Ep. 162 – 7 Secrets of Mastery

You have no idea. None of us did. Until now.

Everything I've done for the past two years is unfolding before me.

I interviewed Dr. K Anders Ericsson. You know his work. He discovered the 10,000 hour rule.

The rule that says you can master anything with 10,000 hours of "dedicated practice." But what we’ve been lead to believe is false. And it's finally being corrected in Anders' brilliant new book, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise.

It uses thirty years of research to reveal what we never knew before.

I started this podcast two years ago. And I just realized what it’s actually about.

Everyone I interviewed has one thing in common: mastery.

In today's interview with Anders, you'll see the science behind being the best at anything.

Here’s 7 things I learned about how to become a PEAK performer:

A) Train to do things that you can't do   

Laszlo Polgar raised three prodigies. But the prodigy is a myth.

He had three daughters. The Polgar sisters.

They were world-class chess players. Two became world champions.

But they weren't born with talent. Talent is a dangerous myth with the power to decrease motivation.

The Polgar sisters trained.

"That's pretty compelling in retrospect," Anders says.

Don't let the myth of talent trap you.

Become compelling instead.


B) There is no can't

"People have been convinced that as an adult you're pretty much fixed,” Anders says, “...that there's a limit on what you can do."

They're wrong.

Whenever you start something you start at zero.

Because you can't do it... yet.


C) Predict today. Just today

I don't want to know my future. Predictions are dreams that become worries.

How do you change your life? I don't know. But I'll tell you what works for me.

Do things you love. Everyday.

Practice. Improve 1% a day.

Practicing something you love takes away the pain.

The Journey towards Personal Freedom Starts with YOU

It's time to make the most important decision of your life: Choose Yourself.

I will show you how...

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And time passes.

Your future slips in. And you're there with new skills. New opportunities. And a new future.

No predictions. Just presence.


D) Follow your motivating source

Writing helps me sort things out. And lets me help people.

Maybe you.

I hope.

That's my motivating source.

I asked Anders, "How would you guide someone to find their area?"

Look at "the joy you get."

There's a fountain inside. You have one. And if you follow it, you'll always have something that flows.

You can use it to reach new levels, Anders says, "but that is ultimately not the reward itself."

"For example, if you're a musician and able to play in front of an audience, and actually feel how that audience is moved by your music, those are your driving forces.”

They're "key to reaching exceptional levels," he says.


E) Get a teacher…

F) …the right teacher

All the greats had great teachers.

"You need a specialized teacher with accumulated knowledge,” Anders says.

First you learn the basics. Then practice. Get feedback. And advance.

Socrates, The Polgar Sisters, Michelangelo. They all reached mastery. And made unique contributions.

But you don’t need a teacher to do that. To make a difference.


G) Learn by doing

You can't really be capable of anything until you do it.

So you have to try.

Anders says, "Willingness to fail is at the heart."

Find joy in the process.


I was in one of the studies mentioned in Anders' book. It was on chess masters.

I’m proud of that. But there is one downside to mastery.

You can’t master it all.

Resources and Links:

Let me send you my best (and most controversial) stuff…

I’ve spoken to some of the top innovators, investors and peak performers in the world…

And I’d like to share what I’ve learned, and continue to learn, for free.

Every weekday, I’ll send my latest stories, ideas and exclusive interviews straight to your inbox.

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  • Joann Loos

    Mastery is where it’s at. I like it because I only compete with myself – to make myself better today than yesterday. I’ve discovered exploring is the best way to get there. Try “what if” experiments, do things a slightly different way and see if the result changes, learn the basics and mix them up.

    I love your emails!

    • Thomas Daniels

      Great comment.

  • Of late I have been wondering if the secret to success is developing habits required to achieve the goals we set for ourselves. We often talk about hard work, mastery, etc., but I think the foundation is the right habits. For example, they say to be a writer one needs to read and right a lot. So the habit of reading or writing everyday comes first and then the final effect is what others see as hard work. The same applies to the great sportsmen, business people, etc. There is always a habit that needs to be developed first. I would love to hear your thoughts about that.

    Thanks for always sharing awesome stuff. I have to tell you that a number of people have thanked me for introducing them to your work as it has completely changed their mindset towards a lot of aspects of life.

    • Churchill – You just hit the bullseye! It is in fact habits that set apart achievers from wanna be’s. Those who want to lose weight, they develop habit of eating well and exercising by creating systems and routines rather than trying to use motivation & will power that dies off.

      Same goes for happiness – anyone wants to be happy can develop habits of writing 5 things they are grateful for everyday, praying, taking one action towards their well-being, etc rather than trying to attain happiness through the attainment of a possession (which is actually instant gratification and also dies off after the hormone subsides).

      One can say the same for wealth too. Ramit Sethi has written good things on habits of wealth.

      Habits is the key to success. “Screw motivation. Build Habits. Unleash the master within you.” How’s that for a book title? :)

      • Ankurman – Thanks for the feedback. I agree that it’s a great title for a book. I actually adapted it for project I am working on for teaching kids (and adults) the importance of habits through various activities such as reading and writing marathons. Let me know, if you are OK with that. You can have a look at the landing page I am working on at http://www.futureleadersreadandwrite.com . Still working on the copy, though. Your feedback is welcome as you sound like someone good at copy writing. :-)

        • Churchill – Check out my blog ankurmanshrestha.com. I think we may have some good synergy here. Shoot me an email using the contact there.

  • Flora Guttierez

    James, unlike your interview of Derek Sivers, this was such a trivial discussion affording not one iota of useful information.

    • Keith

      Wow, what a bubble popper.Here is a little more trivia for you to think about. I have found that if you approach any new endeavor with a child like exuberant attitude you will have a much higher success rate than if you use a structured analytical approach. Why this works I am not sure. But it does. Try it and see for yourself.

    • Napolita kio

      Wow…even if you have in your life advanced to a point where all what James wrote is not useful for YOU; that would still not make what he wrote useless, at least generally!

  • Cora Llamas

    Hi James, I’m a new member and I ordered your 2 Choose Yourself and the Self-Publishing Book. Just going through the first one. Anyway, I do like this post, especially the things you said about learning – that you can still learn things even though you are a certain age (I’m 50 years old, btw). There is a scientific basis to this, and it’s based on our physiology. Apparently, if we consistently practice to learn or master something, certain neurons in our brain adopt, ingraining the learning into our system.

    Now get this – there’s another kind of tissue that comes out from our brain when we go into hyper learning: myelin. The speed with which it myelin learns is faster than the other neurons. Just to compare: learning to the normal neurons is like walking from one floor of a building to another. Myelin is on a whole new level: it’s like Nightcrawler (of the X-Men) transporting from floor to floor. :)

    Here’s the link: https://blog.bufferapp.com/why-practice-actually-makes-perfect-how-to-rewire-your-brain-for-better-performance

  • fsl4faisal

    really great share..!
    I really needed this today specially “Practicing something you love takes away the pain.”
    Thank you so much.
    #anideaaday

  • ulyssesmsu

    With respect to Dr. Ericsson’s ideas, the way to get good at something is not to just practice on your own, but to have *guidance* from a good teacher. Dr. Ericsson calls it “deliberate practice,” meaning “practice guided by an expert.”

  • Jakub Ježovič

    Great interview

    I would also recommend book Mastery by Robert Greene on the same subject.

  • ednatee

    Surrounding yourself with like-minded people in a garden of friendship…what heaven!

  • This was an excellent interview. I read the book and James touched a lot what’s in the book in one hour. He is best at these types of interviews. I wished he had spent some time on the Franklin method that we can all use to learn without access to a good teacher for whatever reason. I teach public speaking so I will be using a lot of what I learned in this podcast and the book. I also highly recommend Ericsson’s book.

  • Newbie

    I like altucher’s idea of combining two Specialties to be unique in one.