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PPI #23: Master Anything and Become World-Class

Eric Partaker


  • Most people don’t think they can achieve mastery. They think it’s reserved for Hollywood stars, famous politicians, Olympic athletes and CEOs of billion dollar companies. But they’re wrong – everyone has genius in them and everyone can achieve mastery in at least something. In this episode, I’ll tell you about a tried and tested process that I’ve used to achieve mastery, which you can use to do the same and achieve your full potential in whatever it is that you’re doing.
  • To achieve mastery you need to first believe that you can do so. Anders Ericsson’s book Peak is built on over 30 years of research and its central premise is that ordinary people can become extraordinary, that we can all achieve mastery in something and reach our fullest potential. 
  • The next thing is understanding the process involved in achieving mastery. Along the journey, there are moments of great success but for long periods, you’re putting in a lot of effort, without seeing results. This is where George Leonard’s concept of ‘loving the plateau’ comes in, because without respecting this, you’ll never master anything. 
  • Become an apprentice – to master anything you need to be comfortable learning. Seek out the very best in your field and learn from them. What do they do differently to most people? What can you replicate in them that will accelerate your progress?
  • Embrace discomfort – mastery isn’t easy and it requires you to go straight into your pain points in order to resolve them. This is where most people shy away from the process because it’s difficult. 
  • Be the fool – Abraham Maslow noticed that top performers develop the freedom to be foolish. They are willing to make mistakes and aren’t worried about what others say. So stay consistent with your craft and eventually you’ll develop more freedom to break the rules. 
  • Use visualisation – anyone who achieves big things constantly visualizes what success looks like and does it on a daily basis. Michael Phelps is well renowned for visualizing how a race would go before all of his swimming competitions.
  • Ship before you’re ready – people often think things aren’t quite right, that they aren’t ready to share or sell. But there’s never a right time –  it’s the act of shipping, the act of producing, racking up those repetitions on a consistent basis that ultimately leads to mastery. 


Do you really want to become all that you’re capable of becoming in life to reach your full potential? Or maybe you’re terrified that you’re going to squander your potential and not become all that you can be, as I once was. 

I’m Eric Partaker and I help CEOs, entrepreneurs and individuals break through their barriers and reach their highest potential. Now, this was a struggle for me for quite some time.  I remember coming across Abraham Maslow’s work where he talked about the hierarchy of needs and how our path to deepest fulfillment was, and becoming all that we could be. But that in his estimate, it was only about one or 2% of people that actually reached their full potential in life. And I thought that was terrifying and exciting at the same time. But what most people don’t realize is that your path to reaching your fullest potential is essentially the path of mastery, of becoming incredibly good at something.

Most people think that they can’t achieve mastery, that they can’t unlock their fullest potential, that they can’t become everything that they’re capable of becoming, because they think that a life like that, that achievement like that is reserved for someone else.  Maybe you think that. Maybe you think, well, that’s reserved for the Hollywood stars or, you know, that’s for the famous politician or that’s for Olympians or that’s for the CEOs of billion dollar companies or the legendary entrepreneurs and founders of the world. But then you’d be wrong because actually anyone can achieve potential like that. Everyone has genius in them. Everyone can achieve mastery in at least something.  Today I want to tell you about a tried and true process that I’ve used to achieve mastery and that you can use to achieve mastery as well, to achieve your full potential in whatever it is that you’re doing.

So the first step in the process is mindset as with so many other things, it’s about getting your thinking, right? Because if your mindset isn’t right, you have no chance to do any of the other things. There’s a fantastic book called Peak written by Anders Ericsson that is built on over 30 years of research. And the central premise of the book is that ordinary people can become extraordinary, that we all can achieve great things, that we can all achieve mastery in something. We can all reach our fullest potential in one thing, in something, that it’s not reserved for the top performers, geniuses, or stars of the world, that in fact, all of these people are not born, they’re made. And once you embrace that from a mindset point of view, then you have the opportunity, if you pursue it, because a journey of mastery is a lifelong pursuit.

You have at least the opportunity to begin embarking on that journey and closing that gap between who you are and who you’re capable of being. The next thing that you need to embrace is what does a mastery path look like? What does it look like and what does it feel like?  One of  the concepts that I love is the concept of loving the plateau, which is something discussed in the book mastery by George Leonard. The concept is simply that a lifelong pursuit of mastery is the realization that we have these spurts or moments of achievement. When all of the skill comes together, perhaps we win a competition or we publish that book, or we hit all the results that we’re wanting. But as all of those things are a moment in time, that moment passes, right? And then life continues. And our next spurt, like that, might not be for some time.

It’s the plateau where we spend most of our time. So we spend a lot of time trying to get good at something. We got a little bit of a bump up, and then often we drop back down a little bit, but we’re dropping back down at a plateau that’s slightly higher than the previous one. And then we’re continuing on. I’ve had this experience, for example, when it comes to learning a language, you’ll be beating your head against the wall forever, feeling like you’re making absolutely no progress, cause it doesn’t feel linear at all. And then suddenly, boom, you’re able to speak a lot more or understand a lot more or read a lot more or write a lot more. And then you go back to that plateau for a while. And you really need to understand this because you have to love being on that plateau, you know, to pursue a life of mastery, to pursue that opportunity, to really become the best of the best within whatever interests you, because it’s those that embrace that plateau.

It’s those that embrace  that plateau experience with those spurts intermixed in between is the majority of the master’s journey. You know, this is what separates the Olympians. This is what separates the top performing CEOs, entrepreneurs and founders, politicians and the Hollywood actors from everyone else, is that they’re willing to endure those long spells of what feels like purgatory for those moments of heaven. And most people aren’t willing to go through that at all. And so they never experience those moments of heaven. You know, they just stay on earth if you will. And this point of the plateau is really, really important to understand, so that you appreciate why most people don’t achieve mastery. The reason most people don’t achieve it is because when they enter that plateau of that, that feeling, that all my skills aren’t developing as much as I would like right now, or I’m not getting the results that I wanted, or this is taking too long.

Some of them just jump ship or some of them, they get to plateau. And they think that somehow, if they just pour more into it, if they fight harder and longer, they’ll break through it faster. And they don’t respect the fact that mastery takes time and then they burn out, or some, they just do the minimum required to kind of stay at that level and be fairly good, but never great. Right? So, they just about qualify for the Olympics, but they never win a medal for example, or they get that company created, but they never build it into the business that they had always dreamed of. Right? Or they have these aspirations to be a great spouse or parent. But when you look at it, they’re just kind of doing the bare minimum or they’re being fairly good at it, but not doing what it takes to be great at it.

So with all that in mind, I want to talk to you about the five things that you can do to accelerate your mastery journey, to unlock your full potential and become absolutely world class at whatever it is that you want to do. And step number one is that you need to be willing to become an apprentice. Seeking out top tier instruction is the number one thing that you need to be doing. This goes back to medieval times, right? You had a master and you had an apprentice. And if you really want to learn, you have to look at who is doing things at a world class expert or phenomenal level already. And how can I learn from them? And ideally you would love to be coached by them, if you could, but at the very least you want to learn from them. And what I mean by  “at the very least learning from them” is, well, how might you look them up?

How might you model them? How might you read whatever it is that they’re doing? You know, how might you try to emulate the mastery that you see within them? Even if they can’t teach you directly,  what underpins their success? The second thing you need to embrace is practice. That is the path to mastery. It’s constantly doing what others don’t do. It’s constantly seeking out that discomfort. It’s constantly noticing the things that create resistance, right? Almost like a resistance practice. So if you’re trying to develop mastery in something it’s noticing, well, where are the pain points? Where are the things I go, Ooh, you know that, I’m not sure I want to do that. That feels like a lot of work. That’s going to take me out of my comfort zone. Those are your signals. It’s in that direction therefore, that you must run , counter-intuitive to everyone else.

Warriors, for example, elite warriors are trained to run towards the sound of gunfire. And that might again seem counter intuitive, but they’re trained to engage in battle to seek the discomfort, to step forward into it. And it’s the same with practice when it comes to mastery. But it’s not just about seeking discomfort for discomforts sake, It’s about understanding where the leverage points are. So what are the skills that you really need to develop? You know, the 20% of the things that you could be doing within your area or body of work that would create 80% of the benefit and how are you planning those things and how are you setting up coaching around those activities? Remember the first point about instruction, because when you’re trying to develop mastery in something really what you want to do from a practice point of view is that you want to be practicing purposefully on the things that matter, most of the things that cause the most discomfort, the things that will really move the needle, but you also want immediate feedback, as immediate as possible. 

Number three, when it comes to seeking a path of mastery, be a fool. So Abraham Maslow, in his work, noticed that those who have achieved the very top of whatever it is that they’re doing, they have the “freedom” to be foolish. They are willing to make a mistake. They weren’t worried about what other people would say. They just put themselves out there and they worked tirelessly, with tremendous effort and repetition after repetition, being willing to endure the pain, being willing to not look great at whatever they’re doing, knowing that eventually they would turn a corner. Eventually they would get better. 

Number four key to mastery is the power of visualization. So if you look at those that have achieved the very top of what they’re doing, they’ve constantly visualized what that success looks like. They do it on a daily basis. Michael Phelps is well renowned for in all of his swim contests, before he would go into any of these contests, (And this is somebody who’s won, you know, more Olympic medals than anyone in the world), Michael Phelps would visualize. What is the race going to look like? What is it going to feel like, how am I swimming? He would practice that whole race in his head. He would see it before actually doing it. 

And number five, ship before you’re ready. One of the things that holds somebody back in their PA in their quest for mastery is thinking that things aren’t quite right. So, I’m not ready yet. Or the work’s not complete yet. Just ship. It’s the act of shipping. It’s actively producing. It’s the act of getting to that next contest, writing that next page, completing that next presentation, racking up those repetitions and shipping.

That’s what leads to mastery in the end. So keep those five things in mind. And remember from a mindset point of view, that mastery is a path open to anyone. We can all reach our fullest potential, become great, become world-class and at least one thing it’s up to you to decide and discover what that one thing is, and then apply some of those things that you learned today to accelerate your progress on that path.

Eric has been named "CEO of the Year" at the 2019 Business Excellence Awards, one of the "Top 30 Entrepreneurs in the UK" by Startups Magazine, and among "Britain's 27 Most Disruptive Entrepreneurs" by The Telegraph.

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