The surprising secret behind mastering anything
One of the most underestimated and yet crucial skills for success is your ability to embrace boredom.
Our brains love drama. They love when things happen. They pay attention to change. They crave ease. While these tendencies bring positives, they are also the main reason why most people never become truly great at something.
The idea of doing the same thing over and over again and working on subtle adjustments each time is extremely difficult for most to engage in. When we watch the greatest performers in the world, we don’t watch them practicing. We watch them when the stakes are then highest. We watch them when the pressure is on. We watch them when they are trying to accomplish the incredible.
Like in movies, we don’t spend a lot of time watching our protagonists going to the toilet. We don’t witness them eating dinner over long stretches, changing clothes or brushing their teeth. We don’t see what they do but rather the results of what they do. Our experience of the greatest is a lie. To top it all off, we praise the concept of talent (for anyone who wants to read more on this check out the excellent books of David Epstein). We love the natural who seems to be born with that voice, grace, skill, stamina or speed.
Then there is the life hack culture. This is the fast track way to being as good as this person or getting the results that they have gotten. We’re all in a rush and we all want the formula. We want the magic bullet. We want the secrets and we’ll pay for them. Hence, marketing on the internet thrives, with promises of riches, health, happiness and success… if only you’ll follow this shortcut.
Here’s the problem. While such shortcuts can sometimes help and while there is plenty of great advice and wonderful insights out there on how to do better in life and business, they often ignore this inevitable truth. It takes work. Whether you’re trying to grow your business on social media, learning a language, investing, or competing at a high level at a sport…. it takes work. Not always fun, exciting, pleasurable work. More often than not it takes continuous, consistent, relentless, focused, hard work.
Brilliance comes from consistent application of skill, incorporation of feedback, and a disciplined perfectionism that never lets up. 99 times out of a 100 there is no fast track way to success.
Nobody likes to hear that. Why? Because like I said… our brain craves ease. It wants things to be fun, simple and exciting to do all the time and, well, it’s not. Being successful is fun. Becoming successful is… boring.
There is a skill that can make you way better at hard work. It’s in how we deal with boredom.
You can tolerate boredom for a while but you can’t do it continuously over days, weeks, months or years. Instead, you need to learn to embrace the boredom. Accomplishing this simply means recognizing the beauty in this kind of boredom. When you are practicing a new skill or rehearsing information over and over again, there comes a point in time that boredom strikes. You are playing the same notes on the piano, repeating the same words of the speech, hitting the same shot on the tennis court…. it’s no longer fun.
To me, there are three stages we go through when mastering something. The first is what I call the ‘Fun Adventure’. This refers to the early phase when you are playing around with the new skill. You are working hard to understand the game. You are learning the rules and searching for proofs of progress, of improvement.
The second stage is when you start getting tired of it. This is when you are becoming good at it and it starts to get boring. You deal with this by getting subtler and specific with how you play. You become more focused on small improvements. The proofs of progress get harder to distinguish so you become better at distinguishing them. You focus on the small elements that make you better than others. This is what I call the ‘Deep Weeds’.
The third stage is when you are excellent at the skill but need to continuously reinforce all of the work you are doing. Of all the stages, this is the most boring. You do the same things over and over again at the same level. I call this stage ‘Becoming the Skill’. You are so disciplined and so focused on relentlessly practicing that it is not even a question, it’s simply part of who you are. To do this, you need to embrace boredom.
How? To me, in anything that I’ve gotten excellent at, it’s largely the product of my mindset around this form of boredom. While most people see boredom as something that feels bad and makes them want to cease practicing, I’ve learned to see taming boredom as the hardest part of any skill. In fact, it is the very thing that makes you stand out.
The wonderful author of ‘The War of Art’, Steven Pressfield, describes the hardest part of any creative pursuit as being ‘resistance’. This resistance often manifests itself in the form of boredom. Boredom is the ultimate enemy. It stands between us being good and becoming great, between competence and mastery. It is the final obstacle we must overcome.
I see boredom as being the differentiator. If I can handle it and continue working and doing the same thing over and over again, I will be doing what 99.9% of others won’t or can’t do. It is not my natural talent nor my motivation that provides me with the competitive advantage but my ability to tame boredom. So, when I say embrace boredom, I am suggesting that it is easy to revel in it when you understand what it means. You are one step away from being better than all the rest. It is a sign of victory.
P.S. In this week’s Changing Minds podcast episode, I walk you through the most important steps to become a respected thought leader. You can watch or listen to the episode here or wherever you listen to your podcasts.