5 Mastery Practices From Novice To Mastery

What Are Mastery Practices?

There are five mastery practices. They are:

  • Reflection
  • Meditation
  • Self-Talk
  • Visualization
  • Mindfulness

Learning these mastery practices reduce the time and effort it takes to go from novice to mastery — for both physical and mental skills.

by Murray Johannsen. Comments? Feel free to connect with the author via this websiteLinkedin,  or by email

“As tools become rusty, so does the mind; a garden uncared for soon becomes smothered in weeds; a talent neglected withers and dies.” — Ethel R. Page

Unleash Your Potential:  Strive to Really Prefect Skills with Mastery Practices

Excellence is a skill — learn how to achieve it.

Building a skill is actually not as difficult as it sounds. The problem? Most of us have never been taught how to learn new skills — except that you are supposed to practice, practice and practice.

There is a better way.

Are you striving to reach the pinnacle of success but feel something is missing? That your efforts aren’t producing the results you want?

To master a skill, you need to PRACTICE PHYSICALLY and MENTALLY. For mental practice is just as effective as rehearsing behaviorally. And many SOFT SKILLS are best mastered by doing both.

This concentration consists of Four Full Classes, one Short Course, and optional electives. All programs are offered online for convenience and ease of access.

Develop The Mastery Practice of Reflection

It’s been said, that success can be achieved in two ways — making better decisions or making less mistakes. Reflection helps you with both. And it helps your to develop skills so you don’t get stuck.

“People Don’t Learn From Experience” — J. Edward Deming

Check out the online class on learning reflection to learn how you might benefit more from what life teaches.

This is a self-paced course. It’s low-cost and accessible 24/7.

Relevant Online Course Work

Mastery practices do something special, they accelerate learning important application skills. It includes skills such as self-visualization, self-talk, meditation, reflection, and mindfulness. 

To learn more about how to develop these:

1. Self-TalkPOWERFUL THOUGHTS: Improving Your Performance With Self-Talk

2. VisualizationSeeing With the Minds Eye: How to Construct Potent Imagery

3. Practical Meditation. Learn It, Practice It, Experience It

4. Reflection. What You Need To Do to Learn From Experience, and

5. The Psychology of Mindfulness. The toughest skill-set of all—it’s more than just staying in the present and focusing on the breath.

A Quick Guide To Each of the Mastery Practices

Practice 1: Reflection

Or Why We Don’t Learn From Experience

Reflection in a Soap Bubble, Image by Mila Zink ova

“People Don’t Learn From Experience” —-  J. Edwards Deming

Deming, as the founder of the quality movement, takes an extreme position. However, most people don’t learn from experience. There are people proud of the 15 years of experience they put on the resume. But it’s really one year of experience repeated 15 times. 

The Trap Of Experience

When I was young, I have a false belief that went, “People learn from their mistakes.” However, after watching human behavior for many years, I’ve concluded just the exact opposite — some learn from their mistakes — most do not. The vast majority make the same mistake over and over and over again. As one nurse explained to me when she said, “I’m a problem solver, I solved the same problem 150 times last year.” A cynic would say that experience is the label we use for past mistakes.

Clearly, someone with 20 years of experience has made lots of mistakes. And if we learned from mistakes, not a problem. However, most people don’t learn from experience. Period.The question? Did they learn anything from all those mistakes? Sadly, for the vast majority, experience teaches them little since they fail to use reflection.

Learning The Wrong Thing From Experience

The fact that we learn little from our own personal experience is a big enough problem. But sometimes we learn the wrong lesson from experience. Just because we had parents who were punished by spanking doesn’t mean that it is a good tool to change behavior in our own children. Just because we’ve seen a boss fly off the handle and use anger doesn’t mean we should use it ourselves. Just because a friend spent six hours watching television every day doesn’t mean we should do the same thing.

The Art of Reflection: How to Learn From Practice and Experience

Practice 2: Meditation

“Meditation brings wisdom; lack of mediation leaves ignorance. Know well what leads you forward and what hold you back, and choose the path that leads to wisdom.” — The Buddha  

Image by: Tevaprapas
Image by: Tevaprapas

The Origins of Meditation

Winston Churchill in 1939 once remarked when referring to Russia, “It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” However, meditation presents a similar phenomenon — it is a complex puzzle with many missing pieces. This article aims to provide more pieces so that you can form a better picture of meditation.

Meditation techniques are ancient, going back beyond all written records. In terms of what survives today, there is evidence that mediation was practiced thousands of years ago in the Indian cities of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa (circa 3000 to 2000 BC). In excavations of these cities, a seal was found in which a figure was sitting in meditative posture with legs crossed and hands firmly planted on the knees.

The practice has its deepest roots in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism, but it also has been used by practitioners of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. However, it only recently has been studied by Western medicine and psychology.

Physiological Effects

All meditation techniques have in common the production of a certain state of mind that is different than normal consciousness. At its most basic, we can consider meditation a physiological response undefined something built into the human body. So you might say, that the relaxation response associated with meditation is the opposite of the fight or flight response associated with stress.

Practical Meditation: Learning It, Using it, Perfecting It

It was Hans Selye who coined the term “fight or flight” response as an easy-to-remember label for the physical and mental changes associated with stress. While our ancient ancestors felt stress when staring face to face with a tiger or a wolf, our wolves are more likely to wear business suits and be called the boss.

During the fight or flight response: breathing increases, the heart races, muscle strength increases, you become more alert, focused on the source of danger. Mediation produces the exact opposite response on the body. In fact, Dr. Herbert Benson, coined the term, “The Relaxation Response” to describe the physical effects of meditation and even wrote a book by the same title.

Benson (2000) on those practicing transcendental meditation showed that breathing and heart rate slowed down, stress left the muscles, the brain waves shifted and Beta to Alpha and the of oxygen decreased.

Practice 3: SELF-TALK

Powerful Thought: Enhancing Performance With Self-Talk

“The inner speech, your thoughts, can cause you to be rich or poor, loved or unloved, happy or unhappy, attractive or unattractive, powerful or weak”  —  Ralph CharellSelf-talk is typically what the Ego thinks about. It’s the internal thoughts that we hold inside and don’t share. So while a leader might project an image of self-confidence, in their own thinking they may have many doubts, doubts that prevent them from taking the right actions. 

It’s long been known by psychologists there is an internal verbal dialog occurring within the mind that’s incredibly important to improve. Yet, most of us pay it no mind.

Even good communication skills texts rarely mention the importance of improving the communication between the Ego and the Unconscious. They fail to understand that skilled lines of communication need to be cultivated or you see a lot of, “I don’t do what I’m supposed to do, and do what I shouldn’t do.”

The miscommunication between the Ego and the Unconscious means the mind functions like a young child with two legs that can’t work together. Consequently, you see “drunken walks” and frequent falls. And too often, one goes two steps forward, but three steps back.

You might ask, why self-talk is included in leadership communication? Good question. Most would say that leadership is essentially about influence–how we can influence others. Yet, if we fail to engage in the right kind of self-talk, our ability to lead, to communicate the proper words at the moment will be severely compromised.

Partly this is due to the power of expectations. It has long been known that what we expect tends to occur. The great writer Ovid in his Metamorphosis wrote this into the story of Pygmalion, the poor sculptor in search of true love. In this case, the power of belief was a positive one and there was a typical Hollywood happy ending. However, people sometimes talk themselves into many unhappy endings. And let’s face it, people are not going to follow someone who is not in charge of their own mind.

Image by: Mas Image by: Mas. You might wonder why self talk in an interpersonal communication skill. Western psychology has a consensus that the mind actually has at least two parts. ideally, the Ego and The Unconscious will have robust lines of communication with each other. But rarely is this the case.
A limiting belief functions like an invisible straitjacket. It starts with words like, “I can’t” or I’m no good at.” Or someone says, “I can never learn a foreign language.” And that person is correct — they can’t because they believe they can’t.

The Downside of Self-Talk: False Expectations and Limiting Beliefs

“I frequently lose arguments with myself.” — Explanation used to explain why a person ate another chocolate just after saying that they were not going to eat anymore

Expectations are powerful beliefs about the future (Cook, 2012). Some of these expectations affect only me, still, others affect millions. A classic example of large-scale false expectations had to do with the subprime crisis, which really began before the freeze-up of the credit markets in August 2007 and later in September 2008.

Up until the 3rd quarter of 2007, homeowners falsely expected the value of their homes to continue to appreciate. And bankers thought that foreclosure rates would not increase. Yet, by February of 2008, Business Week reported that American housing prices had fallen by 9% nationally and that the rate of decline was increasing. By September of 2008, housing prices continued to fall in the UK and the U.S. while the federal government was nationalizing or merging weaker banks into smaller ones.

A better way to saying this might be, “I choose not to learn a foreign language (best) or a rationalization such as, “I don’t have the time to learn a foreign language.” Of course, if something was important, one would make the time. For example, people always find time to go shopping at the mall, but there’s never enough time to read a book or exercise the body.

So it is important to be able to unlearn limiting beliefs that keep us from reaching our goals and false expectations that contribute to delusion.

Deploying Affirmations: A Really Helpful Self-Talk Tool 

“The inner speech, your thoughts, can cause you to be rich or poor, loved or unloved, happy or unhappy, attractive or unattractive, powerful or weak”  —  Ralph Charell

Affirmations are a specific type of self-talk that helps us achieve something we desire. To do so, we take a phrase that we repeat over, and over, and over again. Sometimes people ask how me, “How many times do you have to repeat it?” My answer is, “As long as it takes.” And then, of course, their question becomes, “How long does it take?” To which the answer is, “It depends.” 

It depends on several factors. For example, if you’re trying to change a long-established undesired behavior which is been running for 30 years and expecting that five affirmations or even 50 affirmations are going to make that it disappear prepare to be disappointed. However, is something you have never done before, have a lot of motivation, good ability to concentrate and focus, less than 50 repeats may be enough.

So the effectiveness of any affirmation has to do with how much motivational force one employs and knowing techniques to increase their effectiveness.

Practice 4: Visualization

“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.” — Michael Altshuler

Image by: Mojonavigator
Image by: Mojonavigator

When we’re children, we had a very active imagination. But now that we are adults, we don’t exercise it much. Part of this is due to aging and part of it is due to the school system. After all, how many teachers during a class ever asked you to close your eyes and exercise your imagination for the next 10 minutes?

Visualization is very, very important. Most creative geniuses talk about the importance of images and coming up with new ideas. Images are also important when it comes to developing performance skills. It’s long been known that spending time using visualization and real-world practice is more effective than an equal amount of physical practice or just using one’s imagination (LeVan, 2009).

Also, besides its role in developing skills, the unconscious attempts to communicate with the Ego through the use of images. Great psychologists such as Freud and Jung both understood that seeing your house in a dream can be taken literally, figuratively, or symbolically. So it’s important, to be able to communicate with the unconscious through the use of imagery. Like a muscle unused, visualization atrophies. But we can learn how to exercise this mental process and make it stronger (Fong, N.D.).

Practice 5: Mindfulness

Image by: Bryan Helfrich edited by Volody Anarhist
Image by: Bryan Helfrich edited by Volody Anarhist

The Nature of The Problem

Unconscious Process Dominates Out Normal Activities. It has been known for many years that as individuals age, unconscious process increasingly dominates normal activity with automatic thinking and habitual behaviors becoming the norm. As mindlessness sets in, many more mental processes and standard behaviors run in the unconscious while over-learned behaviors such as walking, typing, and driving require almost zero conscious input. It boils down to living life more but enjoying it less.

Do you find it difficult to read an email without getting lost?  It is common for you to have to re-read the same material?

What’s going on? One explanation is mind-wandering. For if the attention system and short-term memory are being occupied by some other demand, we lose track of the task at hand.

We should all of you learn how to better tame the wandering mind.

Mastery_ PracticeJoggle

Being able to better pay attention to practice pays big dividends and is now more frequently being applied within the context of work (Good, 2016).  But is not an easy thing to do. Just because you can focus your attention on your breath for 10 seconds doesn’t mean you know mindfulness.

The Psychology of Mindfulness
Mastery is about doing things really well, such as riding a wave on the ocean.
Mastery is about doing things really well, such as riding a wave on the ocean. Image by John Sullivan

References and Resources

Benson, Herbert (2000). The Relaxation Response. Harper Torch.

Bergland, Christopher, (2014). Adding Movement to Mental Rehearsal Improves PerformancePsychology Today, Jan 6.

Cook, Gareth (2012). How the Power of Expectations Can Allow You to “Bend Reality.” Scientific American, October 12.

Fong, Laura (ND). How to Develop Your Visualization Skill. Litemind.com

Good, Darren, et. al., (2016). Contemplating Mindfulness at Work: An Integrative Review, Journal of Management. January, 42:114-142.

Germain, M. L. (2006, February). What experts are not: Factors identified by managers as disqualifiers for selecting subordinates for expert team membership. Academy of Human Resource Development Conference. Columbus, OH. February 22–26.

Germain, M. L. (2005). Apperception and self-identification of managerial and subordinate expertise. Academy of Human Resource Development. Estes Park, CO. February 24–27.

Jayaram V, (2008). Right Mindfulness, Hindu Web Site

Kabat-Zinn, John (2007). Mindfulness Stress Reduction And Healing. Google Tech Lecture, March 8.

LeVan, Angie (2009). Seeing is Believing: The Power of Visualization: Your Best Life from the Comfort of Your Lazy Boy. Psychology Today, December 3.

LeVan, Angie (2009). Seeing is Believing: The Power of Visualization: Your Best Life from the Comfort of Your Lazy Boy. Psychology Today, December 3.

McClure, Patricia (ND). Reflection on Practice. The University of Ulster.

Schmidt, Richard & Lee, Timothy (N.D.) In Motor Learning is Mental Practice as Effective as Physical Practice?, Motor Control Learning, 5th Edition,. 

Wikipedia, (N.D.), The Nature of an Expert. Extracted on 5 July 2013.

Wikipedia, (N.D.) Mastery Learning. Extracted on 16 May 2016.

First Published: April 3, 2016.  Updated July 08, 2023.

Work Skills For the 21st Century