Learning Mastery: The 5 Most Important Mastery Practices

From the Library of Congress. Caption underneath the painting reads, “IGNORANCE IS THE CVRSE OF GOD, KNOWLEDGE IS THE WING WHEREWITH WE FLY TO HEAVEN.”


Learning the Mastery Practices reduce time and effort it takes to go from novice to mastery — for these mental practices help perfect the physical. 

by Murray Johannsen, May 9, 2016.  Comments? Feel free to connect with the author via this websiteLinkedin,  or by  email.

 What Are the Mastery Practices?

It has long been known that mental practice will enhance the ability to perform physically (Schmidt and Lee, N.D). Mental rehearsal has long be a used in sports psychology (Bergland, 2014). This is the case for motor skills and is likely to be true with pure mental skills such as listening.

Each of them are useful in the applications beside skill development. In combination, they offer a valuable set of options to enhance skills in general. 

Mastery Practice 1: The Importance of Learning Reflection 

“People Don’t Learn From Experience” –  J. Edwards Deming
Reflection in a Soap Bubble, Image by Mila Zink ova
Reflection in a Soap Bubble, Image by Mila Zink ova

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 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 punished by spanking doesn’t mean that its 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 spend six hours of watching television every day doesn’t mean we should do the same thing.

Click to find out more on this Short Course, "How To Use The Art of Reflection," Image by Mila Zink ova

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

Mastery Practice 2: Learning 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 it’s 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 it’s most basic, we can consider meditation a physiological response undefined something built into the human body. So you might say, that relaxation response associated with meditation is opposite of the fight or flight response associated with stress.

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.


Practical Meditation: Learning It, Using it, Perfecting It

Mastery Practice 3: Powerful Thoughts: Making Your Self-Talk Work

“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

Image by: cosmonautirussi
Image by: cosmonautirussi

Dealing With Limiting Beliefs

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.


A better way so 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.

False Expectations

Expectations are powerful beliefs about the future (Cook, 2012). Some of these expectations affect only myself, 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 of 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.

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.


Affirmations are specific type of self-talk that help 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 you have to repeat it?” My answer, “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 a number of 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.


Powerful Thought: Enhancing Performance With Self-Talk

Mastery Practice 4: Learning How To Better Visualize

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

Image by: Mojonavigator
Image by: Mojonavigator
When were 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 of the 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 that an equal amount of physical practice or just using one’s imagination (LeVan, 2009).
Also, besides it’s roll 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.).

 Sharpening The Minds Eye: How To Construct Potent Imagery

Mastery Practice 5: Mindfullness

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

“As we age, we become like zombies, paying attention less, and missing more.” — M. Johannsen

Essentially, without the control of attention and awareness, you cannot properly input information for later recall. To pay attention for a period of time need to memory. It has been known for many years that as individual’s 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.

Being able to better pay attention to practice pays big dividends and is know 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.

Mastery_ PracticeJoggle

The Psychology of Mindfulness

References and Resources

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

Bergland, Christopher, (2014). Adding Movement to Mental Rehearsal Improves Performance, Psychology 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. 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.

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