can be unconscious in our competence - we had to learn how to walk and how to run, and most human beings on earth, providing they have the requisite body parts, walk quite competently without thinking about it.

To attain mastery, to keep learning and perfecting  we need to constantly shift ourselves back to the state of conscious competency - that means we maintain our awareness of what we are doing in the moment, and afterwards we review our progress, we take learning from our experience:
  • That went well - I will do more of that!
  • That wasn't so good - why was that?
  • What can I do differently - how do I calibrate and produce a better result?
The very best sports people go out and perform, they act in the moment allowing their unconscious competence to act.  After the event, they talk to their coaches and watch themselves on video - doing more of what went well and observing what was not so good, they calibrate, practice, let the adjustment become once more natural, so they can perform unconsciously in the moment, the brain has full control of the action.

It is not possible for a baseball batter to consciously calculate where the ball will arrive and how it will be struck, there is simply insufficient time for a conscious decision to be made, it is the same for tennis players when receiving serve. This level of unconscious competence exhibited on the field of play comes from hours and hours of practice and re-examination.

Getting great at anything takes time, and staying great at anything requires us to return to our state of conscious competence, so that we can learn and adjust.

Be patient with yourself on your journey of learning, be compassionate when you fail and learn from the experience, that is the only route to mastery, and it takes time.

Mastery - Day 8 - EFFORT

When I set myself to thinking about 'effort', my first thought was that this would be quick and easy to write - but as I thought more deeply I realised that it can actually be quite complicated…

People make effort in response to need - the need to avoid something, or gain something.  In ancient times it was to outrun a predator or to reach the honey in a tree top.  In that sense effort is related to some our most basic human drivers - effort is made in response to a challenge.

The greater the challenge, the greater the support required - the more you wish to stretch yourself, or your team, the more you need to ensure there is a system of support that enables the effort to be made. 
  • If you have a dream or a compelling challenge to respond to - effort will follow.

To maximise effort

(photo: NASA)
To maximise effort, a key element in performance and a key element in becoming  a master of anything, ensure there is the necessary support in place and also ensure that people are enjoying themselves and also learning - if people are learning and enjoying themselves the task begins to feel like an adventure and the effort they make will be enhanced, the effort will be more effectively made.

There is a story, I don't know how true it is, that JFK made a visit to NASA not long after the famous challenge he set them to get a man on the moon within ten years.  As he walked around he asked one of the people he was introduced to why they were there:

'I'm helping us to get to the moon sir'

The guy was in fact a cleaner and as far as he was concerned, he was contributing to the mission - and of course he was, someone has to do the cleaning.

It can also be useful, I think, and something often overlooked by employers, to understand where the challenge sits within an individual's own context.

When asked by an old boss what motivates me, I told him it was money, his response was that people respond to things that are far deeper than that and I should reconsider my answer.  I was a young man, with a growing family, a hefty mortgage on a property in Surrey - according to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs I still think I was maybe about right; at that stage in my life ensuring the family were safe with a roof over their head was pretty much the priority, the motivator was money

  • Consider the context of the person you are handing a challenge to.
Set yourself a compelling challenge, ensure there is a support system - that means look after yourself, and make it adventurous - an opportunity to learn and enjoy.

Ask yourself some questions:
  • Why am I doing this?  (don't just make this an exclamation when you are frustrated - actually speak the answer!)
  • What do I enjoy about this?
  • What can I learn from this experience?
  • What is stopping me from enjoying this and how can I turn that round?

Mastery - Day 7 - FOCUS

Focus cannot be forced. Trying hard to concentrate produces frustration and tiredness.
  • Focus comes from interest in what we are doing
Our attention to a task inevitably wanders, that shift in attention is not necessarily a loss of focus, the brain may be hunting for more data in the world around it, sometimes that attention can land in an area that is not serving - and then we lose focus and find we are doing the wrong thing.

Develop your awareness

To practice focus become more consciously aware of where your attention has shifted to, consciously notice what has distracted you, the more you choose to become consciously aware of your distractions the greater your awareness of your true priorities become also.

An immediate and present example - I looked away from the screen to imagine and construct one of the sentences above, I started in thought and soon found I was looking at the grey clouds outside today, wondering if it might rain a little more…
  • "I'm looking at clouds, I need to be writing about Focus"
This practice of really noticing and acknowledging the wandering of the mind can be very helpful - the more aware and observant of your distractions and indeed your own hang-ups or emotional reactions that you become, the earlier and earlier you can intervene and choose to place your mind elsewhere, which must be in the present, in the task at hand.
  • Speak your distraction, acknowledge it and then speak your priority - this will help to bring focus.

Focus cannot be forced - it comes from interest 

In ball games we are told to keep our eyes on the ball - if you want to take it further, don't just watch the ball, but observe which way the ball is spinning as it flies through the air.
  • Your deeper observation, your deeper interest, is your focus.
Take whatever your task at hand is, and observe which way the ball is spinning in that task - ask a deeper question, drive your interest and drive your focus.

I took this photograph in 2008
I recalled it when thinking about the clouds outside today
In conversation, for example, notice and inwardly acknowledge your internal commentary, that will allow you to switch that commentary off, you will engage more deeply in the conversation and be better partner in discussion.

Day 8

Mastery - Day 6 - PERSISTENCE

To attain any kind of mastery we must persist in the pursuit of it. 

A tree growing through a metal fence in Hitchin (photo by me)
We will encounter external challenges and our own internal obstacles; the inner critic and the voice(s) inside our own heads.  We are our own worst critic and many of us give in to to that inner voice, believing it is the truth, we can allow it to define us, "you'll never do it, you will never be any good at this, let's face it, you're just shit".
  • I wonder how many garages contain rusty golf clubs and how many tennis rackets languish gathering fluff under beds.
David Beckham was a marked man following his red-card in the 1998 World Cup in France,  but he didn't give up, he persisted, stuck with it and toughed it out. In qualifying for the 2002 World Cup England faced Greece, and needed a draw to guarantee qualification and a trip to the Far East.  With only moments left on the clock England trailed by a goal, Beckham stepped up and moments later the country went crazy.  Kathryn tells me that she tipped the sofa over as she celebrated, when I watch it again the hairs on my neck stand up!

Practise and persist

Motivated by his desire and with great self-discipline Beckham would practice, practice, practice his free-kicks, he would be at the training ground long after his team mates had gone home - he persisted, he never gave up - and became a master.
  • When was the last time you said 'I give up'?
  • What made you say that?
Cautionary note on persistence:
  • Doing the same thing, over and over again, and expecting a different result = insanity.
Ask yourself a few questions when you finish a task at work today or a training session:

  • What went well?
  • What wasn't so good?
  • How can I adjust?

Day 7

Witness mastery here:

Mastery - Day 5 - DESIRE

Desire, it feels like a powerful word as I say it, something beyond a simple want, much more visceral. We often talk about a burning desire, it is a deep emotional connection, a yearning that can drive us to superhuman feats and great achievements perhaps.

What can you be best in the world at?

Cross-examine the rich and successful, you will often find it is not, in fact, the money that has motivated them - sure, they enjoy the luxury that wealth brings, what often drives them to go on is the achievement and the figures in the bank account become a way to simply keep score, it is often about no more than simply winning.
  • What do you most desire?
  • Why aren't you pursuing it?
  • How connected are you to the task at hand?
  • Can you make 'Being the best in the world at what I do' your dream, your desire?
(A campfire, taken by me in 2010)
All the PhDs I know, including my sister Sarah, dreamt as a child about being a scientist. Sarah obtained her PhD whilst also being a working mother to two lovely children, it took years but her desire to change the world and make people's lives better drove her. My father switched careers late in life, after years in the print trade he went to college, then university and then became a social worker. He had been very ill as a child, and missed out on a huge amount of education - years later he simply wanted to prove to himself that he could do it.

The journey will be tough at times, its bound to be, if we aren't failing at times then there's a good chance we aren't learning - but failing can be tough, getting better can be tough and as corny as it sounds you have got to want it.

Mastery - Day 4 - Get clear on your strengths

For today simply reflect on your strengths, not just your working competences, but deeply what it is you are already great at, what is it about you that you would say helps you navigate through the world most successfully.

In your moments of doubt cease dwelling on your faults - there is not a human who has ever lived that could not be better, recognise your faults, acknowledge them, and choose a different way - use your strengths to overcome them.


Day 5

    Mastery - Day 3 - Enjoy the beach...

    What will I be doing about these things that hinder me?

    From that initial list I have identified a few things that hinder me, I am easily distracted for example.

    I have an intention that when I feel I am being distracted by anything, when I realise I have become distracted I will just take an extra moment to notice that it has happened, then refocus and resume what I should be doing.

    Notice, take an extra moment, refocus, resume

    I wish I could remember the beach

    I look at my phone, a lot, a hangover from an old job where I was available 24/7/365 to my clients, I once thought I was something special for closing a £50k deal on a beach, now I just wish I could remember the beach... I could probably spend far less time with my phone.

    Mastery - Day 2 - Take time to reflect

    Reflect on your personal development

    In your planning session today, try two things:

    Firstly, include time to reflect on you and your development:
    • What did I do well this week? -  remind yourself where you added value, understand where your strengths featured
    • Where was I less effective? - take this moment to honest, but be compassionate with yourself
    Make some time for self reflection a priority, it is in this time that you can examine where your future lies, what mastery means and requires from you.

    Set your priorities to create value

    Experiment with a different way of prioritising your activity and work, we need to be released from the hamster wheel, and what we call important is often only that because it is in fact urgent - we spend our time doing things which are important because of their urgency, but are often adding no real value at all, reprioritise what is really Important, deliver the Urgent as you surely must but in other moments get to what will really add value, what will really advance your mastery.

    Day 3

    Mastery - Day 1 - Introduction

    This is a daily exercise that draws on Robert Greene's work on mastery. In his book Greene offers us a number of 'Qualities'  that may help us or hinder us in our pursuit of what he calls Mastery

    I'm going to be clear from the outset, we will use these various words, which all seem reasonable as a way to simply examine some ideas that can be helpful for anyone one a self development journey, but I am not drawing anything else from Greene's work, I am using the words alone as stimulus for thought.

    This work was originally produced over a period of twenty one days.  At its heart is the premise that there is value in us stepping back each day and taking some period of reflection.

    There is no assertion that any of the ideas are 'right', and indeed having been written swiftly over a short period in places it is perhaps a little lightly baked, I hope to hone and improve this over time.

    Simply take a brief opportunity, daily, to step back and be stimulated by new ideas, or refresh some stuff you already know about.

    What gets in the way of Mastery?

    I do not propose that we should dwell overly on those things that hinder us, but we must examine them at some point and I propose we get it out of the way right away. 

    Do any of these words resonate or really mean something to you?

    Qualities that hinder: Complacency, conservatism, dependency, impatience, grandiosity, inflexibility, distractibility, becoming egotistical, close-mindedness.

    Hold that thought 

    Focus on self-discipline

    The first of the Qualities that serve us, Self-Discipline.  Now discipline can feel like a loaded word at times, it can imply work, systems, lack of fun and enjoyment - if we regard discipline as 'consistently trying to create the conditions that allow us to perform at our best' or something of that nature, then discipline must surely be inclusive of something more than the grind of 'work' alone..., so don't worry.

    This exercise requires a small commitment today: 
    • For the next 21 days take a daily reflection, as little as 5-10 minutes, less if you like, more if you want
    We will soon begin to focus on the other Qualities that help, until then reflect on those that may be hindering you, be open within yourself, take some time to notice them:  
    • Which of these negative qualities do you recognise in yourself?
    • Which one or two do you think are most present in you?
    • Which one or two are you told most often are problematic for others?

    If you do not recognise any of these in yourself, then reflect further, close-mindedness will not serve.

    Promise yourself over the next few days that from now on, where you sense or notice you are being any of the qualities that hinder you that you will pay it some attention, at least acknowledge it has occurred, if possible press pause, the pause may give you enough of a moment for you to adjust and make a new  choice.

    To change requires bravery and compassion, the former can be hard to muster within and the latter often not present without, so be brave enough to fail and compassionate with yourself when you do.