The Prepared Mind: Skills v States

To tackle the wicked problems of our present and future, we need to embrace a strange, counter-intuitive irony: as organizations across all sectors continue to create and adopt technologies like artificial intelligence, employees need to stay relevant by increasing their subjective intelligence.

My research on master craftsmen and how they gain mastery might be the place to seek initial solutions. One way to do that is to increase self-awareness with your inner experience. As you learn to manage your feelings, you clear the way to develop a greater feel for your work.

Credit: Alina Grubnyak

Credit: Alina Grubnyak

Living and working with Craft is about being confident in your vision, knowing how to get there, and what it will do for your life. Most of us focus on the how—those more tangible skills that map where we need to be.

Because the idea of mission and fulfillment are more ethereal—they require a bit of a leap of faith. In the space between hard skills and soft skills lies the unknown. In the unknown is where a whole spectrum of emotions from excitement to anxiety reside.

When we are confronted by emotions that trouble us we reach for the concrete. We focus on the result.

For example, constructive self-talk is the skill to mastering a state of confidence in any condition—but how many of us think of that while we are beating ourselves up for not being confident? Regulated breathing is the skill to mastering a state of being calm in any condition—but how often are we gaining awareness of our breathing when we feel under attack by a manager or peer?

When we get into environments that are stressful or have pressure and consequence, and we abandon our goals and skills only to survive, it’s because we lack the mental skills. Effective self-management comes through honed skills like constructive self-talk and regulated breathing while one is under pressure. We have to be tested over and over and over again to develop mastery of mental skills.


As you explore your inner world, your outer world will come more sharply into focus.

As you face your imagined barriers, you will encounter real ones, as well.

—Julia Cameron


PRACTICE: How do you apply this idea yourself?

Write in a journal. Write without stopping for 15 minutes every day. Increase that time if you can or want to. If you can be honest on paper, you can find out who you are.

For people new to journaling, there is a pressure to choose certain words to express. Sometimes you self-edit, sometimes you gain clarity. With clarity comes conviction.

Everyone has a voice. When it comes to being effective, it's critical to listen to its tone and content.

If you find yourself blaming your (mental) tools, do something about it. Learn about mental models, learn from how Craftsmen talk about how they learn and get better at what they do and more importantly, take ownership. Moving forward requires change but change by itself does not mean that you are moving forward. As Socrates said, “The un-examined life is not worth living.”

Christine Haskell, Ph.D. is a leadership consultant and adjunct faculty at Washington State University. She helps busy leaders take responsibility for their learning and development. She writes on the topic of “Craftsmanship and The Future of Work.” sharing lessons from master craftsmen and women on personal and professional mastery, is due out late 2019. Sign up for her (semi-regular) newsletter here.