In his great book “Drive”, Daniel Pink dissects – among other things – the nature of mastery. He describes the path to Mastery as one of the most crucial components in motivation and producing outstanding work. So lets have closer look at how Daniel Pink sees mastery and how he thinks you can achieve it, shall we?

Getting in the flow


First of, says Pink, is it important to reach a flow state. This describes the state when you are doing tasks that are neither too easy nor too difficult for your current skill level. They hit the sweet spot between boredom and anxiety. These tasks are also referred to as Goldilocks tasks. You flow through them since they challenge and intrigue you. They stretch your abilities in just the right way. As Pink writes: “That balance (between too easy and too hard) produced a degree of focus and satisfaction that easily surpassed other, more quotidian, experiences. In flow, people lived so deeply in the moment, and felt so utterly in control, that their feeling of time, place and even self melted away.”

Mastery is a mindset

Striving for mastery has a lot to do with having the right mindset. In fact, it has everything to do with mindset! If you don’t have the mindset that what you are trying to achieve is possible, there is no chance that you will achieve it. Daniel Pink compares two different mindsets by describing entity theory vs. incremental theory. Entity theory, he says, are for people who take things as given and unchangeable (such as body height). Incremental theory on the other hand describes people who believe that things can be changed and, through hard work, be gradually improved. These are the same kind of people who set learning goals (which are process oriented, such as ‘learning french’) rather than performance goals (such as ‘get an A in french). Depending on whether you see skills as given or improvable and depending on whether you see mastering a skill as journey or a destination you will either stagnate or continuously work on yourself and become better.

Mastery is a pain

Working on yourself, your flaws and your shortcomings is hard. You have to be mentally tough, brutally honest with yourself, constantly face your fears and during that process endure a lot of pain. When looking at what makes people persevere through all of that, they found that successful people have what  is called grit. Grit is defined as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals”. It is pushing forward even when you feel like giving up. And since you will undoubtedly encounter those times on your path to mastery, it is important to be able to just take it for what it is: obstacles that stand in your way of improvement. If you are able to deal with them and the pain they come with, if you have the grit for that, you are one step closer to mastery.

Mastery is an asymptote

mastery asymptote

As mentioned before, mastery is a path, not a destination. Achieving mastery can be a goal that gives you a direction. But it can never be fully reached. Just like an asymptote, you can get closer and closer to your goal. You can work on your skills and keep improving every day. But no matter how hard you try, you will never fully reach mastery. There will always be things to improve on. Because of this very nature of mastery, the mindset is so important. See mastery as performance goal and you will quickly be frustrated and give up. See mastery as a learning goal however and you will find endless joy in the process of learning and improving. As Tyler Durden once put it: “May I never be complete. May I never be perfect. Let’s evolve!”

Bonus: Five steps that bring you closer to mastery

Daniel Pink gives some advice on how to shorten your learning curve by pointing out five steps that – based on the concept of deliberate practise – will get you on your way to mastery:

1. Remember that deliberate practise has one objective: to improve performance

People who play tennis once a week for years don’t get any better if they do the same thing each time. Deliberate practise is about changing your performance, setting new goals and straining yourself to reach a bit higher each time.

2. Repeat, repeat, repeat

Repetition matters. Basketball greats don’t shoot ten free throws at the end of team practise; they shoot five hundred.

3. Seek constant, critical feedback

If you don’t know how you’re doing, you won’t know what to improve.

4. Focus ruthlessly on where you need help

While many of us work on where we’re good at, those who get better work on their weaknesses.

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

That’s why so few commit to it, but that’s why it works.


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