Mastery: Dabblers, Obsessives, and Hackers
From my last post, one reader commented that I should read some books about sports psychology. It reminded me of a book I did read on the subject a few years ago called Mastery: The keys to success and long term fulfillment by George Leonard. You can read the cliff notes version of it from here: http://gettingstronger.org/2010/03/george-leonards-mastery/
The goal driven nature entrenched in our society fuels a competitive atmosphere where we are constantly measured up against each other’s successes in various pursuits. This puts the emphasis on the make or break end result rather than enjoyment of the pursuit. What I liked about his approach is the caricatures he presents as a result of the lopsided focus on results.
The Dabbler attempts each new sport, hobby, or interest with initial enthusiasm but quickly loses interest and moves on to the next shiny pursuit once the initial one slows down, or encounters difficulties. Dabblers start many new things with gusto but once they hit a wall or plateau move on.
The Obsessive lives for the growth spurt in a skill. If he's not constantly and actively growing he presses himself harder and faster. Eventually the Obsessive burns out and moves on to something else. A lot of the old “ Knights errant” had fallen into this category. I think Michael De La Maza was one as well.
As for the HACKER, once he has passed over the first major growth spurt and is on the first plateau he just stays there. He doesn't actively spend time trying to learn and grow. He just tinkers with the bit of skill he's developed and remains satisfied at that level. But who wants to be just a hack in the competitive chess world?
So What are the keys to mastery then?
The book goes on to describe the keys to mastery: Instruction, Practice, Surrender and Intentionality. Those last two we tend to forget about. Surrendering means being willing to lose a few as we change styles. For instance, I knew I was going to lose rating points when I surrendered my old opening system a few years back ... and I did...but having done so I have since gained valuable knowledge in D-pawn games. Recently, I have become uncomfortable in open positions. I need to surrender and embrace the learning process once more.
As for Intentionality, this refers to focus. I lose focus with all the distraction life throws and then I fall into either of the three categories. Getting to the point where I am OK with plateaus and set backs is hard when every cell in my body feels like it needs to be measured against some gage for success. Changing the mindset to be at ease with the way things are is a meditation in and of itself. It brings me back to basics as to why I love this game in the first place. I love the learning process. If I can remind myself of this more often before the games in a tournament, the more I can enjoy the journey.