Mastery Requires Boredom

In Make Yourself Clear, Reshan and I devote an entire section (one third of the book) to the practice, and play, of delight. Why?

Because, after studying teaching and learning for close to 20 years each, we concluded that, in situations that require us to understand others and increase their understanding, sparking joy, genuine curiosity, and intrinsically motivated persistence will always be more useful than leveraging fear, lack of relevance, and routine (MYC 129). It’s important to note, and we did, that delight is different from — sometimes antithetical to — novelty. As such, delight often includes stretches of boredom. You have to put in your reps, day after day after day, to transform yourself in ways that, ultimately, prove to be delightful.

I’m always happy — validated — to see other writers and researchers arrive at similar insights to my own from a completely different angle. Here’s an example of that kind of overlap — a quote from James Clear’s Atomic Habits that serves as a nice summation of some key parts of Make Yourself Clear.

He starts by quoting a former coach who told him that “really successful people . . . can handle the boredom of training ever day, doing the same lifts over and over and over.” And then he continues, in his own words:

Mastery requires practice. But the more you practice something, the more boring and routine it becomes. Once the beginner gains have been made and we learn what to expect, our interest starts to fade. Sometimes it happens even faster than that. All you have to do is hit the gym a few days in a row or publish a couple of blog posts on time and letting one day slip doesn’t feel like much. Things are going well. It’s easy to rationalize a day off because you’re in a good place.

The greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom. We get bored with habits because they stop delighting us. The outcome becomes expected. And as our habits become ordinary, we start derailing our progress to seek novelty. Perhaps this is why we get caught up in a never-ending cycle, jumping from one workout to the next, one diet to the next. As soon as we experience the slightest dip in motivation, we begin seeking a new strategy — even if the old one was still working.

Source: Page 234 of Atomic Habits by James Clear.

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