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A Three-Step Framework for Mastery

Earlier this week, my friend Mike shared a blog post from a strength coach named Ross Enamait illustrating how it doesn’t take much in the form of equipment to get strong. Ross demonstrates how you can progressively stress your entire body to the level of an elite athlete with nothing more than a handful of furniture sliders. Freaking elegant. 

This got me thinking: elegance is a common marker of mastery in just about every field of practice—from coaching, to writing, to medicine. Mastery generally means moving from simplicity to complexity to elegance. 

1. Simplicity
This is when you are first getting started with something. You’ve got to keep things very basic or else you’ll get overwhelmed. So you tackle one thing at a time, and often in a siloed manner. You are gradually building a toolkit but don’t yet understand the purpose of the tools, how they interact, or their potential to work together. 

2. Complexity
Now that you’ve got an understanding of all the tools, you’re excited about using them. So you use everything and come up with a narrative for how everything is necessary and fits together. You get swept up in the details because you can finally understand them. Plus, you tell yourself, the details matter! 

3. Elegance
You apply only what is needed to a certain situation and nothing more. Every action, sentence, or maneuver has a purpose. Constraints don’t bother you, they excite you. Your program is tight and efficient. You do more with less. 

Lots of people drop out in the simple zone. Entire industries prey upon those who get stuck in the complex zone. But it’s also true that you can only reach elegance if you move through simplicity and complexity first. So the point isn’t to avoid these zones. If you strive for elegance right off the bat you’ll end up with a mess. The point is to progress onward from each zone, to not quit or get stuck at a given phase for too long. It’s helpful to give each zone a name so you can take stock of where you are and define (ideally, with a coach or mentor) what it takes to move forward.

— Brad

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