4 min read

Five Steps to Health and Fitness Mastery

I’ve recently read and admittedly, borrowed this idea of mastery from a book by Daniel Pink, called ‘Drive – The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

In the endless resources at the end of the book, Daniel Pink called upon Professor Anders Ericsson, a psychologist at Florida State University, to give him 5 great thoughts towards achieving mastery in anything.

Anders Ericsson is an expert, on expertise, and wrote this fine book that everybody should own too.

I’ve put a fitness spin on this obviously, though you could aim to relate it to any realm of your well-being to great success.

1) Remember that deliberate practice has one objective ‘to improve performance.’ 

Deliberate practice is about changing your performance, setting new objectives for yourself and straining to reach a bit higher each time you practice.

You can’t develop mastery without being a little uncomfortable. Or as many of my mentors have told me, “do a little of something you hate or fear every day!”

You can apply this to fitness easily, rather than achieving shocking change every day or week, seek to improve your technique, add a little more weight, do one more repetition, go a little bit longer, go 0.1 mph faster, even if it’s all just a little bit, each time you get in the gym.

Tracking these little things can be a huge motivator too, not just the numbers but the quality of execution — that’s something most people forget to record when they use a log, how they feel, was it easier, was it better, etc…

2) Repeat, repeat, repeat. 

Something I personally learned in sports, you get better shooting hundreds of free-throws in basketball not 10 or 20. Even better, mimic game situations, when you’re tired.

Mastery is developed with practice progressing towards that unattainable perfection. It’s the process of over and over and over again.

Very few people learn a new movement pattern the same day, or adopt a nutritional habit on the same day they learn it.

Doing it every day, consistently for a period of time is what ingrains it as ‘automatic.’

This is especially true in fitness, most people skip this step, they try to move onto more advanced moves before they are actually ready.

You shouldn’t squat with a bar until you master squatting with just your body weight.

You shouldn’t worry about the details of nutrition supplements, until you’ve nailed the basics.

3) Seek constant, critical feedback.

If you don’t know how you’re doing, you won’t know how to improve. Mastery is hard to define from within, and sometimes we need a helping hand to guide us.

This comes back the true importance of a coach or mentor or a bare minimum some kind of continual feedback system.

They shouldn’t be there to catch fish for you, they should be teaching you how to catch fish.

Even when it’s a new kind of fish, a different kind of fish, or utilizing different techniques for catching fish.

When done right, there is almost infinite things a coach or mentor can help you improve.

A knowledgeable friend or family member can substitute here until you reach their knowledge level, but you need some kind of positive relationship to help you along, it could be a group of people even.

The difference often between those types of people often and a real coach is that a great coach is always learning more about how to make you better.

4) Focus ruthlessly on where you need help.

I’ve noticed a strong trend of late, pushing us to focus on all our strengths and sub-contract our weaknesses.

I’m not so sure this is a sound model for personal improvement, it goes back to getting other people to catch fish for you, rather than learning to catch your own fish. I’m not saying you should hate your journey towards mastery. Rather accept that sometimes you’re going to have to focus on some things you won’t like too.

It’s all well and good to focus on your strengths, at the gym, in your sport, with your body, but often we focus on our strengths too much.

We fall into certain roles, in life because we appeared to have some natural knack for it, we do it more, and it’s a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.

For those interested, look up the Pygmalion Effect.

However, more often than not, what will make you better at the gym, better in your sport or more comfortable with your body is shoring up your weakest links.

Specifically focusing on them one at a time. In the gym I typically see this help with muscle dysfunction/function.

If you are not particularly mobile, I suggest working on your mobility.

If you are not particularly strong, I suggest lifting some heavy stuff.

If you feel like you’re lungs are burning, walking up a flight of stairs, I suggest getting your heart rate up a little more often.

With nutrition, there are usually quite a few ‘vices’ that people cave to on far too consistent a basis.

Start by fixing the skills, habits and behaviors you know to be the problem, then move onto to other things, and you’ll develop mastery over these domains.

5) Prepare for the process, to be mentally and physically exhausting.

Peter Jensen (the coach of coaches) calls this ‘Preparing for Adversity.’

Realize that you are going to face adversity at some point on your road to mastery, so you may as well aim to prepare for it.

The key word here is process, if you are trying to change your body, expect a relatively long process.

Losing weight, like life, is really all about the process.

People expect working out and changing their diet to be physically exhausting, they almost always forget about how mentally taxing these things can be.

There are 3 realms to physical change, mind-set, nutrition and movement, which I just posted about.

Being mentally exhausted comes with the territory of changing anything in your life, you should strive to be in a state of constant learning when going through any big change.

You only have a certain amount of mental resources in the process of change.

The best athletes, businessmen, or artists always display an incredible mental fortitude.

They are always trying to get better and learn to cope well with the mental and physical demands.

Daniel Goleman goes so far as to say, that emotional intelligence is the most critical component in success. Resiliency has become an important component of the emotional intelligence outlook.

I would say it’s an appropriate level of skill in all the applicable realms that are most important to developing mastery.