Many people luck out like me, accidentally. We recognize what particular path to mastery we’re on, long after we actually get on it.

Many do not. They bum around in angsty anomie, craving structure where none exists, and realizing after a decade of wandering that they’ve unfortunately gotten nowhere.

Is it possible to systematically do things to put yourself on a path to mastery, and know you’re on one, without actually knowing what that path is until you’re already far down it?

Inside and Outside Views of Grit

If there is no external frame of reference, how do you know where you are, where you are going and whether you are progressing at all, as opposed to bumming around?

Can you log any old time-sheet of 10,000 hours, slap a label on it, and claim mastery?

Thankfully, intrinsic navigation is not quite that trite.

A clue to the mystery is the personality trait known as grit, probably the best predictor of success in the modern world.

Grit is the enduring intrinsic quality that, for a brief period in recent history, was coincident with the pattern of behavior known as progressive disciplinary specialization.

Grit has external connotations of extreme toughness, a high apparent threshold for pain, and an ability to keep picking yourself up after getting knocked down. From the outside, grit looks like the bloody-minded exercise of extreme will power. It looks like a super-power.

I used to believe this understanding of grit as a superhuman trait. I used to think I didn’t possess it. Yet people seem to think I exhibit it in some departments. Like reading and writing. They are aghast at the amount of reading I do. They wonder how I can keep churning out thousands of words, week after week, year after year, with no guarantee that any particular piece of writing will be well-received.

They think I must possess superhuman willpower because they make a very simple projection error: they think it is hard for me because it would be hard for them. Well of course things are going to take superhuman willpower if you go after them with the wrong strengths.

For a while, I went around calling this faux-grit. The appearance of toughness. But the more I looked around me at other people who seemed to display grit in other domains, the more I realized that it wasn’t hard for them either. What they did would merely be superhuman effort for me. Faux grit and true grit are the same thing (the movie True Grit is actually quite a decent showcase of the trait; it showcases the superhuman outside/fluid inside phenomenon quite well).

So what does the inside view of grit look like? I took a shot at describing the subjective feel in my last post on the Tempo blog. It simply feels like mindful learning across a series of increasingly demanding episodes that build on the same strengths.

But the subjective feel of grit is not my concern here. I am interested in objective, intrinsically measurable aspects of grit that can serve as an internal inertial navigation system; a gyroscope rather than GPS.



“One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself..the height of a man’s success is gauged by his self-mastery; the depth of his failure by his self-abandonment. …And this law is the expression of eternal justice. He who cannot establish dominion over himself will have no dominion over others.””
― Leonardo da Vinci

“We should every night call ourselves to an account;
What infirmity have I mastered today?
What passions opposed? What temptation resisted? What virtue acquired? Our vices will abort of themselves if they be brought every day to the shrift.”
― Seneca


People that play video and computer games, that is ultimately finite and against a machine know that the experience has a very specific curve to it, where, when you first encounter it, it’s fun, even exhilarating, the amount of feedback loops seems endless. After a while, you sort of start to get the hang of I’m beginning to optimize for the game features. Then you actually have an accelerating arc and you start winning, you see that you can actually win the game. At a certain point, you’ve become so good at winning the game that’s old diminishing returns and you no longer get at any dopamine from winning the game. It’s no longer interesting, because you’ve gamed the game.

This, by the way, is true of any finite domain.

When you first entered into the finite domain, the act of exploring is really interesting and fulfilling. Then as you optimize you find what kinds of things work and what doesn’t and that can take a while but eventually you are going to be over the top of the curve, unsatisfied, and without the ability to move on into other kinds of days but don’t have those characteristics at all.


Complex systems have al kinds of different Dynamics that are feeding back on each other. You’ve got all these different elements that are very tightly wound. If you pull one piece, it will tend to get pulled back into what is the basin of attraction. Our contemporary environment does a rather poor job at helping us. Our media deceives us and manipulate us. Much of our food supply he is only a simulation of nutrition. Are ideologies are often confused and self-destructive. Our cultural capital is fast becoming the equivalent of high sugar and carbs. Franchise films are like prison food — people just lap up whatever’s shoved under the door.

If you can’t perceive what’s going on, if you can’t be sensitive in all sorts of different ways, you can’t make good choices and you can respond very effectively. If you can “tune in” to what is going on without preemptively closing enough of the world with your own frames and judgments, you are moving away from rather than towards acquisition of mastery. Of course it could be worse. Our forefathers had to deal with ice ages, War, cholera, famines Etc. We are here now and this is the world we must navigate.

Before you can begin to extend yourself into the complexity of the larger universe, you need to get ahold of yourself. Find Ground Zero and then learn to my find balance and regaining it when it is lost. If you can’t do that you will bring these lack of clarity into the problems of the outside world compounding them.

When we think about optimizing humans for mastery there are a few factors we should consider;

as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

There’s education, in terms of how to learn new skills. There is meta education. There is epistemology. How do I access when I need a new skill? How do I go about learning new skills well? Do I have the skills to deal with the emotions that arise in new environments?

If economics affect people’s health through advertising Dynamics that are sending the hyper normal stimuli or sugar all the time through marketing how do we become more aware of that. You are somebody who has a particularly addictive response to an anxiety, you eat the food to have certain dumps of endorphins and serotonin levels go up, making your anxiety levels feel like they go down, sending you the signal that you are back into being okay, then you’re going to have the characteristic of overeating.

If lots and lots of people have that characteristic, you are going to generate a real economic signal of I want more things that are subject to overeating, then you’re going to have an economy that is going to begin to optimize for those kinds of choices and therefore, artifacts that do actually satisfied that addiction well, like chips, or soda. On the other side you a manipulative media and advertising infrastructure that is incentivized to push people into domains that are likely to be triggered by that particular addictive response, because that will maximize their ability generate profits on the products they have already spent time investing in creating a terrible feedback loop.

Now if you’re somebody that has a job incentivizing addictive responses you’re going to spend your whole day in a space that could be easily described as a sociopathic, meaning that you are aware of the negative consequences of the choice you are locally responsible for, you either have to choose to be delusional ie holding beliefs that are contradicted by reality or rational argument, typically as a symptom of mental disorder, sociopath, ie, you have to be willing to accept the fact that the consequences of your choices are good for you, but not for the whole, any of which is, in fact, a terrible thing.

“It May Not Be Good for America, but It’s Damn Good for CBS”

Leslie Moonves

What ends up happening is that at a neurological level you are spending 10 hours a day in a space where you’re combining variations between sociopathy and delusion. Eventually you are going to have congenital neurological changes, which are going to show up all of the rest of aspects of your life. You are going to have a weird relationship with your wife and kids. You’re going to make weird choices in sensemaking not dissimilar than, if you have an entire population that was addicted to opiates.

If all the pieces big back on each other, it is just necessary to be thoughtful in the way we engage in this process, which I don’t think, by the way, should be intrinsically harder than others thing that we humans we well.

A few mental exercises may help.

  1. Return to your Origins; think about the days when your inclinations presented themselves clearly to you
  2. Find unoccupied Niches; You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly.
  3. Beware of the Dark Side: Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will”
  4. Avoid the Sunk Cost Fallacy: Kill your darlings.
  5. Find a way to exponentially integrate the 4 previous exercises.


As a civilization we have a massively increased capacity to perceive all this information flowing from the environment, but our ability to act is actually miniscule. Our fantasy Notions of what it would be to be powerful does not increase our capacity for action.

Sensemaking is the process by which people give meaning to their collective experiences. It is often formally defined as “the ongoing retrospective development of plausible images that rationalize what people are doing.

This include your ability to skillfully select frames and concept that are appropriate to what is really going on. And to create new ones when the old ones won’t do. Move too slowly and the world has passed you by. Move too rapidly and you will make mistakes. If you don’t have the right framework to take the information that you see, think of the tsunami in Phuket, where people could see that the ocean had receded, but they couldn’t make sense of what was going on and therefore couldn’t make good choices.

There was a time knowing that multiplication tables that was extremely useful. now if I am separated from my phone, you can say that you have bigger problems than your inability to calculate divisions. Unfortunately the putting of a specialized knowledge into the hands of the specialized people, who could then operate within a higher framework is he coming up soon you act like speed.

When you’re learning subjects in school, the answers are already set. There’s clear right and wrong. Can you do a good job at getting that right? Then, when you go work at a company, it’s the same thing, right? Someone else is setting the objectives of the company, and so you mostly have to have a very little bit of sovereignty within whatever domain space isn’t fully specified, but towards a goal that someone else set.

You don’t have to self-assess what needs to be done and how to go about doing it. You have to get trained in a very specific capacity and do that. Most people who’ve been trained that way, so intensely, the idea of assessing what needs done and how to go about doing it without someone else telling them how to do it is overwhelming.

Jordan Greenhall

If we want to be adaptive to the Future environment we’re going to have to prepare our brains to do 10 careers in our lifetime and the only way we are going to achieve that Eaves by maximizing your individual capacity to perceive Where You Are and what is it that you need to do now and if you don’t have the capacity to address that problem, how to build that capacity.

Learning how to learn learning about how to be able to commit doing what you have to learn as the same time as building the emotional resilience to Deal with an overwhelming environment you’re going to have to develop, fundamental core capacities that are completely absent from education as we currently know it. You have to become a generalist, maybe sub-specialized always maintaining, but never become the subspecialty, always maintaining the integrity of your sovereignty.

It is clear that some skills/identities, the thing that keeps people busy, are in fact being obsoleted and that is making a lot of people overwhelmed rendering unable to to find the space in which they can begin to self assess because the notion that we’re going to be able to programmatically tell everybody what to do is, one, not very reasonable, and, two, terrible even if we could pull it off.

It is up to us to find a way to, en masse, rebuild that core most important part of us, and reclaim our ability to make the choices to make and take ownership for the consequences of those choices back into the world.


It is Paramount that you begin with one skill that you can master, that serves as Foundation for acquiring others. If you think you can manage learning several skills at a time you are probably mistaken. Studies show that it kills your performance and may even damage your brain.

Research conducted at Stanford University found that multitasking is less productive than doing a single thing at a time. The researchers also found that people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of information cannot pay attention, recall information, or switch from one job to another as well as those who complete one task at a time.

Deliberate practice refers to a special type of practice that is purposeful and systematic. While regular practice might include mindless repetitions, deliberate practice requires focused attention and is conducted with the specific goal of improving performance.

“This process of hardwiring cannot occur if you are constantly distracted, moving from one task to another. In such a case, the neural pathways dedicated to this skill never get established; what you learn is too tenuous to remain rooted in the brain. It is better to dedicate two or three hours of intense focus to a skill than to spend eight hours of diffused concentration on it. You want to be as immediately present to what you are doing as possible.”

Paradoxically as you become more competent you have to breakout of just following the rules, and start creating new avenues by yourself.

Move toward resistance: Combine the “how” and the “what”: Get a full understanding of the skill, not just the recipes or tools, don’t leave parts of it unlearned.

Once we get good at part of a skill, we tend to just do that since it’s easy and familiar. We avoid our weaknesses, and that prevents us from learning. Revert to a Zen mind beginner’s mind and Trust the process: if we feel like we already know something or have mastered it, then we stop learning. Need to assume we’re beginners and that there’s more to learn. It takes time. As long as you’re learning and working, you will keep moving towards mastery.

It’s OK to fuckup: Treat your own failures the same way, as opportunities for improvement. Keep expanding your horizons: Whenever you feel like you are settling into some circle, force yourself to shake things up and look for new challenges. Mingle with as many different people and ideas as possible, they’ll all contribute to enhancing your learning


The concept of “the Other” occupies a central place in Sartre. Consciousness is not alone in the world. It must accommodate itself with other minds, which are also fighting to exist. Solipsism is merely a gentle dream. The For-Itself (i.e. man) is also for others. You meet others without the form (i.e. from a phenomenological point of view). How can I interact with others? Through the body, the physical manifestation of my being-in-the-world.

You need to train yourself to pay less attention to the words that people say and greater attention to all signals that might reveal what is not expressed verbally.

Seven deadly sins
Seven ways to win
Seven holy paths to hell
And your trip begins

Seven downward slopes
Seven bloodied hopes
Seven are your burning fires
Seven your desires



Passive Aggression: Subversive passive-aggressive behavior can go unnoticed as you mask underlying frustrations with superficial courtesies. Eventually, your anger will emerge when events reach a volatile stage

Resentment: Understand your emotions, practice acceptance, meditate, practice empathy

Diversity is a myth. Although members of the group might trumpet their tolerance and celebration of people’s differences, the reality is that those who are markedly different make them feel uncomfortable and insecure, calling the values of the dominant culture into question.

artificial simplicity, to create habits and routines that give us a sense of control.

find a way to make the conversations revolve around them and their interests, all of which will go far to winning them to your side.

Understand the superior value of getting what we want through hard work.

Suffer fools gladly: They are simply a part of life, like rocks or furniture and most of the time can reveal great insights.

Paradoxically The feeling that we have endless time to complete our work has an insidious and debilitating effect on our minds. Our attention and thoughts become diffused. Our lack of intensity makes it hard for the brain to jolt into a higher gear. The connections do not occur. For this purpose you must always try to work with deadlines, whether real or manufactured.”



Then, the last piece is, in fact, the actuation piece, which is then the execution on those choices, so that they actually do deliver the results you intend, with the least amount of unintended consequences, and with the least amount of effort. That whole, that entire construct, is what we’re defining as mastery. It’s the ability to apply that knowledge to the greater scheme of life knowing the meaning or reason; about why something is, and what it means to your life.

All of us have access to a higher form of intelligence, one that can allow us to see more of the world, to anticipate trends, to respond with speed and accuracy to any circumstance. This intelligence is cultivated by deeply immersing ourselves in a field of study and staying true to our inclinations, no matter how unconventional our approach might seem to others.

Through such intense immersion over many years we come to internalize and gain an intuitive feel for the complicated components of our field. When we fuse this intuitive feel with rational processes, we expand our minds to the outer limits of our potential and are able to see into the secret core of life itself. We then come to have powers that approximate the instinctive force and speed of animals, but with the added reach that our human consciousness brings us.

The Authentic Voice:

Anyone who would spend ten years absorbing the techniques and conventions of their field, trying them out, mastering them, exploring and personalizing them, would inevitably find their authentic voice and give birth to something unique and expressive. This power is what our brains were designed to attain, and we will be naturally led to this type of intelligence if we follow our inclinations to their ultimate ends.

In the end, you win through superior craftsmanship, not marketing. This craftsmanship involves creating something with an elegant, simple structure, getting the most out of your materials — a high form of creativity.

At first, our intuitions might be so faint that we do not pay attention to them or trust them. But over time they learn to notice these rapid ideas that come to them. They learn to act on them and verify their validity. Some lead nowhere, but others lead to tremendous insights. Over time, we find that we can call up more and more of these high-level intuitions, which are now sparking all over the brain. Accessing this level of thinking on a more regular basis, they can fuse it even more deeply with their rational forms of thinking

Your task as a creative thinker is to actively explore the unconscious and contradictory parts of your personality, and to examine similar contradictions and tensions in the world at large. Learn to endure and embrace mysteries and uncertainties through negative capability. , through pleasure in pain — like an athlete, you come to enjoy rigorous practice, pushing past your limits, and resisting the easy way out.

In the end, you will turn against the very rules you have internalized, shaping and reforming them to suit your spirit. The goal here is to awaken your “dimensional mind,” to think beyond the typical constraints of your skill and keep growing and learning. Alternate the Mind Through “the Flow” in a constant dialogue between our thoughts and reality. If we go into this process deeply enough, we come into contact with a theory that explains something far beyond the capability of our limited senses. In the process, great mysteries will unravel themselves before your eyes.


Hard Equals Wrong

If it isn’t crystal clear, I am advocating the view that if you find that what you are doing is ridiculously hard for you, it is the wrong thing for you to be doing. I maintain that you should not have to work significantly harder or faster to succeed today than you had to 50 years ago. A little harder perhaps. Mainly, you just have to drop external frames of reference and trust your internal navigation on a landscape of your own strengths. It may look like superhuman grit to an outsider, but if it feels like that inside to you, you’re doing something wrong.

This is a very contrarian position to take today. Thomas Friedman in particular has been beating the “harder is better” drum for a decade now, most recently in his take on the London riots, modestly titled A Theory of Everything (Sort Of):

Why now? It starts with the fact that globalization and the information technology revolution have gone to a whole new level. Thanks to cloud computing, robotics, 3G wireless connectivity, Skype, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, the iPad, and cheap Internet-enabled smartphones, the world has gone from connected to hyper-connected.

This is the single most important trend in the world today. And it is a critical reason why, to get into the middle class now, you have to study harder, work smarter and adapt quicker than ever before. All this technology and globalization are eliminating more and more “routine” work — the sort of work that once sustained a lot of middle-class lifestyles.

The environment that really matters isn’t the external world. It is pretty much pure noise. You can easily find and process the subset that is meaningful for your life. It isn’t about harder, smarter, faster. If it were, I’d be dead. I’ve been getting lazier, dumber and slower. It’s called aging. I think Friedman is going to run out of superlatives like “hyper-” before I run out of life. If I am wrong, the world is going to collapse before he gets around to writing The World is Hyper-Flatter-er. Humans are simply not as capable as Friedman’s survival formula requires them to be.

Exhortation is pointless. Humans don’t suddenly become super-human just because the environment suddenly seems to demand superhuman behavior for survival. Those who attempt this kill themselves just as surely as those dumb kids who watch a superman movie and jump off buildings hoping to fly.

It is the landscape of your own strengths that matters. And you can set your own, completely human pace through it.

The only truly new behavior you need is increased introspection. And yes, this will advantage some people over others. To avoid running faster and faster until you die of exhaustion, you need to develop an increasingly refined understanding of this landscape as you progress. You twist and turn as you walk (not run) primarily to find the path of least resistance on the landscape of your strengths.

The only truly new belief you need is that the landscape of disciplinary endeavors and achievement is meaningless. If you are too attached to degrees, medals, prizes, prestigious titles and other extrinsic markers of progress in your life, you might as well give up now. With 90% probability you aren’t going to make it. It’s simple math: even if they were worth it, as our friend Friedman notes with his characteristic scare-mongering, there simply isn’t enough to go around:

Think of what The Times reported last February: At little Grinnell College in rural Iowa, with 1,600 students, “nearly one of every 10 applicants being considered for the class of 2015 is from China.” The article noted that dozens of other American colleges and universities are seeing a similar surge as well. And the article added this fact: Half the “applicants from China this year have perfect scores of 800 on the math portion of the SAT.”

If you’re paying attention to the Chinese kids who score a perfect 800, you’re paying attention to the wrong people. I mean, really? You should worry about some Chinese kid terrorized into achieving a perfect-800 math score by some Tiger Mom, and applying to Grinnell College?

It’s the Chinese kids who are rebelling against their Tiger Moms, completely ignoring the SAT, and flowing down the path of least resistance that you should be worried about. After all Sun Tzu invented that whole idea.

So rework, reference, release. Flow through the landscape of your own strengths and weaknesses. Count to 10,000 rework hours as you walk. If you aren’t seeing accelerating external results by hour 3300, stop and introspect. That is the calculus of grit. It’s the exponential human psychology you need for exponential times. Ignore everything else.

Factoid: this entire 4000-plus word article is a working out of a 21-word footnote on page 89 of Tempo. That’s how internally-referenced my writing has become. Never say I don’t eat my own dogfood.