Pursuit of mastery

Curium | 25 Mar 2016 | News | General

I’ve just gained my PhD, after seven long, long years. A labour of equal love and hate, this was the culmination of my research into how global pressures on agriculture could impact the UK’s food supply. There have been many ups and downs, dead ends, doubts but also epiphanies and moments when I felt I was making a difference with my research, however small.  This is an achievement and anyone who has been through the whole, torturous process knows what it has meant to get here.

There’s a but. After the initial elation, I feel a bit flat. I seem to have lost my sense of purpose and feel at a loose end. What on earth do I do now?! This made me wonder, is this the case when other people achieve their goals.

Apparently yes. So, what exactly is going on here? Well, in search of an answer I started to read Drive by Daniel Pink and it’s helped me to re-focus. Not as you would think on a new goal, but on the overall pursuit of mastery. I’ll explain my thinking.

Daniel Pink, in his book, talks about how to harness the powerful internal drive that all humans have to seek out new experiences and to learn. Enjoyment is highest when we can tap into this drive, rather than pursuing externally generated rewards or goals.  And experiences driven by this intrinsic motivation are more enduring and lead to greater happiness. One way to do this is to re-frame goals in terms of mastery – the pursuit of excellence in a particular field be it sporting, musical ability or expertise in your work.  Mastery requires a focus on smaller day-to day activities and the setting of learning goals (I want to learn how to play my favourite Muse tracks on the piano) rather than performance targets (I am going to achieve Grade 7 on the piano). The trick here is also to enjoy the task for its own sake, rather than just for the end goal; the activity itself is your reward. Oliver Burkeman, a psychologist, has also written about how daily activities linked to an overall purpose can be more rewarding. Here, the pay-off becomes a predictable supply of smaller, happy moments rather than one large pay-off at the end. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/nov/07/systems-better-than–goals-oliver-burkeman

So, this is my new goal – to pursue mastery. Just need to work out what in……

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