On the path of mastery; savour the plateau.

Last week I posted about the 10,000 hours it takes to master an activity and how you must savour the
journey and not the destination. One of the biggest challenges that
people face in putting in their 10,000 hours of mastery is the feeling
of the plateau in learning. Where you don't feel like you're getting
any new insights, or that you're stuck in a rut.When you first start out in a new activity there is a thrill of new
learning, new experiences, new people, and the fact that every day you
can see a palpable difference in what you know and what you are
capable of. This daily payoff gives easy and ready energy to the new
activity. For many when this first blush starts to wane they find
themselves longing to find those little climaxes again and they drift
off to something else – usually with many rationalizations "this
activity just isn't for me", "I really wasn't good at it", etc. As
you progress you'll find that these plateaus can increase in duration.
In fact on the path to mastery your time is probably 90% plateau and
10% perceptible epiphany. Even after several years of investment into
an activity many can become frustrated with the duration of a plateau,
craving new learning as the payoff they need to gain the needed energy
to continue. The fact that this attitude exists makes sense; our
society is full of messages about payoff without work, and destination
instead of journey. Advertising constantly speaks to us about the
immediate payoffs of buying a product, from a young age we are told to
get through school to go to college, to go through college to get a
job. Get to the end; the result is where the payoff lies.In the beginning I admit I was fairly ambitious and payoff focused in
my fencing. It was a challenging training day for me if I didn't feel
like I made some progression in my ability. If that persisted for a
month or more, it could really challenge my perseverance. Fortunately
getting involved in teaching, as I wrote about before, helped me stay committed and I learned a few good

I'm less demanding of my training time now. I recognize that there is
a certain value to just getting time in with a sword in my hand
whether I feel like I'm on a massive learning curve or on the plateau
but perhaps learning on a level that I cannot fully and consciously
connect with. The times of sudden learning and climbing are more
about becoming suddenly aware of all the work that I've put in
beforehand. It's the moment when you can consciously see those last
few pieces lock into place and form a cohesive unit of knowledge. But
that moment of payoff could never have come without the hours of
plateau before it. The master finds the joy in those plateaus, in the
moments between the apparent learning. They recognize and savour the
value in the rhythm of training not just its peaks.

As George Leonard says in the book Mastery:

To love the plateau is to love the eternal now, to enjoy the
inevitable spurts of progress and the fruits of accomplishment, then
serenely to accept the new plateau that waits just beyond them. To
love the plateau is to love what is most essential and enduring in
your life.


Devon Boorman is the Co-Founder and Director of Academie Duello Centre for Swordplay, which has been active in Vancouver, Canada since 2004. Devon’s expertise centres on the Italian swordplay tradition including the arts of the Renaissance Italian rapier, sidesword, and longsword, as well as knife and unarmed techniques.
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