I’m writing today from a hotel room in Las Vegas. And, if I’m honest, I’m feeling a little worn out, not only because of the travel but because there are moments when I question whether I have what it takes to achieve the rather lofty goals that I have set for my life and my business.
Those doubts are natural enough and I believe that anyone who reads this blog has experienced them (or is in some serious denial). And yet I know that doubt is but a moment in time, if you fundamentally believe that you can grow and improve.
Not long ago my son had the first practice for the first baseball team he’s been on. He was doing great but struggled with connecting the bat to the ball at exactly the right time. “I’ll never be good at this,” he told us. “Everyone else can do it,” he continued. He was as resigned as he was upset.
As a parent, or a friend or a partner, you know the drill. You jump in and remind them that no one can do new things right out of the gate. You reinforce that great things come with practice and that everyone started in exactly the same place. Without knowing it, you’re summoning the work of Carol Dweck and the concept of the ‘growth mindset’.
Dweck is one of the world’s leading authorities on the subject of motivation and is a professor of psychology at Stanford University. A growth mindset refers to the idea that we can grow our brain’s capacity to learn and to solve problems. To achieve great things we need to believe that we can learn and change and do things differently.
And what might sound slightly obvious is most certainly not, as Dweck’s research uncovers. The key to successful transformation, she found, is about whether you look at ability as something inherent or something that can be developed. Is it a bone or a muscle? In the case of the former, ability is fixed and is something to be “demonstrated.” In the latter, ability is “developed” and this is what she refers to as a “growth mindset.”
Why is this so important? It’s important because in order to take action on your biggest goals you’ll need to develop new skills. You’ll start, you’ll fail and you’ll push forward, but only if you believe that you not only deserve something more, but that you can learn how to improve.
Too often we get inextricably stuck in negative beliefs about our own abilities. When I was young my parents bought me a piano and the requisite lessons. It was, in retrospect, one of the best things they could have done for me, although it might not have seemed wise at the time. Let’s just say that I wasn’t exactly a musical prodigy. I was frustrated and there were tantrums. The tantrums, although I didn’t realize it then, were tied to a deep-seated perfectionism that stopped me from learning. The pattern repeated itself in high school. If I couldn’t get an A in a subject, I dropped it.
Today, I see grace and wisdom in flailing about and trying to learn something new; in the past I saw imperfection or a feeling of being “less than”. Achieving your biggest goals – the ones you can only dream about – may push you in a new direction. It will feel uncomfortable at times and you may feel ill-equipped. I promise you this is nothing more than what Michael Hyatt, author, CEO and founder of Michael Hyatt & Co., refers to as the “messy middle.”
To try is wonderfully awkward and profoundly rewarding. To pursue your biggest goals is to take risks and to believe that you can learn to do things differently. Dweck points to a simple technique she saw used on school report cards. Rather than a failing grade, the report card said “not yet.” The children were under no illusions that they hadn’t done the work necessary to pass, but the message was clear that they just needed to keep trying rather than accepting the failure as an indictment on their future.
When it feels tough, we may need to tell ourselves the same thing. And I’m doing that right now.