What Does It Take to Achieve Mastery?

You’ve often heard the word mastery thrown around, but what does it actually mean to achieve mastery?

Mastery certainly has to be understood as a choice to follow your passions. Someone will not achieve mastery in any subject or endeavor without a high degree of passion for the subject or path. I like the analogy of the path of mastery. That idea suggests a conscious choice to move in a certain direction.

In the recent 3-day Coach Certification Training wrap up, we spent a great deal of time on the subject of coaching mastery. What we reflected on is that there are five primary keys to mastery: instruction, practice, surrender, intentionality and the edge. These are from Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment by George Leonard. 

The 5 Keys to Mastery 

1. Instruction speaks to the importance of learning from someone who is a master. It makes sense, doesn’t it, that you would want to learn from the best? But how do you determine that? What kind of outcomes do they get? Who instructed them? How did they learn their skill or craft? Do they know what makes them a master?

This doesn’t mean that the only form of instruction is in person; however, it will be necessary at some point. Books and videos can help you develop interests and appreciation for something, but you will not achieve mastery that way.

Another point is that not everyone who is a master at a skill is also a good teacher. Teaching itself requires a specific skill set, along with humility.

2. Practice is best illustrated by an old joke: a couple is lost in New York looking for Carnegie Hall. They stop and ask a local elder, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” He answers, “Practice.”

According to George Leonard, practice is the path upon which you travel, just that. It becomes part of the way you live.

As I’ve said before, most masters have put in a minimum of 10,000 hours of practice. This, of course, is an uncomfortable premise in a culture that often advertises opportunities to gain expertise in a week, a month or three or four months. This is simply not possible.

It almost goes without saying that good practice leads to good games or outcomes. There’s an old martial arts saying that goes like this: “The master is the one who stays on the mat 5 minutes longer every day than anybody else.” This is what Michael Jordan was famous for.

3. Surrender means surrendering to your teacher and to the demands of your discipline. You have to be willing to be the fool. Any new learning will, by necessity, be less than stellar. It’s the ability to adopt the learner’s mind that makes the difference. Remember the NLP presupposition that there’s no failure, only feedback.

If you ever meet someone who’s a master at piano, ask them how many endless hours they spent learning scales. Cultures where mastery is appreciated have lots of stories about the importance of being willing to do lots of seemingly endless work before you can even enter the path of mastery.

4. Intentionality: In my work with the Peruvian mystic Don Américo Yabar, he talks about the importance of setting an intent. This is a clear and unambiguous decision to be on the path. When you commit in this way to something, then you are able to marshal the willpower and stamina to stick with it. This also implies that you can imagine the outcome—the reason for doing what you’re doing. That kind of focus and willingness organizes the mind and the musculature to do what is necessary.

Almost everyone knows the importance of visualizing in sports. Jack Nicklaus used to describe his approach to golf by saying that he “never hit a shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp, in-focus picture of it in my head.” He is also quoted as saying that a good golf shot is “10% swing, 40% setup, and 50% visualization.” Other professional athletes say similar things. They call it the mental game. This is the part where your beliefs really play a significant role.

5. The Edge: What is “the edge”? It is your willingness to go beyond—to go where others have not yet gone, to be an explorer. It’s where you push yourself to do things that others have not yet done.

There are lots of stories that resonate with many us of about people who push themselves in ways that appear to be foolish. Perhaps they are, but to the person doing it, it’s an expression of their willingness to go further than others go.

So think about what you want. Are you willing to put this kind of effort into what you say you want to master?


What we discovered at the Certification wrap up is that this is not a path for the faint of heart. To really chose a path of mastery is a commitment. That’s why it helps to have companions on the path; otherwise it can be very lonely. It’s why I make entrance into my certification program difficult. I want people who are committed to the path.

P.S. Do you want to share this post? Please do. Just be sure that it remains intact and includes the following bio.

About Terry: Terry Hickey, M.S., is a Certified NLP Professional Coach, Business Trainer and Consultant, a Certified Master Practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming and the co-owner of NLP Advantage Group. Originator of the Belief Breakthrough Method™, Terry specializes in teaching coaches and entrepreneurs how to rapidly resolve limiting beliefs about wealth and success. His tips and strategies can help you launch yourself into the future you want… NOW.

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