Recently I had the pleasure of seeing Dianne Reeves in concert ( Dianne is a jazz singer who grew up in the Denver area in a poor family. From those humble beginnings, she is now a four-time Grammy award winner! In the entertainment world of ego and puffery, however, she remains humble and dedicated to her craft. She is a true master.

I've been studying the subject of mastery lately, since mastery in the professions of coaching and speaking is a goal I continually pursue. I'm realizing that mastery is not a result or a status, as I first thought. It's not a destination you "get to." I realize that mastery is really an ongoing process of the mind and the brain (a couple of my favorite topics). And because this is really all it takes, all of us can become masterful at something. We may not become Grammy winners, but we can develop our own unique form of mastery. Although it helps to have natural talent and ability, I believe that what matters most is a Mental Model of Mastery.

The Mental Model of Mastery:
Mastery takes mental focus and discipline, an attitude of mastery, and a passion to stay the course. George Leonard, in his classic book "Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment," talks about the many distractions from mastery. He points out that our society is a "quick fix" one that doesn't generally value what is required for mastery.

Mastery absolutely requires the commitment to follow the process of practice and discipline. John Troup, in an article in USA Today, said "the average Olympian trains four hours a day at least 310 days a year for six years before succeeding." It's amazing how many people admire the traits of focus and discipline, but see themselves as incapable (or maybe just unwilling!) to devote themselves to something important. Yet the only way we develop those traits is (obviously) by practicing them! Leonard describes the alternative paths to mastery: The "Dabbler, who starts with enthusiasm but quits when it starts to get hard. Or the "Obsessive," who is all about getting the results, to the detriment himself or others, with an eventual crash. Or the "Hacker," who is content being mediocre and doing just enough to maintain. Leonard points out that you may express different patterns in different areas of life, but "the basic patterns tend to prevail, both reflecting and shaping your performance, your character, your destiny."

What if you took steps to become more masterful in your career? Or to become a more masterful parent or partner? Or to develop mastery in your favorite hobby? My belief is that we seek mastery not for the attainment of skill, but to become the kind of person that a master is. Who would you like to become?

Another element of developing mastery is what I call the "attitude of mastery." It is the willingness to be the beginner, to be open to learning, and to do whatever it takes to keep going. I admit that my ego often wants to take credit for what I have accomplished and wallow there. And that voice is often offset by the voice of doubt, suggesting I just give up now before I waste any more time! But I know it's necessary to shift my attitude back to one of discovery, practice, creative expression, and patience (the hardest for me!). Lisa Nichols, in her book "No Matter What!: 9 Steps to Living the Life You Love," describes how to develop various "muscles" including faith, honesty, forgiveness, and taking action. With the right attitude, miracles truly can happen. What is the attitude shift that would get you in motion toward mastery? What are the beliefs that hold you back, and what is a new attitude that would provide the antidote?

And finally, without the passion for the subject, we can't enjoy the journey. In a video by George Leonard, entitled "The Five Keys to Mastery," he calls it "surrendering to your passion." When we really tap into the emotion and passion of what is possible, our action becomes surrender rather than struggle; and we are capable of so much more from that place. Leonard advises us not to take ourselves, and mastery, so seriously - to find the joy and fun of it. When you love what you are doing, you're willing to work hard, try new things, make mistakes, and step out of the inevitable feelings of fear or self-doubt. Joseph Campbell explains that when you follow your passion, "you put yourself in the path of good luck," where opportunities you couldn't even imagine appear.

What I find fascinating is that the Mental Model of Mastery actually changes our brains! Every thought, every intention, every action, every celebration of progress etches new pathways in the brain. Malcolm Gladwell, author of "Outliers: The Story of Success," makes a case for 10,000 hours to develop mastery. For example, he points out that Bill Gates had the inclination and the opportunity to work with computers very early in life. Although he was incredibly young when he founded Microsoft, Gates had already been developing mastery of computers for 10 years! Although it takes the physical and mental rehearsal to fully develop the brain of a master, the process begins as soon as you make the choice!

The Mental Model of Mastery is available to us all, even from the most humble beginnings. And through this Mental Model, we begin living and expressing our true potential. As the old saying goes, we begin to sing the song we came to sing. Now that I realize that mastery isn't a destination, I can just enjoy the ride!

Author's Bio: 

Karen Van Cleve is a Personal Coach, Professional Speaker, and creator of the "Do It Yourself Brain Surgery" program. You have amazing, untapped potential to overcome disempowering patterns of thought and action, and boost your brain power for improved results. Visit Karen and learn more about your amazing brain at or email