Mastery by George Leonard

Mastery by George Leonard: the keys to success and long term fulfillment

I love this book.

Needless to say that it’s a life-changing book, a must read.

To help you grasp the mastery’s philosophy, I will give you an example.

Let’s say you want to learn a foreign language.

How long will it take?

What kind of mindset should you have?

What should you think if you want to be really good at your art?

Malcolm Gladwell, the author of the bestselling book “Outliers” highlights what he calls the 10 000 hour rule.

It states that the experts in their fields have practiced for at least 10 000 hours before reaching their high level.

Think about people like Kobe Bryant in Basketball, Cristiano Ronaldo in soccer or Michael Phelps in swimming.

Roughly, 10 000 hours equal to 10 years of practice. That’s a lot.

What mindset do the top-achievers have when it comes to practicing their skills?

This book is the answer.

Mastery “the keys to success and long term fulfillment” by George Leonard offers the right mindset to reach those 10 000 hours and even beyond.


Mastery by George Leonard



It’s always difficult when you begin something new.

By definition, mastery is the process during which what is initially difficult becomes gradually easier and even pleasurable.

Mastery involves a long-term dedication to the journey itself.

But there is a pervasive idea that we can have it all without effort. Our society values easy results, get-rich-quick and Band-Aid methods. Beware of such mentality.

Goalless process

In the long run, we should adopt goalless processes, that’s the surest way to success and fulfillment in life. “The quick-fix, fast-temporary-relief, bottom-line mentality doesn’t work in the long run, and is eventually destructive to the individual and the society.”

What Is Mastery?

You embark on the master’s journey when you decide to learn a new skill.

Maybe you want to learn a new sport, a new language or simply how to cook.

The Master is anyone who is willing to get on the path and stay on it. It involves anyone who adopts the goalless process.

Mastery is “available to anyone who is willing to get on the path and stay on it—regardless of age, sex, or previous experience”.

Microwave mentality

Quick-fix mentality and fast results dictate our society, as if there’s an anti mastery conspiracy.

It’s not easy to stay on the path.

We’ve been bamboozled with false ideas, promises of instant gratification, effortless success, and temporary relief. That’s all wrong.

We need a paradigm shift.

Mastery highlights that change only occurs with incremental long-term progress.

When we start our journey to mastery, we need first to get rid of those “lies”.

Mastery “the keys to success and long term fulfillment” by George Leonard offers the correct map to guide you on the journey. It’s the sure route to follow if you want to stay on the right path.

Learning how to play tennis

You’re a complete beginner. Let’s say you want to practice tennis and learn the fundamentals.

You step into the path to mastery.

Any progress is slow and you start with baby steps. At one point or another, you might find yourself becoming impatient. You care more about the immediate results than the process.

You noticed that you didn’t get the results as fast as you expected.

Days and weeks pass by without significant quantum leaps. You feel no progress at all. “There you are on that damned plateau. “

You tell yourself that you’re already too old and should’ve started earlier. Your hope for quick rewards vanished. It’s even possible that you start to doubt yourself; you want to drop tennis and start looking for another easier sport.

The Mastery Curve

mastery by george leonard the curve

There are different phases in a learning process.

At the beginning, you might encounter brief spurts of progress and you feel good about yourself. But that first step is inevitably followed by a slight decline and then a long plateau. Overtime, the plateau gets higher and higher as in the picture above.

The secret is to discipline yourself to stay on that plateau and practice regularly until another spurt of progress occurs.

“To take the master’s journey, you have to practice diligently, striving to hone your skills, to attain new levels of competence.”

Practice your newly learned movement until you get it into your muscle memory. With enough practice, the movement becomes automatic. Repetition is the mother of skill.

This is why you need to practice even if it seems to lead you nowhere: it takes some time to make the conscious unconscious.

“When you start to learn a new skill […] you do have to think about it, and you have to make an effort to replace old patterns of sensing, movement, and cognition with new.”

But once it becomes automatic, it is “possible for you to do things—return a scorching tennis serve, play a guitar chord, ask directions in a new language—without worrying just how you do them.”

To make progress, you need to stay on the path and practice diligently. You focus more on the process rather than the results.

Remember, “You practice primarily for the sake of the practice itself”.

Consult my other article “Develop a skill: how to be extremely good at something”

Meet the Dabbler, the Obsessive, and the Hacker

The dabbler

The dabbler is characterized by a great enthusiasm at the beginning of a project. The feeling of getting started motivates him: a new sport, a new job and even a new relationship.

But after the rapid spurt, the plateau follows and his enthusiasm suddenly wanes. He loses interest in his current project and immediately wants to start something else. He might think that it was the wrong direction, so he starts looking around. Oftentimes, the dabbler has a long resume.

The Obsessive

The obsessive is hooked with results and doesn’t understand why we should plateau. It’s the type of person who overworks; stays long hours after class or ask many questions to a professor right after a course.

The obsessive likes to go to libraries; she orders books to help her progress faster. But with the rhythm, the spurts of upward progress can’t be maintained. What follow is a quick decline and a sure withdrawal from the path.

The hacker

The hacker looks for ways to “hack” the system. He completely ignores the natural process of growth. If it’s necessary to go from step 1, Step 2 and then Step 3, he immediately wants to jump from step 1 to step 3, looking for shortcuts.

It’s the type of person who cuts corners and skips the essential stages to the development of mastery.

“At work, he does only enough to get by, leaves on time or early, takes every break, talks instead of doing his job, and wonders why he doesn’t get promoted.”

In his workshops and past events, the author George Leonard claims that people easily identify themselves with the three types. “But the real point is to get on that path and start moving. “

Our society’s war against mastery

In Mastery, George Leonard highlights that our hyped-up consumerist society has only one goal: to get people spend as much as possible.

The best way to sell something is to promise a quick-fix and a rapid change.

Notice how this economic system goes on a war against mastery.

Climatic moment

The more you observe ads and commercials, the more a pattern emerges. Most of the commercials highlight the climactic moment: earning a new job, enjoying a baked cake and going on vacation.

In these commercials, we only show life at its best. We rarely show the mundane and the boring process that led to such climactic moments.

It is as if ““One epiphany follows another. One fantasy is crowded out by the next. Climax is piled upon climax. There’s no plateau.”

The big fallacies

From media and commercials, the following paradigms emerge, which are against mastery:

(1) “If you make smart-assed one-liners for a half hour, everything will work out fine in time for the closing commercials. “

(2) “People are quite nasty, don’t work hard, and get rich quickly. “

(3) “No problem is so serious that it can’t be resolved in the wink of an eye as soon as the gleaming barrel of a handgun appears. “

(4)”The weirdest fantasy you can think of can be realized instantly and without effort.”

We even believe that the lottery is the only solution to become a millionaire.  On a side note, I used to believe that too for a long time.

Loving the Plateau

Social conditioning teaches us to value the results, the prize and the climactic moment.

But have you ever been taught at some point in your life to enjoy the process? In Mastery, George Leonard asked it clearly: “Did someone tell you to love the plateau?”

Our lives should be filled with goalless processes, practicing for the sake of practicing.

A life of mastery has to be spent on the plateau. If it’s not the case, you are likely trying to escape the plateau, creating yourself your own destruction.

The Joy of Regular Practice

Here are a few tips to help you enjoy your regular practice:

Practice hard and regularly, not to reach a destination but for the sake of the journey

Your practice should be goalless, executed for its own sake.

Stay on the plateau as long as necessary.

The more you’ll love the plateau, the more you’ll make progress.

In the same way, don’t always seek recognition or fame. “Love your work” and appreciate your willingness to stay “even in the absence of extrinsic reward”.

Mastery by George Leonard

“Goals and contingencies are important. But they exist in the future and the past, beyond the pale of the sensory realm. Practice, the path of mastery, exists only in the present”

When you love the plateau, you are fully aware of the present moment. You don’t project yourselves in a fictive future but enjoy the here and now.


Key 1: Instruction

Receiving feedback is crucial and it comes only from a skilled instructor.

Get a mentor, a teacher or an instructor. The best option is one-to-one coaching or in a small group. It’s one of the surest ways to rapidly acquire new skills.

The traditional classroom doesn’t work: one instructor standing in front of thirty to forty students.

Similarly, videos and books are better than nothing. Yet, there are not feedback exchanges and the information flows only in one direction.

Videos and books are self-paced but no instructors give you feedback, nobody corrects what you are doing wrong.

Choosing the best instructors

If you want to see how good a teacher is, just look at their students.

Does the instructor use more praise than punishment?

In Mastery, George Leonard confided that he used to be an awful instructor. He easily lost interest in slow students. He was too young, too impatient, and too arrogant.

Some instructors are not even aware that they have to control their “impatience, to do the best they could with the slower students.”

Choosing the best instructor

Talent alone is not enough

When we learn a new skill, talent alone is not enough. Even with talents, we still need to stay on the path of mastery.

At the beginning, the most skilled students are also the ones who give up easily when they plateau. Those who learn to easily choose the path of least resistance and barely stay on the plateau.

The ones who achieve their fullest potential are the life-long learners who worked hard and practiced diligently.

As the saying goes “Hard work always beats talent”

Key 2: Practice

Mastery, as a noun is practice. It means staying on the path. It can be something that you practice regularly. You adopted it as part of your life, not to achieve or gain something.

“To practice regularly, even when you seem to be getting nowhere, might at first seem onerous. But the day eventually comes when practicing becomes a treasured part of your life.”

Larry Bird as an example

George Leonard takes the example of Larry Bird. Since the age of four, Bird never stopped practicing. He developed his basketball skills with constant practice. As a professional, Larry Bird doesn’t take the summer off. He just loves playing basketball.

Larry Bird is known to arrive before everyone else, usually one to two hours in advance. He is also the last to leave. As a matter of fact, he doesn’t do it for money, fame or stature; he just enjoys the game.

Adopt the master’s mindset

One of the hallmarks of the greatest masters is their love of practice. They love to practice so much and because of that, they get better.

Honing their skills is a by-product of that love of practice. It’s a virtuous circle.

A black belt in Aikido doesn’t stop when she receives her black-belt. People don’t understand why these masters keep practicing. But a brown or black belt is just one step along an endless journey, a goalless process.

I loved this passage from Mastery, George Leonard tells an anecdote: “How long will it take me to master aikido?” a prospective student asks. “How long do you expect to live?” is the only respectable response. Ultimately, practice is the path of mastery.”

Key 3: Surrender

To learn new things, we sometimes need to unlearn what we know. We cannot get more knowledge if our cup is full.

Adopt the beginner’s mindset, the student who is willing to stumble and get back to level zero.

It also means losing your ego and totally surrendering to your instructor.

The master is always learning: there is no such thing as an expert, only learners.

Oftentimes, we build an ego around our accomplishment. But the Master is aware that only beginnings exist at every stage along the way.

The experts cultivate humility and avoid any forms of ostentation.

Read my article: How to humble yourself

Key 4: Intentionality

George Leonard talks about the power of visualization and its effect on our intention.

Jack Nicklaus is famous not only as a golfer but as a master of visualization. He confided that he never hit a shot without clearly visualizing where he wanted the ball to go, imagining the perfect swing and the triumphant destination.

In Mastery “the keys to success and long term fulfillment” George Leonard highlights how “intentionality fuels the master’s journey. Every master is a master of vision.”

Great athletes know the mind-body connection; they use affirmations and visualizations a lot.

Arnold Schwarzenegger stresses the importance of visualization. There are always two steps of creation: in your mind first, then in physical reality. To him, it is the first step because visualization creates the “want power”. He became Mr Universe because he clearly saw himself, winning and being on the stage.

Napoleon Hill put it very well: “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe it can achieve”.

Read my article: The law of attraction

Key 5: The Edge

The Master is a fervent believer in the power of regular practice. Each small, incremental step counts because it compounds over time.

The more you practice something, the better you get at your craft and the more you are likely to break new records.

It would be impossible to break a new record if you never trained, let alone if you never practiced marathon before.

Only the masters are capable of doing that. They challenge the previous limits because they accumulated years of instruction and practice.


Why Resolutions Fail—and What to Do About It

It’s a common scenario. At the beginning of the year, we are all excited to set new goals, we tell our resolutions to our close friends, we write them down and we’ve never been this enthusiastic.

Time goes by, a couple of days, a couple of weeks even, then we backslide and we give up.

How many times have you experienced this scenario?

Actually, it’s normal. Let me explain.


Our body is programmed to resist major change, whether for the worse or for the better.

If your blood sugar level suddenly changes, or if your body temperature decreases by 10 percent, your body will signal it. You might feel dizzy, results of your resistance to change.

This stability, a condition of equilibrium, is called homeostasis.

The problem is; it works the other way too.

Homeostasis prevents us from changing, even if it’s a positive one. The underlying principle is to keep things as they are.

You might’ve decided to run and adopt a new healthy lifestyle. You’re not a runner and within a few minutes, your stomach aches. You feel terrible, even dizzy to a point that you think you’re going to die. Out of breath, you panic.

If you are not aware of homeostasis, your mind will trick you.

Such experience is normal because these signals work to keep things as they are: you’re not a runner after all.

The different forms of homeostasis


Just like the example previously mentioned, the first form of homeostatic signals is physical or psychological. You might experience dizziness and panic.


The second form of homeostasis comes from your surroundings. Your family or your friends disagree and negatively judge what you are doing. Maybe you want to become an entrepreneur but your surroundings are all employees: they’ll think you are crazy!

Remember that society wants you to fit in; the missing piece of a puzzle will spoil the bigger picture.

As highlighted, “Bear in mind that an entire system has to change when any part of it changes.”

How to stay on the path

  1. Be aware of the way homeostasis works.
  2. Be willing to negotiate with your resistance to change.
  3. Develop a support system
  4. Follow a regular practice.
  5. Dedicate yourself to lifelong learning.

Getting Energy for Mastery

As humans, we usually wear out from lack of use. Here’s why.

Have you ever felt so tired that all you want to do is sleep?

But then you decided to work out and felt incredible right after? Where did all of that energy come from?

We actually gain energy when we use our energy.

It also involves the law of inertia because objects at rest stay at rest unless acted on by an outside force. And objects in motion tend to stay in motion, unless something stops their momentum.

Why do we lack energy?

We all possess an incredible amount of energy, for the most part untapped. Why?

We were born with a high level of energy and our curiosity demonstrates it.

We want to “see, hear, taste, smell, and feel” everything.

But then, our environment starts saying: “Why can’t you be still?” or “Stop it Johnny!” So it really starts in earliest childhood.

In school, we are taught to sit still and listen passively to the teacher. In every stage of our lives, “Conformity is valued. High energy is feared as a threat to conformity.”

George Leonard gives a few tips to tap into that vast amount of energy.

  1. Maintain physical fitness: “physical fitness contributes enormously to energy in every aspect of our lives.”
  2. Acknowledge the negative and accentuate the positive: “people with a positive outlook on life suffer far less sickness than those who see the world in negative terms. They also have more energy.”
  3. Try telling the truth: “Truth-telling works best when it involves revealing your own feelings […] All in all, it has a lot going for it—risk, challenge, excitement, and the release of all of that energy”
  4. Honor but don’t indulge your own dark side: Do not repress your emotions. For instance “when you feel your anger rising, you can choose to go and work furiously on a favorite project, or to transmute the energy beneath your anger to fuel that you can use on your journey of mastery.”

Pitfalls along the Path

Your journey to mastery begins whenever you decide to learn something new. Beginning is easy; the real challenge is to stay on path.

In Mastery, George Leonard cites common pitfalls along the journey including:

Conflicting way of life: you have to be realistic about the feasibility of your practice.

Obsessive goal orientation: Your impatience will delude you. It is one thing to want results but it’s another to cultivate patience. You can have ambitious goals but bear in mind that it’s the small steps that will lead you there.

When you climb a mountain, you keep your eyes on the path, not at the peak, just keep climbing. Sooner or later you will arrive to your destination, by that time, enjoy the journey.

Poor instruction: It’s important to totally surrender to a skilled teacher. Once again, if you want to identify a good one, look at their students. Keep a critical mind and don’t stick with a dead-end situation. But don’t treat them as a guru either.

Lack of competitiveness and Overcompetitiveness


Prizes and medals: External motivation can work at first but used excessively, you’ll encounter lack of discipline and that can slow you down even more.

Inconsistency: It’s crucial to build and keep a momentum. There is one rule described in “Atomic Habits” to stay consistent: never miss twice in a row.

Perfectionism: Good enough is good enough, just start. Mastery is about the process and getting better along the way. Perfectionism will paralyze you because you are afraid of failing. The master stays on the path; she might fail but will keep trying again and again.

Mastering the Commonplace

I remember something back in my workplace, it was 10:00 am and a colleague sighed heavily. Out of impatience, he snarled: “I can’t wait to be on the weekend”. He said that although it was just Monday morning, the beginning of the week.

My colleague failed to realize that the present moment is all there is and he didn’t even appreciate it.

When we wake up in the morning, we hasten to get dressed (getting dressed doesn’t count). We don’t even enjoy our meal because we are late (breakfast doesn’t count). We get all stressed in a traffic jam (the present moment doesn’t count). Those are the “in-between” moments that we all face on a daily basis. It’s not the climactic moment highlighted in commercials.

But think about it, most of life consists of “in-between” moments. Getting a raise is a climactic moment but the hard work that led you there is a long series of “in-between” moments.

If we don’t appreciate those moments, we will have almost nothing left. We would waste our limited time on this planet. So start to enjoy the present moment.

Driving as High Art

For instance, you drive home from your workplace. You have exactly 30 minutes to arrive there. As usual, you might consider the trip as a boring “in-between time”, something to get over with. Or you could take this moment as an opportunity to practice mastery.

Household Rhythm

It’s a common scene in movies: the student trains his patience by sweeping the floor or by doing the dishes.

He can consider it as a chore, finishing it in a haphazard manner.

His goal here is to get rid of it as quickly as possible.

Or another way is to consider it as a meditation, an enjoyable moment.

Since I read mastery the keys to success and long term fulfillment by George Leonard, I learned to enjoy the “in-between time”.

I stopped listening to music and became more aware of everything around me by practicing mastery. Later, I even discovered that I finished the dishes sooner than I expected. Most importantly, I felt good about myself at the end.

“Life is filled with opportunities for practicing the inexorable, unhurried rhythm of mastery, which focuses on process rather than product”.