The Webster definition of mastery is“possession or display of a great skill or technique” and, as such, it can be applied to anything from playing a musical instrument to running a marathon, while the definition of performance is the “act or action of carrying out or accomplishing a task”.
What’s interesting is that the Webster definition of performance does not include judgment, yet we often evaluate our performance based on how well we did or didn’t do. The difference between saying, “I completed the golf game” versus “I shot a 120 today – I performed poorly” is that when feedback is evaluated from a perspective of “good or bad” versus just information, it limits our opportunity to learn and grow from the experience.
The shift in focus from performance to mastery is not new and has been utilized in a variety of industries. It is the equivalent of a golfer concentrating on his swing or a swimmer working on his stroke. It is the difference between making a small change in our eating habits and “mastering” that behavior versus judging our performance based solely on the numbers on the scale. The concentration on mastery of a skill or technique and building on that provides the motivation and momentum to create performance that is long-term and sustainable.
This concept can be utilized in all aspects of college planning, from standardized test prep to time management. Focusing on a goal of “mastery” helps to lessen stress and overwhelm which increases our ability to learn, enhances our propensity to stay motivated, and ultimately impacts our overall performance long-term.
I had the opportunity to implement this with one of my students who was having difficulty with time management. He was staying up anywhere from 11pm to 1:00am each evening and having a hard time staying awake in class, let alone getting up in the morning. Each week, he set out a performance goal of “getting seven hours of sleep a night” and each night that he didn’t do that, he felt frustrated and discouraged. I asked him whether he performed better at night or in the morning and he said that he actually was fresher in the morning. I also asked him if he had any time during school to study and he said that he did have a break in 2nd period, but he was always so exhausted, he couldn’t maximize that opportunity.
So we tried an experiment. I asked him to focus on stopping whatever he was working on by 11:00pm He could go to sleep and wake up whenever he wanted, but he had to stop working at 11:00pm. The focus was on mastering this technique of a “stop-time”, versus the pressure of achieving the performance goal of getting 7 hours of sleep. He agreed to do that for a week and observe what happened.
Within a week, he had absolutely “mastered” that goal. Knowing that he had to stop at 11:00pm, he managed his time each evening so that he got done what he needed to and if he didn’t, the awesome part was that he had a good six and a half hours sleep each night, which gave him more energy during the day. He experimented on the “mastery” of that skill and altered his “stop-time” from 11:00pm to 10:30pm to see what happened. By the end of the month, he had achieved his performance goal and was sleeping seven hours a night. The best part, is when he realized how this “mastery process”, as he called it, could be utilized in other areas of his life!
When a student is able to complete the “action of carrying out the task” whether it be time management, developing their college list, visiting colleges or writing their essay AND utilize the awareness and knowledge they gain from the “mastery” of the skills, techniques and tools they used in the process, this creates the confidence and resilience that will impact performance throughout their life!
Which is truly the definition of “mastering the opportunity”!