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15 Practices for Staying on the Path of Mastery

Immerse yourself deeply in the process of growth and development — and enrich your life.

Brad Stulberg

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True masters of craft realize that their journeys have no end. The best — be it athletes, artists, entrepreneurs, physicians, writers, or business professionals — have at least one thing in common: they are all constantly focused on getting better. That’s precisely what makes them the best.

Some call this orientation mastery. Staying on its path is not always easy. But it is rewarding. Immersing yourself deeply in the process of growth and development for its own sake is a wonderful way to enrich your life.

Below are 15 key practices of mastery. Taken together, they serve as the foundation for — the pavement, if you will — for walking the path.


If you really care about what you do you’ll put your all into it. If you really care about the people with whom you interact you’ll put your all into them. Caring is the cutting edge of personal (and social) evolution. The more you care, the more you’ll be attuned to your next steps.


Health is multidimensional. It is physical; mental; emotional; and spiritual. It is also integral to lasting progress. It is true that you can burn bright for a while without a foundation of health, but keep going on in this way and eventually you’ll burnout. Sacrificing health is myopic. Any long-game requires a solid base of health.


Once you think you know enough you cease to keep knowing. Once you think you’re good enough you cease to keep getting better. But there is always more to know. Always room to get better. Without humility there can be no growth.


In a scientific sense, stress is a stimulus for growth. Without stress living organisms don’t adapt, they don’t change. So you need stress. But stress is only beneficial if it is in the right dose and if you have the capacity to absorb it. And stress is only valuable when it’s followed by rest.


The space during which growth occurs. Without rest, you stand no chance at absorbing and growing from the challenges you face. Stress + rest = growth. If you want to develop your body, mind, or soul you’ve got to understand that rest — that simply “being” — is every bit as important as doing.


Show up — even when you don’t want to. Doing so makes you better not only at your craft , via compounding gains , but also at the skill of exerting effort itself. The path of mastery isn’t about being consistently great. It’s about being great at being consistent.


Confidence is a first cousin to humility. It’s knowing, based on a body of evidence, what you can and can’t do, and then moving forward accordingly. Confidence isn’t something that you have or you don’t. It’s not something you’re born with. Confidence is something you build.


A coach is there to see what you don’t see and point you in the direction of growth. The best coaching relationships are rooted in shared humility and caring. A good coach doesn’t just show or tell. They walk with with you on your path — sometimes leading and sometimes following.


Research shows that the people with whom you surround yourself influence your performance and wellbeing by up to 30 percent. When things are going well community pushes you and celebrates you and keeps you grounded. When things aren’t going well a tribe of support gets you back on your feet.


Drive means relentless pursuit. Though sometimes it can be born out of insecurity, at its best it is fueled by love. Drive must be channeled. It can be productive and beautiful and enlarging when pointed toward growth and development. Yet it can be destructive and diminishing when pointed toward external validation. The best drive comes from within. It’s an inside job.


Patience is letting things happen instead of always making them happen. Not to be confused with passivity, patience is about persistence. It’s about surrendering to a process and being present as it unfolds. Staying on the path of mastery in any endeavor requires patience.


Toughness is about doing the hard thing because it’s the right thing. Sometimes this means putting your head down and grinding it out. Other times this means backing off and asking for help. Toughness resides inside. The people who don’t outwardly act tough are generally the toughest of all.


You’ve got to be honest — and okay — with yourself. Acceptance does not mean doing nothing but rather acknowledging and starting where you are. Not where you think you should be. Not where you want to be. But where you are. Because if you don’t start where you are, you’ll never really get


In many ways, presence is synonymous with performance. When you are fully there — completely immersed in your pursuit with concentrated attention — you are almost always at your best. Practicing presence leads to a better body of work and a richer, more textured life.


Vulnerability starts with being honest with yourself. Why are you doing what you’re doing? What are you seeking? What could you be doing better? Are you open to receiving help? Answering these questions — being vulnerable — is uncomfortable. But being uncomfortable leads to growth.

Brad Stulberg researches and writes on sustainable excellence and wellbeing. He is bestselling author of the new book, The Practice of Groundedness: A Path to Success that Feeds—Not Crushes—Your Soul.

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This post originally appeared on Brad Stulberg and was published July 2, 2019. This article is republished here with permission.

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