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The Magic of Mastery

07/15/2013 04:03 pm ET | Updated Sep 14, 2013

Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post and watch the TEDTalk below.

BLACK's TEDTalk "My Journey to Yo-Yo Mastery" is a spectacle -- but not just because he can do insane tricks with a yo-yo. It's spectacular because it's a simple showcase of human potential. In his talk, BLACK revealed a few things that helped him become a master of his craft.

Tennyson said that the happiness of a man consists in the mastery of his passions. Clearly, BLACK has passion for the yo-yo. But his isn't an obsessive passion, where the activity controls him. It's a harmonious passion, where he's in the driver's seat. Harmonious passions have outcomes that make you more flexible, and they're linked to conscientiousness and even extraversion. Obsessive passions, on the other hand, create rigidity, and are linked to perfectionism and neuroticism.

BLACK said that with effort and passion, nothing is impossible. His optimism shows through in that sentiment, but BLACK also felt a sense of purpose about his craft: ""I wanted to show onstage how spectacular the yo-yo could be -- to change the public's image of the yo-yo."

Playing with a yo-yo didn't lead him anywhere. But his intrinsic motivation pushed him to simply keep doing it for its own sake. -- Meghan Keener

After returning to Japan following his first win at the World Yo-Yo Contest, BLACK says nothing changed in his life, and that society didn't value his passion. Playing with a yo-yo didn't lead him anywhere. But his intrinsic motivation pushed him to simply keep doing it for its own sake. Ironically, as Dan Pink's talk illustrated, this kind of motivation can lead to successful outcomes anyway.

When Black is tossing a yo-yo (or two) across the stage, he's in a state of flow. In flow, you're not self-conscious or aware of time passing, because you're completely absorbed in whatever you're doing. But you can't get flow from just any activity, because it requires that the challenge is matched with the skill you need for the task. If the challenge is too small for your skill, you'll feel bored. On the other hand, if the challenge is too hard, you'll be frustrated. BLACK has had to make his tricks more difficult incrementally to maintain the feeling of flow he gets.

To do so, BLACK spent "hours and hours a day" building his skill up to the next level. Michelangelo once said, "If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn't seem so wonderful at all." BLACK's website says that his achievements haven't been a result of his talent, but a result of his extraordinary effort. You might have heard of the "10,000 Hour-Rule" of deliberate practice popularized in Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers. In BLACK's case, the intense practice resulted in a second championship. And all that working intensely over a long period of time towards a specific goal also built BLACK's grit, a character trait known to be a better predictor of success than SAT or I.Q. scores.

Lastly, it's been said that true genius requires excellence across several domains. BLACK stepped all his hours of practice up a notch by cross-training in dance, acrobatics, and other disciplines, giving him an edge above the competition.

We all want to excel in certain areas of our lives, master our skills, and connect our passions with a larger purpose. By taking a closer look at the ingredients of mastery, maybe we can step more fully into our own unique potential -- and dazzle the masses just like BLACK.

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