Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Mastery by Robert Greene – A Summary (Part IV)

Chapter IV See People as they are: Social Intelligence

The greatest obstacle to the pursuit of mastery comes from the emotional drain we experience in dealing with the resistance and manipulations of the people around us. Social Intelligence is the ability to see people in the most realistic light possible. Navigating smoothly the social environment, we have more time and energy to focus on learning and acquiring skills. Success attained without this intelligence is not true mastery, and will not last.

When interacting with people, view them from a detached position and do not get emotional. Focus completely on the people and cut off your own insecurities and desires from the equation. Have complete and radical acceptance of human nature just as how one accepts the thorns on a rose. To get upset or try to alter them is futile – it will only make them bitter and resentful.

“You must allow everyone the right to exist in accordance with the character he has, whatever it turns out to be: and all you should strive to do is to make use of this character in such a way as its kind of nature permits, rather than to hope for any alteration in it, or to condemn it offhand for what it is. This is the truest sense of the maxim – Live and let live… To become indignant at (people’s) conduct is as foolish as to be angry with a stone because it rolls into your path. And with many people the wisest thing you can do, is to resolve to make use of those whom you cannot alter.”

-          Arthur Schopenhauer

Benjamin Franklin was hopelessly naïve and completely misread the intentions of people around him. After facing many problems, he took efforts to gain social intelligence and that became the turning point of his career. With tranquil and productive social relations, he could focus more of his time and attention to writing, to questions of science, ti his endless inventions – to mastery.

Your view of people is dominated by the Naïve Perspective. Following Franklin’s example, you can reach this awareness by reviewing your past, paying particular attention to any battles, mistakes, tensions, or disappointments on the social front. If you look at these events from the Naïve Perspective, you will focus only on what other people have done to you – the mistreatments you endured fr5om them, the slights or injuries you felt. Instead you must turn this around and begin with yourself – how you saw in others qualities they did not possess, or how you ignored signs of a dark side to their nature. In doing this, you will be able to see the discrepancy between your illusions about who they are and the reality, and the role you played in creating this discrepancy. If you look closely enough, you can often perceive in your relationships with bosses or superiors re-enactments of the childhood family dynamic – the idealizing or demonizing that has become habitual.

Adjust your attitude but do not become cynical. The best attitude is one of supreme acceptance. Observe the human comedy and be as tolerant as possible. Social intelligence contains two components – general knowledge of human nature and specific knowledge of human nature. The deep analysis of these two components need to be read in full and practised as they are too valuable to be summarised.

Strategies for acquiring Social Intelligence

1.       Speak through your work

Understand that your work is the single greatest means at your disposal for expressing your social intelligence. By being efficient and detail oriented in what you do, you demonstrate that you are thinking of the group at large and advancing its cause. By making what you write or present clear and easy to follow, you show your care for the audience or public at large. By involving other people in your projects and gracefully accepting their feedback, you reveal your comfort with the group dynamic. Work that is solid also protects you from the political conniving and malevolence of others – it is hard to argue with the results you produce. If you are experiencing the pressures of political manoeuvring within the group, do not lose your head and become consumed with all of the pettiness. By remaining focused and speaking socially through your work, you will both continue to raise your skill level and stand out among all others who make a lot of noise but produce nothing.


2.       Craft the appropriate persona

Understand that people will tend to judge you based on your outward appearance. If you are not careful and simply assume that it is best to be yourself, they will begin to ascribe to you all kinds of qualities that have little to do with who you are but correspond to what they want to see. All of this can confuse you, make you feel insecure, and consume your attention. Internalizing their judgements, you will find it hard to focus on your work. Your only protection is to turn this around by consciously moulding these appearances, creating the image that suits you, and controlling people’s judgments. At times you will find it appropriate to stand back and create some mystery around you, heightening your presence. At other times you will want to be more direct and impose a more specific appearance. In general, you never settle on one image or give people the power to completely figure you out. You are always one step ahead of the public.


Creating such a persona is not evil or demonic. We all wear masks in the social arena, playing different roles in different environments. You are simply becoming more conscious of the process. Play to the public. Give them something compelling and pleasurable to witness.


3.       See yourself as others see you

We all have social flaws like that we talk too much or are too honest in our criticisms of people offense too easily when others do not respond positively to our ideas. If we repeat instances of such behaviour often enough, we tend to offend people without ever really knowing why.


We need to learn to see ourselves objectively. To do this, we should look at negative events in the past unemotionally. Dissect these occurrences and see what you did that either triggered or worsened the dynamic. In looking at several such incidents, we might begin to see a pattern that indicates a particular flaw in our character. We can also elicit opinions from those we trust about our behaviour, making certain to first reassure them that we want their criticisms.


4.       Suffer fools gladly

Fools have a different scale of values. They place importance on short term matters – grabbing immediate money, getting attention from the public or media, and looking good. They are ruled by their ego and insecurities. They tend to enjoy drama and political intrigue for their own sake. When they criticize, they always emphasize matters that are irrelevant to the overall picture or argument. They are more interested in career or position than in the truth. You can distinguish them by how little they get done, or by how hard they make it for others to get results. They lack a certain common sense, getting worked up about things that are not really important while ignoring problems that will spell doom in the long term.


The natural tendency with fools is to lower yourself to their level. They annoy you, get under your skin, and draw you into a battle. In the process, you feel petty and confused. You simply waste valuable time and emotional energy.


In dealing with fools you must adopt the following philosophy: they are simply a part of life, like rocks or furniture. Smile at their antics and tolerate their presence as you would a foolish child. Avoid the madness of trying to change them. It is all part of human comedy, and it is nothing to get upset about or lose sleep over. If they are causing you trouble, you must neutralize the harm they do by keeping a steady eye on your goals and what is important, and ignoring them if you can.


“It is a great folly to hope that other men will harmonize with us; I have never hoped this. I have always regarded each man as an independent individual, whom I endeavoured to understand with all his peculiarities, but from whom I desired no further sympathy. In this way have I been enabled to converse with every man, and thus alone is produced the knowledge of various characters and the dexterity necessary for the conduct of life."

- Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Mysteries behind the Writing Process

“You learn writing by writing.” I have so often heard this phrase and as the days go by, I understand the truths underlying behind it. When I wrote a first draft and completed it last year, it was futile to try and edit it. I didn’t know where to start and how to proceed further. It was because I can never write a book linearly, chronologically. I might be writing about how they had broken up yesterday and then write about how they fell in love today. So, at the end of the first draft, I had these massive bunch of pages that talk about the various scenes in people’s lives. The point of view and voices might change a lot between the scenes too. That’s why, short stories and poetry pretty much fitted me easily. I could hardly wander much there. Even if I did tend to, like the loyal sheep dog herding sheep, my pen would be herded by my stoic left brain to get back into the fence.

Something changed this time around. I started thinking about plotting and structure. My good bunch of NaNoWriMo friends told me plotting was not so bad for a pantser like me. So, after writing about nearly half of the first draft, I took a break to think. NaNoWriMo is just writing – just word count – thinking is not permitted. For 2-3 days, as my WC backlogged, I mulled over my story and then made some index cards. I wrote down a few lines about each scene I had written. Then, I placed them into the three act structure and marked the scenes pivotal to the hero’s journey. Quickly, I realised the scenes that were missing. Along the way, a perfectly thrilling climax showed itself up in my brain. I jotted it all down in more cards and placed them in their right slots. Hey presto, I was holding a cohesive draft in my hand.

I am still a pantser. It was after writing some 25000 words that I found out how the story ended. By the way, I have another early draft done some years ago for which I could never find an ending. So, at times, I shudder when I think what if I hadn’t found an end to this too. Then I remember Stephen King’s advice to keep writing as the characters do have to come out somewhere. Now, for the first time, I have an interconnected organised consistent draft. It still needs tons of editing but that is another story altogether.

Once this story is done, I am going back to those two drafts. They were wonderful tales, close to my heart and I’m going to give it my all to help them see the light of the day. Wish me luck!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Mastery by Robert Greene – A Summary (Part III)

Chapter III Absorb the Master’s Power: The Mentor Dynamic

Though it is rare luck to actually find a successful writer to mentor you, agents and publishers can be a huge help. Similarly, Greene says, if your circumstances limit your contacts, books can serve as temporary mentors. In such a case you will want to convert such books and writers into living mentors as much as possible. You personalize their voice, interact with the material, taking notes or writing in the margins. You analyse what they write and try to make it come alive – the spirit and not just the letter of their work.


To reach mastery requires some toughness and a constant connection to reality. As an apprentice, it can be hard for us to challenge ourselves on our own in the proper way, and to get a clear sense of our own weaknesses. Developing discipline through challenging situations and perhaps suffering along the way are no longer values that are promoted in our culture. People are increasingly reluctant to tell each other the truth about themselves – their weaknesses, their inadequacies, flaws in their work. This is abusive in the long run. It makes it hard for people to gauge where they are or to develop self-discipline. It makes them unsuited for the rigors of the journey to mastery. It weakens people’s will.

Strategies for deepening the mentor dynamic

1.       Choose the mentor according to your needs and inclinations

2.       Gaze deep into the mentor’s mirror

3.       Transfigure their ideas

4.       Create a back-and-forth dynamic


Thomas Alva Edison had no schools or teachers in his life. He turned to books, particularly anything he could find on science. In every city he spent time in, he frequented the public library. when he found Michael Faraday's two-volume Experimental Researches in Electricity, he followed all the experiments laid out in it and absorbed Faraday’s philosophical approach to science. Faraday became his role model.
Through books, experiments and practical experience at various jobs, Edison gave himself a rigorous education that lasted about 10 years. What made this successful was his relentless desire to learn through whatever crossed his path, as well as his self-discipline. He had developed the habit of overcoming his lack of an organized education by sheer determination and persistence.

If you are forced into this path, you must follow Edison’s example by developing extreme self-reliance. You become your own teacher and mentor. You push yourself to learn from every possible source. You read more books than those who have a formal education, developing this into a lifelong habit. As much as possible, you try to apply your knowledge in some form of experiment or practice. You find for yourself second degree mentors in the form of public figures who can serve as role models. Reading and reflecting on their experiences, you can gain some guidance.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Mastery by Robert Greene – A Summary (Part II)

Chapter II Submit to Reality: The Ideal Apprenticeship

Though writing is not provided as an apprenticeship, still there can be lots learned from reading and analysing the works of great writers, which in turn is a kind of passive apprenticeship.

The Apprenticeship Phase has 3 stages:

1)      Deep Observation - The Passive Mode

In this stage, we see how things work here, the rules of the land, the power relationships, and communications flow. For a would-be author, this could mean the way publishing works, the major players, the way to approach publishers, queries, formats, etc.


2)      Skills Acquisition - The Practice Mode

Apprentices usually learn the trade by watching the masters and imitating them as closely as possible. They learn through endless repetition and hands-on work. They need to focus deeply and not make mistakes, as the materials they worked on were expensive in the Middle Ages. Our brain is most suited to this kind of learning.


The cycle of accelerated returns occurs when practice becomes easier and more interesting, leading to the ability to practice for longer hours which increases skill level and makes practice even more interesting. Reaching this stage should be our goal and this is how we can do it:

a)      Begin with one skill that you can master and that serves as foundation for acquiring others. Develop concentration and avoid multi-tasking. For an author, this could mean concentrating on character development before moving on to dialogue, point of view, voice, plot, structure, description and so on.

b)      The initial stages of learning a skill involve tedium. We need to accept and embrace this pain and boredom. Greene says researchers have found out that it takes around 10,000 hours (around 7-10 years of solid practice) to attain this level of expertise and this applies to not only composers, chess players and athletes but writers too.


3)      Experimentation – The Active Mode

This is the stage wherein we expose our work to public, get criticism and work on it. We invent our own style, move past fears and develop a detachment to the work – looking at it through the eyes of others.


Strategies for completing the Ideal Apprenticeship


1)      Value learning over money

When Benjamin Franklin turned down the proposal to get into his father’s lucrative candle making business and entered his brother’s fickle printing business, no one knew that he did it because he was determined to become a writer. The new books all around him gave him a chance to study the texts in detail and teach himself how to imitate their style in his own work. Martha Graham says, ‘train yourself to get by with little money and make the most of your youthful energy.’ Your thoughts will tend to revolve around what you value most and you must value learning above everything else.


2)      Keep expanding your horizons

Zora Neale Hurston lost her mother when she was 13 and was abandoned by her father. She wandered among her various relatives and supported herself doing housekeeping.  In spite of it all, the mind is free and it can wander across time and space. She did not let go of her dream to become a writer. She chose the homes of the wealthiest white people who had plenty of books for her housecleaning jobs. She memorised portions on the sly and went over it in her head whenever she had free time. She got a strange sort of literary education. As the years passed by, she advanced her knowledge, gained formal knowledge and became the first black female writer ever to make a living from her work. Her story tells us that

Ø  No one will give you direction

Ø  You have to do it yourself, and

Ø  With great energy

Ø  Reading books and materials that go beyond what is required is always a good starting point.

Ø  Mingle with different types of people

Ø  Outside schooling helps

Ø  Be relentless in your pursuit for expansion.


3)      Revert to a feeling of inferiority

Learning disabilities tend to fester and grow in our minds as we grow older. This includes smugness and superiority as well as rigid ideas about what is real or true. Revert to a feeling of dependence.


4)      Trust the process

What separates Masters from others is often something surprisingly simple. Whenever we learn a skill, we frequently reach a point of frustration – what we are learning seems beyond our capabilities. It is not just a matter of determination but also trust and faith. We need to overcome this frustration and enter the cycle of accelerated returns.


When it comes to mastering a skill, time is the magic ingredient. Impatience, boredom, panic, frustration and insecurity are the real impediments.


5)      Move toward resistance and pain

When John Keats was 8, his father passed away and his mother died 7 years later. Being the eldest child, he was taken out of school and enrolled as an apprentice to a surgeon. However, he had developed a love for literature in the last few terms at school and he returned to school during off-hours and read as many book as he could in the library. He wanted to try his hand at writing poetry. So, he read the works of all the greatest poets of the 17th and 18th centuries. He then wrote his own poems, using the poetic form and style of the particular writer he was trying to model himself after. He had a knack for imitation and soon he was creating verses in dozens of different styles, always tweaking them a little with his own voice.


Several years into this process, Keats decided to devote his life to writing poetry. He needed to make a living at it. To complete the rigorous apprenticeship he had already put himself through, he decided that what he needed was to write a very long poem about 4000 lines in seven months. He will write 50 lines a day, until he had a first draft. After some 3000 lines, he hated the poem he was writing but still he willed his way through and met the deadline he had set.


In the aftermath of writing what he considered to be a mediocre poem, Keats learned some valuable lessons:

a)      He would never ever suffer from writer’s block again – he had trained himself to write past any obstacle

b)      He had acquired now the habit of writing quickly, with intensity and focus – concentrating his work in a few hours.

c)       He could revise with equal speed

d)      He had learned how to criticize himself and his overly romantic tendencies.

e)      He could look at his own work with a cold eye.

f)       He had learned that it was in the actual writing of the poem that the best ideas would often come to him, and that he had to boldly keep writing or he would miss such discoveries.

g)      He had also hit upon the style that suited him – language as compact and dense with imagery as possible, with not a single wasted line.


By nature, we humans shrink from anything that seems possibly painful or overtly difficult. Knowing that in our practice we can let down our guard, since we are not being watched or under pressure to perform, we bring to this a kind of dispersed attention. We tend to get conventional in our practice routines and follow what others have done. To attain mastery, you must adopt RESISTANCE PRACTICE:


1)      You resist the temptation to be nice to yourself. You become your own worst critic. You recognise your weaknesses and you work on it. You find a kind of perverse pleasure in moving past the pain this might bring.

2)      You resist the lure of easing up on your focus. Concentrate in practice with double the intensity. You give yourself arbitrary deadlines to meet certain standards, constantly pushing yourself past perceived limits. In this way you develop your own standards for excellence, generally higher than those of others.


6)      Apprentice yourself in failure

There are two kinds of failure-

1)      Failure from never trying out ideas since you are afraid or because you are waiting for the perfect time. This timidity will destroy you as you can never learn from this kind of failure.

2)      Failure from a bold and venturesome spirit. The hit to your reputation in this case will be far outweighed by what you learn. So, act on your ideas as early as possible, expose them to public and have a part of you hope they will fail.


7)      Combine the “how” and the “what”

We live in two worlds - the world of appearances, the forms of things that captivate our eye and the world of “how”, how things function, their anatomy, the parts that work together to form the whole. Some five hundred years ago, art and science split. Renaissance combined these two forms of knowledge and this is why the works of Leonardo da Vinci still fascinates us. A more rounded knowledge is the way of the future as so much information is now available to us. This should be a part of our apprenticeship.


8)      Advance through trial and error

You must learn as many skills as possible. You should avoid the trap of following one set career path. Though you don’t know where it will lead, you should take full advantage of the openness of information. You see what kind of work suits you and what you want to avoid at all costs. You move by trial and error.




There are no shortcuts or ways to bypass the apprenticeship phase. Mozart and Einstein seem to appear like creative geniuses out of nowhere. Mozart started when he was four. He wrote his original and substantial piece of music after 10 years of composing. Einstein began his serious thought experiments when he was 16 and came up with his first revolutionary theory of relativity after 10 years.


“It is like chopping down a huge tree of immense girth. You won’t accomplish it with one swing of your axe. If you keep chopping away at it, though, and do not let up, eventually, whether it wants to or not, it will suddenly topple down. When that time comes, you round up everyone you could find and pay them to hold the tree up, but they wouldn’t be able to do it. It would still come crushing to the ground… But if the woodcutter stopped after one or two strokes of his axe to ask the third son of Mr. Chang, “Why doesn’t this tree fall?” And after three or four more strokes stopped again to ask the fourth son of Mr. Li, “Why doesn’t this tree fall?” he would never succeed in felling the tree. It is no different for someone who is practicing the Way.”


-          Zen Master Hakun

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Mastery by Robert Greene – A Summary (Part I)

 Mastery by Robert Greene – A Summary (Part I)

I have reviewed this book before but after the second reading, I realised that the concepts within its pages are intense and the ideas too many that having a summary would definitely help me.
Disclaimer: This summary is my interpretation of the book to suit my pursuits, dreams and goals.
We all are born with the capability to do what we please. We hold the key to our fortunes but the skill to mould that capability ‘into what we want must be learned and attentively cultivated,’ says Wolfgang Goethe. The great danger is that we give in to feelings of boredom, impatience, fear and confusion. We stop observing and learning. The process comes to a halt.

“Why do we need mastery? Why work years when you can achieve so much power with so little effort? Technology will solve everything.” Do not have this passivity. Do not believe the moral stance that says, ‘mastery and power are evil’. You will unconsciously lower your sights as to what you can accomplish in life. This can diminish your levels of effort and discipline below the point of effectiveness. Do not listen more to others than to your own voice. Do not choose a career based on what peers and parents tell you or on what seems lucrative. Lack of true desire will catch up with you and your work will become mechanical. So,

a)      See your attempt at attaining mastery as something extremely necessary and positive. The passive ironic attitude is not cool or romantic, but pathetic and destructive.

b)      People get the mind and quality of brain that they deserve through their actions in life. Work to see how far you can extend control of your circumstances and create the kind of mind you desire.

As you progress, old ideas and perspectives die off; as new powers are unleashed, you are initiated into higher levels of seeing the world. Anything that is alive is in a continual state of change and movement. The moment that you rest, thinking that you have attained the level you desire, a part of your mind enters a phase of decay.

“The geniuses all possessed that seriousness of the efficient workman who first learns to construct the parts properly before he ventures to fashion a great whole; they allowed themselves time for it, because they took more pleasure in making the little, secondary things well than in the effect of a dazzling whole.” – Friedrich Nietzsche.

Section I Discover your calling: The Life’s Task

“Just as a well-filled day brings blessed sleep, so a well-employed life brings a blessed death.” – Leonardo da Vinci.

The way to mastery can begin at any point in life. The process of realizing your Life’s Task comes in 3 stages:

1)      You must connect or reconnect with your inclinations - that sense of uniqueness. This step is inward. Clear away confusing voices (parents and peers) and look for an underlying pattern, a core to your character that you must understand as deeply as possible.


2)      Look at the career path you already on or are about to begin. The choice of this path – or redirection of it – is critical. Talking about work-life balance seems illogical as work forms a large part of life. To see work as a means to earn money to seek pleasure in the hours after work is a sad way of experiencing life. Work should be inspiring and engaging. (I have some reservations with this view of Greene. Isn’t it said that an artist works better on a filled stomach? Also, this may be more applicable when you start out in life as a 15-18 year old not as a married with kids 30+ year old. I’m not going into the arguments as this is just a summary and not an analysis.)


3)      Finally, you must see your career more as a journey with twists and turns rather than a straight line.

Ø  Begin by choosing a field or position that roughly corresponds to your inclinations. Don’t start with something too lofty or too ambitious.

Ø  Make a living and establish some confidence. Discover side routes that attract you and discard ones that leave you cold. Keep expanding your skill base.

Ø  Eventually, you will hit upon a particular field, niche, or opportunity that suits you perfectly. You will recognise it when you find it because it will spark that childlike sense of wonder and excitement; it will feel right.

Ø  Once found, everything will fall in place. You will learn more quickly and more deeply. Your skill level will reach a point where you will be able to claim your independence from within the group you work for and move out on your own.

Ø  You will no longer be subject to the whims of tyrannical bosses or scheming peers.

What we lack most in the modern world is a sense of a larger purpose to our lives. “Become who you are by learning who you are” – Pindar.

Strategies for finding your Life’s Task

“Whoever is born with a talent, or to a talent, must surely find in that the most pleasing of occupations!” Wolfgang Goethe

1)      Return to your origins – The primal inclination strategy

In order to master a field, you must love the subject and feel a profound connection to it. Your interest must transcend the field itself and border on the religious.


2)      Occupy the perfect niche – The Darwinian strategy

Choose a niche that corresponds to your deepest inclinations – one that you can dominate. It is not a simple process to find such a niche. It requires patience and a particular strategy:

Ø  Choose a field that corresponds to your interests.

Ø  From there, you can look for side paths that attract you and move into a narrower field. You keep doing this till you hit an unoccupied niche.

Ø  Or, you master one field, then another and create a new field combining both or you make novel connections between them.


3)      Avoid the false path- The rebellion strategy

Do not choose a path for money, fame, attention, etc. Don’t act out anxieties and the need to please parents. Scoff at the need for attention and approval – they will lead you astray. Let your sense of rebellion fill you with energy and purpose.


4)      Let go of the past – The adaptation strategy

If change is forced on you, do not overreact or feel sorry for yourself. Don’t abandon the skills and experience gained but find a new way to apply them. These creative readjustments might lead to a superior path.


5)      Find your way back – The life-or-death strategy

No good can ever come from deviating from the path you are destinied to follow. Don’t deviate on the lure of money. It will take you further away from the path. Keep your focus on 5-10 years down the road, when you will reap the rewards of your efforts. The process of getting there is full of challenges and pleasures.



Ignore weaknesses and resist the temptation to be more like others. Direct yourself towards the simple things you are good at rather than making grand plans for the future. Concentrate on becoming proficient in these skills and develop confidence. Learn the value of discipline and reap the rewards.

“Sooner or later something seems to call us onto a particular path. You may remember this “something” as a signal calling in childhood when an urge out of nowhere, a fascination, a peculiar turn of events struck like an anunciation: This is what I must do, this is what I’ve got to have. This is who I am… if not this vivid or sure, the call may have been more like gentle pushings in the stream in which you drifted unknowingly to a particular spot on the bank. Looking back, you sense that fate had a hand in it… A calling may be postponed, avoided, intermittently missed, it may also possess you completely. Whatever; eventually it will out. It makes its claim… extraordinary people display calling most evidently. Perhaps that’s why they fascinate. Perhaps, too, they are extraordinary because their calling comes through so clearly and they are so loyal to it… extraordinary people bear the better witness because they show what ordinary mortals simply can’t. We seem to have less motivation and more distraction. Yet our destiny is driven by the same universal engine. Extraordinary people are not a different category; the workings of this engine in them are simply more transparent…”

-          James Hillman  





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