How to Master Something: Commit to Learning & Find Your Style

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Daily Laws" by Robert Greene. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How do people rise to the top of their field? What craft would you like to master?

The Daily Laws by Robert Greene is based on 25 years of research on power, mastery, and human nature. He explains what it means to master something, and he shares the steps you must take in pursuing mastery in your field.

Keep reading to learn how to master something and fulfill your potential.

The 2 Phases to Mastering Something

Greene says that, to make a successful impact in your field and produce innovative and quality work, you must pursue mastery—a process of learning and exploration to deeply understand your field. The path doesn’t have an end but instead requires a lifelong commitment to expanding your knowledge and skills. Throughout history, many famous innovators—whether they engineered scientific breakthroughs or composed revolutionary musical pieces—went through the same process of learning how to master something to which they chose to dedicate their life’s work.

(Shortform note: To progress toward mastery and achievement, other experts argue that you must develop a growth mindset. In Mindset, Carol S. Dweck says there are two types of mindsets—fixed and growth. If you have a fixed mindset, you believe your abilities are determined at birth and you can’t improve them. Conversely, if you have a growth mindset, you believe you’re able to improve with hard work and effort, which can help you succeed on your journey to mastery. To develop a growth mindset, Dweck advises that you practice viewing achievements as products of effort and hard work rather than natural talent.)

Phase 1: Devote Yourself to Learning

Greene explains that the journey to mastery begins with a fundamental phase of intense and self-directed learning. According to Greene, this learning stage often takes five to 10 years.

Greene offers four suggestions on how to approach your learning:

1. Make learning your primary goal. Since the learning phase is fundamental to mastery, Greene recommends you prioritize learning above other concerns.

2. Find a mentor. Since mentors are often busy, Greene suggests you think of how you can offer value to them in return. When you train under a mentor, however, be careful not to limit yourself to their methods or ideas, but rather, adapt them to your own learning style and taste.

3. Practice by doing. Greene explains that people learn best through hands-on learning techniques and repetition rather than through books or courses. The more you practice a skill, the more effortless and enjoyable it becomes.

4. Expand your skills. Explore not just the necessary information to reach your life purpose, but as many related skills and knowledge as you can. This approach allows you to view your work from new angles.

Phase 2: Experiment and Apply Your Personal Style

After your learning phase, you have the foundational skills and knowledge necessary to experiment with techniques and apply your personal style to create valuable and unique work. Greene says you’ll know you’ve reached this stage when the basics of your craft feel intuitive. He offers two suggestions to help you create a masterful work.

1. Develop a flexible mind. When you’ve become comfortable with your skill, it’s easy to grow complacent and get stuck in a traditional way of viewing things. This limits your creative ability, however. To avoid this, seek uncertainty, challenge your instinctive beliefs, and explore all angles of an idea or situation—consider not just what’s there but what’s missing.

2. Hone your concentration. According to Greene, focus and patience allow you to produce quality work. If you rush the process, you detract from the potential of your work. Greene suggests you instead seek pleasure in the creation process itself—not in the completion of the project. When you feel frustrated or distracted, try meditating or taking a break to gain the necessary distance to refocus yourself.

How to Master Something: Commit to Learning & Find Your Style

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  • Why our beliefs tend to leave us feeling unhappy and unfulfilled
  • How to attune yourself to the reality of how the world really works
  • How to manage your emotions and develop rationality

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, science, and philosophy. A switch to audio books has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a creative nonfiction book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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