Last week I wrote about the fact that we all share a desire to reach the next level in some area of life. I shared six questions that you can ask every day that will help you maintain high performance in your work, relationships and personal development. Since we know what to focus on to maintain high performance, let’s talk about how to break through to the next level.
Today I’ll show you four stages of achievement and lay out five steps for how to move from one to the next, no matter where you’re starting from. The concepts here may be basic, but the struggle we endure to break through from one level to the next is no small matter.
4 Levels of Achievement
No matter who you are or where you’re at in life, you’re at one of these four stages in each of your skill sets or knowledge areas.
- Novice. As a novice we may or may not have a basic awareness of a concept or skill. When we’re at this level we need direct guidance and teaching on the subject.
- Apprentice. As an apprentice we are aware of the subject and are learning and practicing it under guidance of a teacher (coach and/or mentor, I’ll explain the difference later).
- Journeyman. As a journeyman (or journeywoman!) we have the ability to apply what we know without the need for oversight from a teacher. This is the stage where we can go off and execute on our own.
- Master. As a master of a subject you have finely tuned your craft, maybe even added a unique difference to your style compared to someone else’s.
The Japanese have a name for this progression toward mastery, it’s “Shuhari“. Comparing it to the four stages above, I would say shuhari starts at Apprentice. Seishiro Endo, an Aikido master teacher, describes shuhari as follows:
“In shu, we repeat the forms and discipline ourselves so that our bodies absorb the forms that our forebearers created. We remain faithful to these forms with no deviation.
Next, in the stage of ha, once we have disciplined ourselves to acquire the forms and movements, we make innovations. In this process the forms may be broken and discarded.
Finally, in ri, we completely depart from the forms, open the door to creative technique, and arrive in a place where we act in accordance with what our heart/mind desires, unhindered while not overstepping laws.”
Notice how the learner studies and follows the forms explicitly while learning, but as the learner becomes more experienced, they deviate from the forms in the stage of ha. A colleague once described the stage of ri to me as the time when the master has developed his own forms that students study under.
5 Steps to Take You to the Next Level of Achievement
Think about something you’re not so good at, but want to be better at, and ask yourself “how do I improve?” A specific learning curriculum and daily discipline is the fastest way to reach the next level of achievement in almost any area of life.
- Raise your awareness. Expose yourself to the thing you’re trying to improve at. Read about it, watch it, try it, think about it and how it’s used in the world.
- Increase your knowledge. Study the subject on a daily basis until you can recall, define and identify the concept when you see it. Find a mentor who has experience with the concept and learn as much as you can from them about it.
- Apply what you learn under guidance. Take what you know, find a coach and start practicing. Practice, practice, practice, at least 60 minutes a day. Discipline yourself by staying true to form and get really good at standard techniques (shu).
- Mix up what you know. Continue applying what you know, but start to deviate from the standards (ha). Try innovating and infusing your own style into your practice.
- Reinforce mastery. Maintain and broaden your level of mastery by applying the concept to accomplish more sophisticated tasks. This is the stage where you’ve mastered the subject well enough to create your own style and form (ri) to a degree that other people could study it. This will take years, if not decades to achieve, so remember to take it one day at a time. Having followers is not the goal, mastering the subject you’re passionate about is.
TAKE NOTE! Most people spend way too much time on #1 and 2, thinking that by reading and watching and studying how to play a guitar they will master the guitar. In reality, it’s #3, 4 and 5 that bring you to true mastery. If you want to get better at something, start doing it. It’s how babies learn to walk, talk and eat solids. Studying and learning should never cease, but you have to move past it at some point or else your just a theory junkie.
Why You Need a Coach and a Mentor
Have you ever considered the difference between a coach and mentor?
A mentor is someone who has been through the experiences that you are or will be going through. They bring a wealth of experience based knowledge and are incredibly valuable as you are on your journey toward mastery. You should always have a mentor that is a stage or two ahead of you, always.
A coach on the other hand, is someone who knows how to ask the right questions to teach you about specific forms / techniques of a subject. They do not necessarily have to be a master in the subject itself. A coach who knows everything there is to know about basketball strategy and team execution may not be able to make a free throw to save his life. That’s okay, he’s the coach not the shooter! Likewise, the guy who can make crazy trick shots from half court might not have a clue about how to play in an actual game.
Coaches and mentors are extremely valuable in life, just in different ways. A mentor has wisdom from experience, a coach has knowledge of technique, and sometimes a person can be both – possessing the experience of something and the ability to teach on it. Seek these people out!
Breaking Through to the Next Level
The journey to mastery, or even the next level of achievement, will not always be quick and easy. There will be days, weeks and months where you struggle and lose focus. There will be times when it feels like you’re just spinning, churning and going in circles, not making progress. Let me encourage you to keep pushing; remember that everything you’re doing right now is preparing you for the next thing.
The job you have right now? Preparing you for the next one.
The project you’re working on? Preparing your for the next one.
The Trigonometry class you’re taking? Preparing you for Calculus.
The hallway conversation you just had? Preparing you for the meeting with the executives.
The simple exercise routine you’re doing? Preparing you for the marathon.
The time you’ve spent leading and developing one person? Preparing you to lead 12.
It won’t always be easy and it won’t always look glamorous, but embrace the struggle; it’s preparing you for the next level.