Let’s discuss the importance of your mentality, particularly in mastery and learning. Forget talent, forget equipment, forget teachers. In my view, your mentality is the make-or-break factor between success and failure in any pursuit.
I’ve written a lot on learning and I spend much of my time immersed in it, thinking about it, trying to understand it and find the secret to mastery.
I’ve made mistakes along the way: I used to think learning was all about the method. Get the perfect book or a motivational teacher, and mastery will come. And I still believe learning methods and structures are important.
But after more years of working towards mastery, teaching others, and observing people around me, I’ve come to realise that method is secondary. The key to reaching mastery in your learning journeys is to develop your mentality.
Let’s dive in.
Your Mentality and How it Shows up in Learning and Mastery
There are two dichotomies we’ll revisit several times in this article: our discipline vs our relationship to the discipline; and ourselves vs our relationship to ourselves.
The first dichotomy is clear. On one hand, there’s what we’re learning – a new language or instrument, a form of exercise, chess – and then there are our ideas about that discipline. We think it’s difficult, or that certain areas are tricky, or that others come easy to most.
But the most illuminating of the two dichotomies is the second. On one hand, we have ourselves – our skills, capacities, potential, personal qualities; on the other, we have our beliefs about ourselves.
Think of your mentality as the second aspect of both dichotomies. It’s the collection of beliefs we hold about ourselves and our pursuit. This is what defines how we act. Ultimately, it decides whether we’ll reach mastery or not.
Needless to say, these mental models often differ wildly from reality. Our mind tries to form an idea of events and situations, grabbing on to our past experiences and the concepts transmitted to us. We don’t see a book as it is – we see it through the filter of our mentality. The same goes with an entire pursuit, and of ourselves.
If we repeatedly stagger and fall in our pursuits, could it be that our view of ourselves is widly incorrect? Could it be that our view of the pursuit is equally exaggerated, distorted, limited?
If you do some introspection, you’ll find that often these models are limiting, destructive, weakening. If you have that kind of mentality, you’re bound to fail. This is why mentality is critical.
Tune up Your Mental Game to Reach Mastery
Here’s the deal. You can change your strategies on a dime, especially when working alone. You can buy a new book, try a fresh approach, find new internet resources, change teacher. In most cases, strategies are simple and obvious. That’s the easy stuff.
But if we don’t have our inner game dialled in, it doesn’t matter if we have the greatest teacher in our field, all day to master our skill, or all the right books and equipment. Our own psychology will eventually limit how far we go. Indeed, it might even stop us from even getting started. So before we even consider what strategies we might adopt, we must master our mental game.
Besides, your mentality is a self-fulfilling prophecy. For instance, if you believe you can’t learn Mandarin Chinese because of some innate block within you, you won’t even sign up for your first class or buy that first book. Your limiting idea has destroyed you.
Sure, believing isn’t enough. You have to actually go out and learn Mandarin, which is no small task. On the path, you’ll find very real obstacles that are simply inherent to the language. And don’t get me wrong – to reach mastery, you need other mental skills beyond pure belief in your ability.
But your mentality, if it contains the idea “I can’t learn Mandarin”, will prevent you from even entertaining the possibility of getting to mastery level.
Know that a poor mentality always catches up with you. Even if you get started, you’ll eventually hit your head against a ceiling. Ideas like “I’ll never be fluent,” “I don’t live in the country so I can’t learn the language,” or “I’ve never excelled at anything so I can’t excel at this,” will also destroy your efforts.
How can you tell your mentality is inadequate?
Signs Your Mentality Is Weak
If you’re undertaking a project or learning journey and find yourself failing to take practical measures towards your goals, it’s a sign you’re overcome by false beliefs.
Taking action is usually pretty easy. The technical details aren’t tricky. What’s tricky is overcoming your fear, maintaining a healthy mindset, and being willing to fail one hundred times and succeed a few.
Lack of passion
If you find yourself listless, passionless, zestless, it’s a sign your mentality is weak. It’s likely that you have passions and interests, but you keep yourself locked in your self-created mental prison. You never take the time to develop serious skills, which leaves you disempowered and passionless.
Excessive blaming of others and circumstances. Sure, these are factors in our success, but I can guarantee other people thrive in similar circumstances to yours. If you’re stuck in a cycle of damning the world and feeling disempowered, it’s likely because your mentality is weak and you have zero self-belief and inner strength.
If you find yourself quitting projects and learning pursuits after a short time, it’s likely because your inner game sucks. As soon as you hit an obstacle, all your old limiting beliefs come up, and before you know it, you’re back to the start. If you don’t have the inner fortitude to carry on when all seems lost, that’s a sign of a weak mentality.
So how do we build a solid mental game? Let’s start by rewiring our beliefs about learning.
Three Empowering Facts About Learning and Mastery
Most of the time, we look at mastery and learning in a dysfunctional, disempowering way. So if you want to develop a strong mindset, it’s crucial you know these three facts about learning and mastery.
1. The power of persistence
Know that persistence beats talent every day, except perhaps in physical pursuits where inherent biological attributes have a big influence. Persistence is what keeps you going when nothing seems to be working. It’s what eventually takes you to your goal.
If one does not possess persistence, one does not achieve noteworthy success in any calling.
Those who have cultivated the habit of persistence, seem to enjoy insurance against failure.Napoleon Hill
No matter the difficulty you’re facing, you must persist. Eventually you’ll strike down the obstacles, reach mastery, and be filled with enormous, pervasive inner strength.
Almost nothing in the world can resist persistent human energy. Things will yield if we strike enough blows with enough force.Robert Greene
2. Fixed mindset v growth mindset
It’s crucial you know about the growth and fixed mindsets. By definition, you can’t succeed in your learning journey with a fixed mindset. You can’t be on the mastery path with that way of thinking. It’s essential you adopt the opposite – the growth mindset.
Fortunately, while we tend towards one mindset or the other, we aren’t inherently growth-minded or fixed-minded. We can actively adopt behaviours, habits and thought patterns characteristic of the growth mentality.
See my detailed video on the fixed and growth mindsets for the key information on these two mentalities and how to develop a growth mindset.
3. Our real capabilities utterly eclipse our expectations
That’s right. You’re capable of much more than you think. And this isn’t some fluffy feel-good platitude, but a natural result of how humans think. Let me show you why.
We tend to think in the short-term: one month, six months, one year, or maybe two years ahead. Our future beyond that time horizon seems hazy and ethereal. Don’t believe me? Observe yourself.
Seriously. Take each of your current hobbies or learning journeys and look three years ahead. Try to picture your performance or results after that length of time. I can guarantee this escapes you, regardless of your goals and forecasts and strategies. It’s beyond the scope of the imagination.
What’s more, because we can picture the future only from the present, we naturally base our predictions on our current abilities and fail to take into account future growth. Result? We see all future possibilities through the lens of our limited present vision.
I remember when I was learning my first chords on guitar, in 2016. And it seemed so difficult! If you’d asked me then what I could do now, seven years on, my predictions would be so wildly incorrect as to be completely useless. As a beginner guitarist, you simply can’t predict how your playing will be when you reach intermediate and advanced levels.
Put these two factors together – shortsightedness and skewed present vision – and we see that our estimate of our own future competence is bound to be off the mark.
And in my experience, we tend to underestimate. In fact, we wildly underestimate how much we’ll develop in our learning, especially when we move beyond the next year or two.
The old phrase is cliche but true: “People tend to overestimate what they can achieve in one year and underestimate what they can achieve in five or ten years.”
But we can use this sad fact to our advantage. Let’s get our goal very clear and never waver from it, trusting that we’ll reach levels we never imagined. We always achieve more than we think possible. Keep this in mind as you’re struggling through the beginner’s hump.
The Model Mentality for Learning and Mastery
You might ask what the perfect mindset looks like. Here’s what I think.
Our goal is to become a prolific learning machine that is perfectly persistent and completely unimpeded by fears and doubts.
Sure, this is more an archetype than a reality, but it gives us a goal. And this model learner isn’t an emotionless robot. You can get emotional, passionate, firy, even scared, but you don’t get beaten around by your emotions. Your focus is clear: you know your destination and you work steadfastly to get there.
At the same time, you remain firmly in the present, enjoying the hours of repetition and realising that the real results come after years of dedication.
So how do we work towards this idyllic self?
5 Tools to Develop the Perfect Mentality
Let’s finish with the five top tools you need to hone your mentality and gain unshakeable inner strength.
Our mind is constantly filled with negative outcomes and beliefs. When we think about our potential, we remind ourselves of all the times we’ve failed. When we consider our upcoming project, we get lost in our ideas of talent. If we’re in zombie mode, lost in the mind, we’ll identify with those negative thoughts.
Observe yourself as you go about your day, seeing that your thoughts are in front of you. Literally. If you pay exquisite attention to them, you’ll realise they float around in front of you, as though on an invisible screen. They’re not solid. They’re not you. And you don’t need to buy into their fantasies.
Writing down your fears and digesting your inner blocks on paper is a great way to clarify what’s going on inside. Seeing this material on paper helps you see it as a subjective, temporary state, rather than a permanent trait or limitation, which encourages you to persist until you come out the other end.
Besides, journalling is cathartic. If you’re struggling to motivate yourself or find yourself embroiled in inner turmoil, you can release energy and emotion by grabbing a notebook and letting rip.
Watch Your Input
The information we receive gets absorbed into our mentality. Even if we don’t agree with that information, fragments still seep into our mind – we can’t fully block out all incoming stimuli. If you find yourself surrounded by victims, it’s likely you’re a victim too.
Watch the input you receive from social media, TV, books, music, friends, family, colleagues, and any other media in your surround. This might be dragging you into inaction, self-doubt and meekness.
If you want to develop a strong mentality, start reading about human nature and human psychology. This will expand your view of human potential and give you new techniques and perspectives on learning and mastery. The more you know about typical patterns of behaviour and mental habits, the less likely you are to be controlled by them.
Finally, I have to finish by underlining the importance of persistence once more. Remember – persistence is what keeps you on the path when everything seems hopeless. It has you put in the practice hours. Persist, and eventually you’ll bust through.
Want to become a prolific lifelong learner?
In my Master How To Learn course, you’ll find all the tools you need.
Seriously commit to this system, and you’ll transform your mindset, change forever how you approach your pursuits, and be equipped for prolific lifelong learning. Are you ready?
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