Lessons in Mastery, Going Downhill

Self mastery comes from applying things you’ve learnt and in which you see some degree of success or competency. Lessons of self mastery from a ski trip to north Japan.

Downhill skiing is one of the most exhilarating sports in which to take part, and possibly to watch. Even on a non-competitive level, there’s something about the mastery of manoeuvring your body, on a pair of skis, at some speed downhill. Similarly, watching a skier effortlessly carve ‘S’ – shaped turns on a slope freshly laden with powder is a sight to behold.
 
A few lessons I learnt from my recent ski trip to north Japan is worth exploring; These lessons are mainly centred around the concept of self-mastery. Mastery is key to success: If you subscribe to Bandura’s principles and research that much self esteem really comes from accomplishment, it’s no small thing to consider that as a Headline activity – like skiing – which takes a while to gain some degree of mastery – will boost your own ability to be confident about achieving your other goals. In short, self mastery comes from applying things you’ve learnt and in which you see some degree of success or competency. This encourages you to learn more, and to apply the learning in a virtuous cycle.
 
However, mastery is a slippery thing, and in skiing anyway, fraught with bumps, falls or even wipe-outs as they are called when you crash spectacularly; limbs flailing and skis detaching in different directions. One of the keys to mastery must surely revolve around un-learning as much as learning.  This can prove to be challenging if we’ve always perceived ourselves as competent and ‘good’ at what you do. Moving into a different arena can sometimes give us a fresh perspective to an old set of problems or issues.  In a classic coaching scenario, the coach is often given a task to try a new skill or a new mindset; followed by the coach and then revisiting the issue a few weeks later. We can ‘un-learn’ some mindsets we have about a specific workplace scenario or challenge some assumptions that no longer work for us. 
One of the keys to mastery must surely revolve around un-learning as much as learning.  This can prove to be challenging if we’ve always perceived ourselves as competent and ‘good’ at what you do.
In skiing, when we are moving downhill fast, we have a built in tendency to lean back as that feels safer than falling headfirst. We’ve learnt this whilst running downhill on foot.
However in skiing, doing that push your weight to the back of your skis , and depriving your ability to control the skis. You should, in fact, lean forward, putting more weight on the front of your feet to better able to point or direct the skis to where you wish to go.
 
And just when you think you’re doing quite well, you hit a patch of powder snow, and your skis slow down in the different conditions dramatically, causing your ankles and thus your lower legs to shoot backwards – resulting in a tumble.  You then begin to find out, with the proper coaching, that when skiing powder, a different set of rules apply.  The unlearning process is applied once again.
 
Taking calculated risks is key to mastery and success. Think of gaining confidence by taking a turn just that bit faster, or, linking some very strong turns of a steepening slope. Hey – you survived that section! And so it goes on. On the ski slopes, on the mountains, and in business, the most successful are not the daredevils or reckless practitioners but those who are practiced at taking successively bigger risks, matched with a rising level of commensurate skill and experience. With taking risks, you will be stuck on the ‘green’ slopes of beginners for a long time.
 
Certainly one of the best investments I’ve made on ski trip is to take some paid tuition or coaching from a ski instructor. A ski coach can see what you can’t : how you are lining up for that turn, how you negotiate a turn, tilt your body, plant your ski poles, and so on. In the workplace, executive coaches have been quantifiably shown to be worth 600% their investment. Sure, coaching isn’t cheap, but the ROI is fabulous at time. A coach can work on small improvements in strategic areas of your skiing or mindsets – leading to overall leaps of improvement in efficacy or skiing ability. A coach is there to observe, suggest changes in technique, have you apply them, and then re-assess when you have tried it.
So, looking at overall life mastery, consider the basis of this – competency and application in a set of skills; learning to unlearn; and being open to being coached to success.
 
Perhaps one of the biggest lessons from skiing that is transferable to your daily life is that, short of massive, life-threatening wipe out. Skiing is about taking various risks in a dynamic environment.  Picking yourself up after a fall comes with the sport . If you can cheerily bounce back up from the small bump and slips, you’re already ahead in terms of your attitude.
 
 
 

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