Robert Greene’s philosophy, strategy and self-help books are some of my favorites. He has written four international bestsellers, including two of my favorites The 48 Laws of Power and The Art of Seduction. I anticipated his newest book, Mastery, because I think it can give me guidance on how to be more successful. I have recently realized that I need to examine my past behavior and actions, and figure out how to become more self-disciplined in order to achieve the goals I have set for myself.
I thought that Greene’s new book would help me by offering examples on people who faced obstacles and overcame them to get to success. In Mastery, he makes the case that humans are hardwired for success not destined. In other words, they had to work at success, but are hardwired to do so. The book, like his past works; examine great historical figures such as Mozart, Einstein, Henry Ford and Charles Darwin, and their paths to success.
Some Drake to read, and get hype too. Love his new Album.
What is Mastery?
Mastery is defined in the dictionary as a comprehensive knowledge or skill in a subject, or control over it. According to Greene it is a mindset. Our thoughts focus and we are exposed to new details and ideas we become creative and inspired. In this period of exceptional creativity, we are impelled to get something done, normally by some deadline or crisis. But this brilliance does not appear out of nowhere, due to luck, or talent. This power can is a kind of intelligence that can be manufactured and maintained. The great masters of their field, Da Vinci, Edison, and Bonaparte made it their way of seeing the world.
Why is it important today?
The idea of mastery and craft is increasingly looked down upon in today’s world. Distraction and entertainment are the main impediment in our society. No one wants to work hard and expose himself or herself to failure. Technology which puts all the world’s knowledge at our fingertips also causes us to expend minimal energy and lose respect for the repetitive process needed to master any subject or skill. Greene warns,
“This hunger for the magical shortcut has survived to our day in the form of simple formulas for success, ancient secrets finally revealed in which a mere change of these efforts- for instance, the emphasis in magic on deep focus. But in the end all of this searching is centered on something that doesn’t exist- the effortless path to practical power, the quick and easy solution, the El Dorado of the mind.”
During projects I sometimes focus extensively on finding the fastest way to finish. I have probably ignored the real power that I actually possess of mastering a skill through focus and creativity.
Greene points out that,
“We can see the material effects of this power in history- the great discoveries and inventions, the magnificent buildings and works of art, the technological prowess we possess, all works of the masterful mind. If we don’t connect to our calling we become slaves to time, as it passes, we grow weaker, less capable, trapped in some dead-end career. We become captive to the opinions and fears of others. The human that depended on focused attention for its survival now becomes the distracted scanning animal, unable to think in depth, yet unable to depend on instincts.”
Greene dishes out tough love and harsh truths that I need to hear. He is credible because he bases his advice on his continual analysis of great historical figures and current scientific literature.
During the night of July 4th I made the decision to drink in excess by using the excuse that it was a holiday, in essence, free time. One man Greene examines in chapter two, Charles Darwin, had this to say about time. “A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.” Greene continues to warn me of my hedonism in harsher terms.
“It is the height of stupidity to believe that in the course of your short life, your few decades of consciousness, you can somehow rewire the configurations of your brain through technology and wishful thinking, overcoming the effect of 6 Million years of development. To go against the grain might bring temporary distraction, but time will mercilessly expose your weakness and impatience.”
At this point in the book it moves beyond a scared straight seminar, and Greene gives reason to not put the book down.
“The great salvation for all of us is that we inherited an instrument that is remarkably plastic. Our ancestors over the course of time, managed to craft the brain by creating a culture that could learn, change, and adapt to circumstances, that wasn’t a prisoner to the incredibly slow march of natural evolution.”
I can still turn myself around. My brain is plastic, and the decisions good or bad, work to shape my character. He writes, “At any moment we can choose to shift our relationship to time and work with the grain, knowing of its existence and power.” I can reverse the bad habits that have plagued me for many years. The ways I use to deal with anxiety, biting my fingernails, drinking, surfing the Internet can be dealt with.
“This is the real secret: the brain that we possess is the work of six million years of development, and more than anything else, this evolution of the brain was designed to lead us to mastery, the latent power within us all.”
Greene believes in identifying and honing your natural proclivities, perhaps through the long and difficult apprenticeship he describes in chapter 3, that he recommends before I can have a fulfilling vocation.
What are some takeaways from the book that I can use today?
1) The rewards in life come from learning skills. Our short-term attention span culture does not particularly push discipline before pleasure. Entertainment is preferred to moving toward pain, but in the long run the rewards far exceed that momentary relief. If you learn self-discipline and delayed satisfaction in your 20’s, your rewards will follow.
During my time in college I have been able to acquire lessons from great mentors and friends. I have grown my social skills and lost the shy demeanor that I used in high school. One skill I began to work on over the past year was learning to play the piano. I only known 12 songs and some scales at this point but I am immensely better than where I came from. I will continue to develop this skill more and more because I gain pleasure overcoming the challenges presented by the piano. It also helps that the student center has some free pianos in that I can take advantage of during study breaks at the Library.
2) Learn one skill at a time. Do not multitask when you a trying to learn. Start with skills that you already have some natural ability in. Remember Cesar Rodriguez, the Last American Ace. Trust the process of trial and error, mixed with mentorship outlined on page 75 that took Rodriguez from the bottom of his elite flight school class to top. Greene summarizes this model quite well.
“You want to learn as many skills as possible, following the direction that circumstances lead you to, but only if they are related to your deepest interests. You are sure not where this will all lead, but you are taking full advantage of the openness of information, all of the knowledge about skills now at our disposal. You see what kind of work suits you and what you want to avoid at all costs. You move by trial and error. This is how you pass your twenties.”
3) Take what you are given to do for others and make it yours. Follow the example of Leonardo da Vinci’s painted Angel’s and the enormous bronze statue of Francesco Sforza. He became the first artist to create realistic angelic wings, and invented a totally new way of seamless bronze casting. When someone else gives me a project, I should try and make it mine.
While not on the scale of da Vinci’s Angel’s I used this process while completing my student conduct sanctions. I received this book for Christmas and had been meaning to get to it for 6 months, but I had not. By establishing a deadline and consequences for not reading it I was able to read the book in three weeks. I though about the messages contained within for a few weeks, watching and listening to around 15 videos and podcasts given by author and then re-read certain sections that immediately applied to my situation. Beyond writing this paper, I plan on continuing my study of the book and annotating the book to send out to friends who share my interests of self-development.
My Favorite Podcast Interview.
4) Finally I plan to look for mentors once you have acquired some elementary skills and discipline that you can rely upon to interest them. Develop a solid work ethic and organizational skills. Once I am ready to learn I hope the teacher will appear. Once I identify a potential mentor, I will do a as Greene advises, to establish a relationship by appealing to their self-interest at all times. I will try to see the world through their eyes and ask the simple question of what it is they need most. And probably hardest for me, I will take Greene’s advice to “Get them to give you challenges that will reveal your strengths and weaknesses, and allow you to gain as much feedback as possible. Accustom yourself to criticism.”
Throughout the process of writing this I have started to discipline myself in various ways that give me confidence in my ability to change. It is a tough road, as Greene has told me, but the rewards for this are already starting to appear. At first I was very angry that I, a first offender, was given extra work. But now that I am finished with the program I am glad and appreciative of the value I gained during this course correction.