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Mastery in the Age of Shiny Object Syndrome

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1. Pick one Thing, and Give it Undivided Attention for at least Three Months

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If picking “the one thing” we were born to do is the difficult part, then it only makes sense to pick any one thing and try it out. Because really, we can think and think, and spend the rest of our lives just thinking. Nothing will ever change unless we act. And even then, we won’t know if something is right or not unless we have invested enough of our time and resources.

The three months is based on the fact that for most average humans, it takes about 90 days to cultivate a new habit. And mastery takes habitual practices. Hence, three months. Chances are, by then we’ll know whether we’re meant to master the chosen skill. If the answer is no, then we can pick the next thing and give it another 90 days.

2. Instead of Saying No, We Need to Say Yes

Let me explain:

Saying “NO” is difficult. Sometimes the trauma of having to say “No” to something we so dearly wish for can prevent us from taking a step forward. Gurus often advise us to say “No”. However, personally, I have found that I work much better when I say “yes”. The trick is to prioritize.

For example, I say yes to all that I want to do, but only after I have finished the one thing that I absolutely MUST do. The one thing I have chosen to give my all to (for at least three months).

The result is that I am not buried under the grief of letting go of something I really want to do. Instead, I’m only putting it off until I’ve finished that one most important thing. This allows me to focus on whatever I have chosen to prioritize, and focus is everything. Once we’re able to focus, we can achieve mastery much faster. And after we have finished what we set out to do, we now have an ample amount of time to do other things, pursue hobbies, side hustles, or whatever have you.

3. A Shift in Mindset

So many of us are happy half-assing things these days that mastery often takes a back seat.

The attitude to excel has vanished from our lives somehow. For example, everyone nowadays is a graphic designer because we have access to free “graphic design” tools at our finger-tips. We are all photographers with a fancy looking camera and filters on our phones, and so on.

In a saturated world where creativity is a dime a dozen, mastery comes in the form of true genius. And true genius takes a certain type of mindset, a certain type of attitude.

The attitude to go the extra mile. The attitude to invest in oneself and learn the basics. The attitude to take the time to build a solid foundation before running with whatever instant gratification is offered.

4. Feelings are (often) Unnecessary

We, humans, are constantly in a conversation with ourselves inside our heads. Most of our “feelings” emerge from those conversations. Don’t get me wrong, “gut-feelings” are important. But so is the ability to distinguish between a sense for danger and unnecessary distractions. When we wake up in the morning, and we “feel” that we want to stay in bed for another 5 hours, it’s not our “gut-feeling”. Mastery requires getting rid of unnecessary feelings that keep us away from doing what needs to be done.

One of my favorite authors, Haruki Murakami, wrote in his autobiographical book What I Talk about When I Talk about Running, and I’m paraphrasing, every runner has days when they don’t feel like running.

The key is to not listen to the unnecessary feelings and stick to the habits. When we get distracted by shiny object syndrome, we need only to remind ourselves that as long as we take care of priority # 1, we can do anything else we want afterwards.

5. Goals are Important

The only way to stick to something for at least three months and beyond is by the accumulation of small wins. We win when we accomplish certain goals. Whether it is to study 25 pages of a textbook, or learn a certain number of functionalities of a software, or create one new drawing every day… we need to set clear, realistic, achievable goals. They should be difficult enough to challenge us (so we don’t get bored), but achievable enough (so we do not get discouraged).

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