Mastery is about doing less

I’ve been using Readwise to go through the highlights in the books and articles I read. It takes away the administrative burden of creating reference notes and because I’m able to sync the notes with my Roam Research graph, I can start writing almost immediately. And it confronts me on a regular basis with ideas that resonated with me. One of these is from a book called “Running Lean”, written by Ash Maurya:

“At any given point in time, there are only a few key actions that matter. You need to just focus on those and ignore the rest.”

In the same Readwise session, I happened upon a quote from “The Obstacle is the Way” by Ryan Holiday. He states that:

“Part of the reason why a certain skill often seems so effortless for great masters is not just because they’ve mastered the process – they really are doing less than the rest of us who don’t know any better. They choose to exert only calculated force where it will be effective, rather than straining and struggling with pointless attrition tactics.”

Both quotes are fundamentally about what mastery is really all about. It is about gaining a deep, intuitive understanding of a subject matter to the extent that what is essential becomes clear and can be directly acted upon.

A lot of the actions we take are actions we copy from the people who have taught us what we are doing. These people, although they knew more than we did about the process when they taught us, were not necessarily masters. We therefore copied a lot of their ways of working, even if they were not optimal. And that is where most of us stay. We remain stuck without even being aware of it. We are adequate in something, and for most of us, being adequate is enough.

But being adequate at something is not enough. It is suboptimal. It is a waste of valuable time … your time. If you can exert the effort of doing a lot of work being suboptimal, while the more optimal way of doing that same work would take far less time and would leave more time for you, it is worth the effort to invest in understanding the subject matter in order to be able to work with and in it more optimally.

But that approach requires you to make the upfront investment in being taught by a master, either directly or indirectly. And that effort takes time. Time in which you will make mistakes, and a lot of mistakes. However, making mistakes is the essence of learning.

And in the end, you will be doing less, not more. You will know exactly where to exert pressure to get a result. The mere beauty of that, in a process, in any type of creative effort, is worth the investment.