5 Truths About Work That Smart, Hard-Working People Easily Forget

Jun 23, 2015Brian McFadden
"What should I do with my life?"   This question wasn't so complex back in the ancient days when forging a career was straightforward. The way of the master craftsman and artisan was through the lost art of apprenticeship.   Years ago during the Middle Ages, a young person worked for free in exchange for training, housing and food. This season in the young persons life would label him or her as an "apprentice." This was the way you became a professional in your respective craft.   It typically took ten years to master a craft.   This process slowly faded and rapidly declined with the onset of the Renaissance age. Expansion of curiosity in art, philosophy, literature and science soon replaced apprenticeship. General education soon grew into a formal interest as the popularity of univesites exploded.   Because of this, the art of becoming a master receded like the ocean tide. Dedicating enormous amounts of time, effort and energy to becoming great at your craft seems like a painfully ancient way to forge a career these days.   But if we look at the current climate of employment, the stats tell us that something isn't working: Only 13% of employees say they are actively engaged with their work. In other words, 1 in 8 workers are psychologically committed to their jobs and likely to be making positive contributions to their organizations.   It's hard to believe that the problem is that people don't work hard enough. In fact, the full-time American worker clocks in an average of 47 hours a week.   The old way of apprenticeship seems outdated and the modern approach seems to be lackluster in providing fulfillment. And, we know the willingness to work isn't the issue. It's time for a fresh approach.   These 5 truths about work in the modern workplace will give you a new perspective to your vocation.    

1. It requires deliberate practice

To become excellent at your craft requires you to practice. Getting hired or promoted doesn't guarantee that you will expand your skills and get better over time. You have to put the work in to get better. This is easily witnessed in sports.   Jerry Rice grew up in a small town in Mississippi (population of 636). Jerry Rice was fast, but he didn't' have any natural aptitude for football.  Through his commitment to his craft and willingness to practice, he succeeded and became one of the greatest players of all time in the NFL.   What's interesting about his practice discipline was that it wasn't random. Coined as "deliberate practice," author Geoff Colvin claims this was the key to Rice's success. Deliberate practice is defined by several elements: Designed to improve performance; it can be repeated a lot, feedback on results is continually available; it's highly demanding and it isn't much fun.   In Rice's case he spent little time playing football (instead worked on his skills, running routes, catching balls etc.), he designed practice to work on his specific needs (he didn't work on drills that lineman needed to perfect), he did much of his work on his own and the practice wasn't much fun (running wind sprints up steep hills by yourself isn't normally labeled as "fun").   But in order to increase his skill set and improve his game, this is what it took. He was willing to work hard, and by providing a plan with deliberate practice he maximized his potential.   In regards to your work, do you have a plan for deliberate practice to improve your skills?   If you're in sales, you could be practicing your pitch (and live calls don't count). If you're a writer, you could be writing 500 words a day and getting feedback from editors. If you're a teacher, you could be studying on how different teaching methods will cater to different personatlites.   Becoming excellent requires deliberate practice. If you stop practicing, you stop growing. This is when work becomes stale.    

2. Learn how to tell a story

Finding facts was once a difficult thing to do. Today, you can google almost anything. This is a luxury that allows has many benefits and has thrusted us into the information age. It's intoicationg to be feed live feeds 24/7 and have access to any fact we're curious about.   But the problem is that when facts and information become instantly accessible via our electronic leashes (cell phones), each stat, each tweet, each number, each percentage, and each graph becomes less valuable. And, in some cases it just becomes numbing.   The skill that is shining through is the ability to take these facts in put them into a story that delivers emotional impact. Storytelling gives life to otherwise monotonous numbers and stats. It humanizes the linear approach to often assumed in business and in the workplace.   Analytical thinking will always be needed, but augmenting it with storytelling will allow you to stand out at work. People have an easier time understaning concepts and ideas when they are seen through the lens of a well-told story.   Regardless if you're an introvert or extrovert, storytelling can be leveraged. For those who enjoy speaking in front of other people, storytelling the old fashioned way with spoken words is the obvious route. However, if speaking in front of people isn't your thing, you can demonstrate amazing storytelling skills through writing, video or photography these days.   To get a better idea on how to tell stories, we suggest you read The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell.    

3. Willpower is finite

Roy Baumeister who has invested his career into studying self-control, did an interesting study in 1998. They invited subjects into a room and were told they were going to do a taste percetpion test. The subjects were intentionally fasted and hadn't anything to eat for several hours.   The researchers then broght in a large plate of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. They also brought out a plate of radishes.   Half of the subjects were invited to eat at least two or three cookies, but no radishes. The other half were insturctred to eat at least two or three radishes, but no cookies. None of the rules were broken from either subject party. After 5 minutes the resserachers came in and asked all of the subjects to complete a puzzel, which was rigged so it was impossilbe to complete.   The reserahcers wanted to know how long each subject would persist at solving the problem before throign in the towel and giving up.   This is where it starts to get intersting.   The chocolae chip eaters persisted for an average of nineteen minutes, compared to eight minutes for the radish eaters. Baumiester and his team theorized that the radish eaters had tapped into their resovior of willpower by resisting the chocolate chip cookies which left them with less mental energy to persist on the puzzle.   Baumeister goes on to say that we all have on resovior of will and discipline, and it gets depleted any time a conscoius act of decision is made. Writing a tough email. Deciding what cell phone service to go with. Do you mop the floors or do the dishes? Anything that requires effort to choose, dips into your self conrol strrenght.   This can't be neglected at work. Throught the day you face hundreds of decisions. Each one dips into your willpower tank. As the day progresses, your ability to complete difficult or complex tasks becomes more challenging.   By delegating your the tasks that require the most willpower early in the day will allow you to perform better on those respective issues. Leave low cognitive demand tasks like admin work, cleaning your desk off, or replying to a casual email from a friend for the end of the day.

4. Sleep is non-negotiable

We act like sleep is an indulgence or luxury. And our behavior proves that. The national average of sleep is around 6 hours, although it's recommend that we get 8 hours. Michael Hyatt says:  
Cheating our sleep is like maxing out our credit cards. There’s a benefit now (at least it feels like it), but the bill always comes due in the form of decreased health and mental ability.  
In fact, one study revealed that subjects who slept just six hours a night for 14 days had the cognitive wherewithal of someone with a .1% blood alcohol level. Our society puts high value on achievement and productivity, but gives very little attention to rest and sleep. The irony of course, is that sleep debt influences poor productivity and decreased cognitive performance. Thus, decreases the possibility of high achievement. https://youtu.be/SVQlcxiQlzI  

5. Employers want people with a growth mindset

Employers want people with a growth-mindset.   Those in a fixed mindset believe you either are or aren’t good at something, based on the cards nature has dealt you, because it’s just who you are. These people are devastated with failure and are afraid of being exposed of their shortcomings. People with a fixed mindset don't put a high value on learning and expanding their talent. They rely on the natural aptitude they have.   Those in a growth mindset believe anyone can be good at anything, because your skills and abilities are entirely due to your actions. These people view failure or mistakes as learning lessons to improve their skills. People with a fixed mindset have an insatiable thirst to learn and expand their talent. They believe pushing into the unfamiliar to learn new things is vital for continual improvement.   If you were an employer who would you want on your team based on these comparisons?   Factories are getting smaller. The tyrant leadership of telling people what to do for their jobs is fading. The forty-year career on a conveyor belt is dying.   Employees with a growth mindset are "intraprenuers." People who are on board with the companies mission, but take personal responsibility in their position and run it like their own business: That's what employers are looking for.   A person with a growth mindset is always providing value, sparking creativity, constantly learning and flexible enough to learn from failures without losing bravado.

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