Becoming A Master With Mr. Miyagi

Mr. Miyagi catching a fly with chopsticks

In a scene from “The Karate Kid”, Daniel is up late into the night painting Mr. Miyagi’s house. Mr. Miyagi gets home from fishing, and Daniel gets upset. Daniel has been painting all day, and Mr. Miyagi just leaves to go fishing?! Mr. Miyagi reminds Daniel that things are not as they seem. Daniel disagrees. He starts complaining about how he’s supposed to be karate training, but instead all he’s been doing is painting the fence, sanding the floor, and waxing the cars. He’s just been Mr. Miyagi’s slave.

Mr. Miyagi pulls Daniel aside and has him demonstrate the many techniques he has learned. Daniel casually shows “wax the car”, and “paint the fence”, and “sand the floor”. He is lackluster and irritated. Mr. Miyagi corrects his technique several times. Then, in a moment of brilliance, Mr. Miyagi throws a series of karate attacks at Daniel. Daniel instinctively uses the very techniques he was complaining about to fend off the attacks.

That’s when the realization hits. Daniel suddenly realizes that all his hard work—his supposed “slavery”—has been actual karate training. Daniel thought he was just doing boring, monotonous work for Mr. Miyagi. In reality, Daniel had been developing the defensive techniques necessary to learning karate.

Come Back Tomorrow

Then, having taught Daniel that very important lesson, Mr. Miyagi wisely sums up the evening: “Come back tomorrow.” That in and of itself is a great life lesson. The key to success is to keep going. Do your best today, and then “come back tomorrow”. Too often, on our path to mastery, we think the daily grind is holding us back. Instead, it’s the exact opposite. Those repetitive and boring tasks teach us the very lessons we need in order to master a job or habit.

To paraphrase Thomas Edison, “[Mastery] is missed by most because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” He has a great point. To truly master something, we must put in the hours. I think the karate taught by Mr. Miyagi exemplifies this idea. In fact, the similar martial art “Kung Fu” is made up of two characters in Chinese. The first one, Kung, means skillful work, hard training, or endeavor. And the second, Fu, means time spent. How appropriate. Kung Fu could easily be a synonym with mastery.

So let’s talk about how to master a job. Why you would want to. And what the benefits are.

Quick History Of Mastery Points

Before we get into that, let’s do a quick bit of history behind mastery points.

Years ago, back when we were using the paper point charts in our home, we wanted a way to reward our kids for consistency. So, on payday, I would review their week with them. If they didn’t miss a single day for their job, I would turn the paper over and give write in big letters: “1 Mastery Point”. (At least, I think that’s what we called it). If they collected 10 of these papers, I would take them on a super-outing. We would go to the movies, or out to dinner, or on a camping trip, to the river, or to a water park.

Keep in mind, these were activities we were already planning. My wife and I wanted to do these things with the kids. Only now, our kids were really motivated to work hard and get their jobs done. It was like a game to our kids, and everyone benefitted.

Now, with the app, we have much better ways to track progress than little slips of paper. But the concept remains the same. We reward for consistent effort and work. In our blog about layering rewards, we talked about three types of rewards: short-term, medium-term, and long-term. Mastery points are definitely long-term rewards.

How To Master A Job And Why Rotating Jobs Don't Work

In order to master a job, you have to have three things. You have to:

  1. Do the job well
  2. Do the job quickly
  3. Do the job consistently

Step #1: Do The Job Well

In order to do the job well, you have to know how to do the job in the first place. We created chore training videos for this very purpose. You can read about those here. We recommend a checklist of things to do. Clearly define what qualifies as “done”.

What really helps is to have a person inspecting your job. When you know there is someone who is going to review your work, you tend to do a better job. If the inspector has a checklist—that is the same checklist you have—you can both agree if a job is done well. Read more about who to choose as “The Hard-Boiled Job Inspector” here.

There are a lot of reasons why you would want your kids to learn to do their jobs well. After all, we believe that anything worth doing is worth doing well. But more importantly, we want our children to learn that lesson for life. We don’t want them thinking they can get by on “good enough”. Good enough isn’t good enough.

Mastery And Khan Academy

A great example of this is Khan Academy. My wife has tried all sorts of math programs over the years with our kids. The one she keeps coming back to is Khan Academy. It is the only math program that requires mastery of a topic before allowing the student to move on. In fact, the student has to master any particular topic a total of five times before Khan Academy passes them off. Five times!

The nice thing about that is, there is no confusion for the student when they move on to the next grade level. They won’t feel left behind or lost. They have truly mastered the topics. They can easily learn new topics that add on to their previous knowledge. It’s not going to be overwhelming.

Other programs, on the other hand, allow the students to “graduate” with only 70% mastery. Yikes! That isn’t mastery of a subject. That’s barely passable. And that is a dangerous precedent to teach kids.

If a kid grows up thinking they just have to do 70% on any given task, how does that translate into the real world? Would you want that person as your dentist? Or as your plumber? Or as the person creating your food? Is “good enough” acceptable when it comes to how your house is made? Or your car? What if your mobile phone worked 70% of the time?

No, we want our professionals to do 100% good work, 100% of the time. In fact, we get upset when our products are not done 100% right. Why not teach kids that concept while they are young? At home, in the home, is where it’s time to teach to do jobs well.

Step #2: Do The Job Quickly

This is where the job timer comes in handy. When they are first learning to work—and developing their work ethic—kids tend to dawdle. They don’t work hard. They take their sweet time. They get distracted.

We recommend using the job timer. There are lots of good reasons for this. First, it sets a deadline for completing the job. Nobody wants job time to go on forever. It’s not good for parents, and it’s not good for kids. Having a definitive “out” for job time helps. Second, the job timer teaches your kids to work fast. Get the job done and move on.

Read more about “Your Friend, The Job Timer” here.

Step #3: Do The Job Consistently

Learning to work begins at home
Learning to work begins at home.

Consistency is at the core of Moneypants. The program is designed in every way to motivate consistent effort and work ethic. There are immediate rewards, short-term rewards, and long-term rewards built into the app. These all help motivate consistency. When a person develops consistency of effort, they eventually develop mastery.

We recommend keeping the same jobs for at least six months. Ideally, everyone would keep the same job for a year. That way they learn to become extremely proficient at it. They perfect their skills in that one job. That brings great confidence. It’s also relaxing. Kids who have mastered their job find that job time is a time to get their best thinking done. They don’t have to stress about the job. They’re in autopilot. They can let their minds wander and think about other things.

My wife assigned herself the dishes many years ago. She wanted to learn that consistency. She also wanted to overcome her childhood dread of the dishes. She found that after a few short months of consistently doing it, she started to enjoy doing the dishes. It was relaxing to her. She also did her best thinking while doing the dishes. For some reason, doing repetitive, boring tasks (that need to get done) lets the brain start to think deep thoughts. Great problems get solved while mowing the lawn, plowing the fields (Philo Farnsworth developed the TV!), or doing the dishes.

Why Not Rotate Jobs?

Many families like the rotating chore chart. They think it will help everyone learn all the jobs of the home. Sadly, though, they almost never work. More often than not, there will be kids who will not work at all and rely on the previous person to do the job. There is no way to know who did the jobs. If the previous person did a great job, then the next person would not have to do anything. Only a few kids learn to work in this situation.

The Moneypants app purposely does not include an option to rotate jobs daily, weekly, or monthly. Instead, the Moneypants program is specifically designed for job assignments to last for an entire year. There are significant benefits to assigning out the jobs for this long:

  • There is less confusion and stress in the household. No wondering “What’s my job this week or this day?” Instead, everyone knows what to expect and plan for.
  • Individuals become specialists at their particular jobs and get very fast at doing them well. Quality of work is much higher. They tend to view their job zone as their stewardship. The goal is that by the time your children leave home they will have mastered all the chores in the house.
  • No family member can blame others for their job not being done well. There is only one person in charge of an area or chore. The inspector can clearly see who is putting in the work and who is not. No one will manage to trick the system and potentially avoid contributing by piggy backing on the work of others. (We’ve personally seen this happen.)
  • This slower rotation of jobs helps individuals develop work ethic. When they realize they have the same job for a year, they accept it and learn to embrace it instead of trying to avoid the jobs they don’t like. When jobs rotate frequently, individuals tend to secretly hold out hope that someone else will do the job for them if they dawdle or avoid it long enough.
  • When assignments are longer term, you can make job assignments that better match age level. This allows family members of all ages to participate.
  • You can focus on teaching each family member to do ONE job well. If the chores rotate frequently, you then need to teach each family member to do multiple jobs well. The risk of burnout for parents is much higher in this scenario. Parents have limited time and energy. Most chore charts fail because the parents get overwhelmed/burned out. The slower rotation allows parents to take it one step at a time. The first two weeks are challenging teaching new jobs, but after that, parents can just focus on doing inspections and holding Payday.

Ruby's Pathetic Song

Granted, some kids take longer than others to develop consistency. We had one daughter who really struggled with learning work ethic. She could not bring herself to consistently do her job. So, we gave her the job of the wiping the table. It’s not a hard job, but it is one that needs to get done without fail. Plus, it’s in plain view of everyone, so it’s easy to monitor.

Poor Ruby felt so sorry for herself. She would putz around the table. She hoped someone would come do the job for her. Or that her job would magically get done by itself. She would mope and had the hardest time getting going. (Granted, we have more motivational tools now than we did back then. This would not take as long today.)

Then one day, she decided enough was enough. I don’t know what clicked, but Ruby decided to do her job. She just got to work. The funny thing is, though, how she motivated herself. She’s an artistic person and hates deadlines and pressure. Perhaps that’s why job time was so hard for her. Whatever the case, she found that if she sang, she could work. So she did. She sang. But the song she sang was so pathetic, it made us laugh. She would forlornly go around the table moaning this song that sounded more like a death chant than a motivational tune. “I do my job…I do my job”. It almost sounded like a moan or a cry. But, it worked. She did her job. And she learned to work. It was wonderful.

Mastery Points

The great thing about having an app is that progress is so much easier to track. Plus, we can also use it for habits as well as jobs. So, to earn one mastery point, this is the process.

For every week that your family member does not miss a day of doing either they daily job or daily habit, they earn one mastery point. They are really hard to get. Doing something every day, rain or shine, is tough. And you have to do it for seven days in a row. All for one lousy mastery point!

Let’s put it in perspective. In order for my kids to earn ten mastery points, they would have to go ten weeks of consistent work. That’s two and a half months! Wow. That’s a big deal. That’s why we attach such big rewards to earning mastery points.

In the app, we can actually set goals and milestones for our kids (and ourselves). For example, for each of our kids who do their job consistently for 10 weeks, they will earn a trip to the movies. And we mark it right there in the app. They can view their progress and know when they’re getting close.

As a side note, I should be clear. You don’t have to go ten weeks in a row to earn ten mastery points. It may take you six months. It’s cumulative, but not necessarily consecutive.

Benefits

three kids, each without pants
Work ethic: because nobody should leave home without pants on!

One of the major benefits of using mastery points is for parents. When parents want to change jobs, they can quickly go to each member of the family and review their mastery points. Right there in the app is a list of all the jobs that kid has mastered. And also what jobs that kid has NOT mastered. It becomes super easy to assign jobs. Say you look at Billy’s mastery points and see that he has never had the job of laundry. Well, guess who is getting the laundry assignment next? That’s right, Billy, you lucky guy!

Also, it is very helpful when kids are getting ready to leave home. Parents can quickly gauge where their kids are in their domestic education. If a parent is about to send their daughter, Sally, off to college, they can check her mastery points. They will realize she does not know how to cook, do finances, or how to do laundry.

How many kids get to college and ruin their laundry because they didn’t know what to do? And how many kids get to college and starve because they have no idea how to shop or prepare meals? How great would it be to just check the app and make some assignments in the home—before Sally leaves for college?

Mastery points help parents know if there are any gaps in their kids domestic education. There will be no anxiety of sending kids off. You will know you’ve prepared them the best you can. You have given them the best gifts possible. You’ve taught them work ethic and how to care for themselves and their surroundings. The rest is up to them.

Summary

Just like Daniel-san in “The Karate Kid”, your kids may fight back and accuse you of trying to make them your slave. Just remind them, like Mr. Miyagi, that things are not as they seem. Long-term work ethic only comes from doing those mundane, tedious tasks over and over again. And that leads to karate mastery.

Kindly encourage them to keep doing what they’re doing, and “come back tomorrow” to continue their training.

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What about you? What rewards do you use to motivate yourself and your family? Is mastery a good idea? What ideas did we miss? Leave a comment below.

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Phontaine Judd

Phontaine Judd

Phontaine is co-creator of Moneypants and the proud father of 7 sons and 6 daughters.

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