In Part One of this exploration of George Leonard’s ideas about mastery, I described how important it is to practice for the sake of practice itself. In this post, you’ll learn about three personality types, each of which has a unique problem with the inevitable “plateaus” that are normal in the development of mastery.
The Dabbler is very enthusiastic when starting out. I’m sure that, like me, you have had many students that fit this description. But as they get through the grace period of the first few weeks and months, where their skills seem to visibly advance week to week and even day to day, the Dabbler hits their first plateau. Finally they have hit what can seem like a wall and feel stuck for weeks or longer. They may lose the enthusiasm that seemed innate to their personality. Piano lessons lose their luster.
Teachers can help Dabblers to understand that plateaus are part of the process of mastery. They need to understand that a plateau won’t last forever, and that in some sense, a plateau is not even a plateau, for it is part of the process of learning a skill. It only seems to be a plateau when we hold certain expectations based on past experience.
The Obsessive is the student who won’t settle for second best. Of course, in some ways this is the student that every piano teacher wants. The Obsessive may practice harder and longer than everyone else. That said, from Leonard’s perspective, like the Hacker, the Obsessive also has trouble dealing with the plateau. After all, how will an Obsessive student become the best if they are not advancing constantly by leaps and bounds?
Like the Dabbler, the Obsessive needs to understand that plateaus are part of the development of mastery. They need to learn patience and cultivate present-moment awareness.
The Hacker differs from the Dabbler and Obsessive because she is quite willing to stay on a plateau indefinitely. The Hacker is the student who enjoys playing but sets her sights too low, or who lacks the self-confidence that would take her to the next level.
A plateau may seem safe to the Hacker, as the challenge of integrating new skills is reduced. The Hacker too needs to understand that plateaus are normal, but that she should not become too comfortable with them.
In Part Three of this exploration of mastery, I will discuss Leonard’s “five master keys” for the development of mastery.