I just finished reading an outstanding new book by author Eric Chester entitled, Reviving Work Ethic: A Leader’s Guide to Ending Entitlement and Restoring Pride in the Emerging Workforce.  According to Chester, “The emerging workforce must shed their notions about being entitled to a job, and about reward coming before effort.”


When this this mindset pop up?  While it is certainly true that today’s Generation Y (ages 16-24) may not share the same work ethic that Generation X (ages 30-45)  and Baby Boomers (ages 46-64)  grew up with, expecting reward before effort…well, that seems… entitled.

The great thing about excellence is it doesn’t care who you are or what generation you come from.  It knows -without question – that to achieve it, effort is required.   As I wrote about in my blog on developing hunger, excellence is earned, not given.  Or to put it another way, effort is not optional, no matter how entitled one thinks they are to success.

So if you want to succeed, if you want to excel, and if you are willing, eager, and commited to doing whatever it takes to achieve your goal, effort is key.  Here are 3 strategies to practice and develop this critical value as you literally work toward excellence.

To develop the Value of EFFORT:

1.  Practice Working Hard.  Legendary Coach John Wooden valued hard work so much as a coach and teacher that he made “industriousness” one of the cornerstones to his famous Pyramid of Success.  Wooden biographer Steve Jamison states, “For most people, ‘work’ meant going through the motions, putting in time, enduring boredom.  Industriousness, as coach called it, meant true work at your highest capacity, fully engaged, totally focused, and completely absorbed.  No clock-watching, no punching in and out, no going through the motions…in fact, industriousness entails rising above the level of hard work.”

This is what hard work really looks like.  So if you or someone you know tends to be complacent, lazy, easily distracted, or only willing to give the minimum, then practice working hard.  What exactly should you practice?  Get up earlier.  Arrive to work earlier.  Stay later.  Prepare for your day the night before.  Make a to-do list and do those things at a high level and check them off.  Put energy and passion into what you are doing.  Take more time.  Strive for quality.  Be thorough and detail oriented.  Take pride in everything you do and develop a low tolerance for mediocrity – in yourself and others.      

2.  Practice Self-Discipline.  What does it mean to be self-disciplined?  Vince Lombardi said, “Mental toughness is many things and rather difficult to explain. Its qualities are sacrifice and self-denial.  Also, most importantly, it is combined with a perfectly disciplined will that refuses to give in. It’s a state of mind-you could call it character in action.”

Making the effort – working hard – in pursuit of excellence means disciplining yourself to make smart choices and decisions over time.  It is what separates excellence from mediocrity, as self-discipline is often one of the values mediocre performers seem to lack.  They cave to peer pressure, go with the crowd,  and side with whatever the average are thinking.  Self discipline allows you to stand out from the mass and puts you in a position to succeed.  What are some ways to practice self-discipline?

Self-discipline is about sacrifice and making smart choices when faced with alternatives that might be more popular or even more fun.  For example, choose to practice instead of going out with friends.  Choose to study instead of going to the party.  Choose to maintain your academic integrity by not cheating on the exam.  Choose to exercise when you don’t feel like it.  Choose to eat healthy and drink plenty of water.  Choose to read rather than play video games.  Choose to maintain professionalism while others create drama.  Choose to finish an important project rather than check your email and Facebook.  In other words, choose to discipline yourself.

3.  Practice Visualization.

When people talk about hard work, they often refer to the physical effort – the training, the practicing, and the conditioning it takes to achieve peak performance.  But mental effort is just as critical to your success.   Ask Olympic athletes about their mental effort and you will hear story after story about their process of mental practice and visualization.  Simply put, visualization is practicing your performance in your mind.  It is about seeing yourself give an ideal performance dozens of times in your mind before you do it for real.

Olympic gold medal swimmer Kieren Perkins credits his success in the 1992 and 1996 games  with visualization.  “I start months before the event.  I just sit there and visualize the race in my mind.  I dive into the pool.  I’m swimming strongly.  I’m out in front.  The crowd [is] roaring.  I can hear them.  No one can catch me.  I even see myself…with the gold medal placed around my neck.”  So how do you practice visualization?

  • Find a quiet place with no distractions.
  • Relax and close your eyes.
  • Visualize yourself giving a speech, presentation, or performance.
  • Notice what you are wearing, your audience, and your surroundings.
  • See yourself performing in real time, or watching yourself as a member of the audience.
  • Visualize it going extremely well, your ideal performance.
  • Notice how you feel afterwards and the audience’s response.
  • Repeat this process several times before the actual event.  By the time you get to the big day, your mind thinks you have already done it successfullty several times.

“Sports scientists concluded that the subconscious mind cannot differentiate between what is real and what is imagined.” -John Gorrie

Finally, remember that both physical and mental effort are required to achieve excellence – and effort is completely within your control!