With all the action, information, and activity that happens in our everyday lives, it’s easy to believe that nobody truly has control over their own lives.
Change is “forced” upon us and we’ve got no say in the matter.
Achieving our dreams is more a matter of luck and external factors instead of working to get it.
We are simply products of our circumstances and environments.
Right? I once had a friend I’ll call Ned.
We briefly went to the same college after graduation.
Ned had a great affection for movies and was kind of a walking film encyclopedia.
He could cite the cast and crew of almost every major motion picture that came out in the 20th century.
Although he had an enormous interest in acting, he was discouraged by a family who didn’t believe it had any creative talents.
Ned was drawn to acting in school and signed up for drama class.
Every year they’d put on two productions, a play and a musical, and everyone in the class was guaranteed some kind of part.
Ned never got more than a line or two in a play, and in musicals they’d always put him in the background chorus.
In fact, he never auditioned for major speaking parts the whole time he was there.
We got to know each other a little better when we enrolled in college, and I asked him why, with all his knowledge of cinema, he’d never pushed himself to learn more or gone for a bigger part.
“My family is very practical,” he said.
“My parents thought there was no future in any kind of artistic activity, and they always told my sisters and I that we weren’t genetically disposed to be talented in the arts.” Drama class didn’t help because there wasn’t a lot of instruction going on—it was either auditions or rehearsals, pretty much all year round.
So imagine my surprise a few months later when Ned landed the lead part in a college production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Did his high school drama teacher miss something that his college professor picked up on? “Nope,” Ned told me.
“It wasn’t until high school was almost over that I started to feel that I could be good at acting.
My dad felt bad that he might have discouraged me— he really didn’t mean to—and that summer I actually took an acting class.
I was surprised by how much of it was a process.
I just thought the kids who got the big parts had natural talents I could never compete with.
But it turns out they had to work at it, too.
So I determined I’d just find out what the work was like and see if I could do it.” The mindset we discuss in this chapter is one of agency: you’re not a powerless bystander in your own life.
Ned had the ability to control his actions and future, and so do you—everything in your life is under your control; you just have to believe it first to put it in action.
Change and control are possible, though not easy; outside events and external factors are only part of the equation.
Your mindset can overcome all of them.
As hard as it is for us to believe that in times of distress and victimhood, it’s an empowering truth that can see us to our greatest heights.
To get yourself into a mindset shaped for controlling your own destiny, there are a few theoretical models that can help you focus on what kinds of thinking you might need to change.
Growth Mindset What we believe about ourselves and our abilities is a fundamental part of how much agency we feel we have.
Some of us believe we can’t change or evolve who we are, whereas others eagerly seek out new experiences, challenges, and education precisely to grow and develop.
These opposing approaches are the “fixed” and “growth” mindsets.
This is the first way that we determine whether or not we take agency in our lives.
The fixed mindset states that intelligence, talent, ability, and performance are all firmly determined from cradle to grave—they can’t change or grow.
You are what you are, and if you don’t have something by now, you’ll never have it—you never had it in you.
What’s the purpose of trying if you don’t think it’s in you? The fixed mindset is quick to avoid challenges and even give up before a problem can be solved.
It doesn’t value effort; it views excessive work as “trying too hard” for little to no payoff.
A single criticism can derail an entire project because the fixed mindset has already determined that what it currently has is all it’s going to get.
This is where Ned started because he felt that acting simply wasn’t in the cards for him, and so he never took steps toward it.
The growth mindset is fundamentally different because it assumes change and growth are possible.
Whatever you are right now is just a starting place from which to grow, improve, and develop.
In this approach, nothing is impossible because it takes the position that learning and growth are almost always rewarded in some way.
The possibility is there, and thus people seek opportunities out.
Challenges and obstacles aren’t avoided; they’re dealt with and learned from.
Constructive criticism is welcome feedback digested in the spirit of helpfulness.
The growth mindset is always evolving, always learning how to make things better, and always considering how to improve.
This is what Ned skewed toward at the end of the story from earlier because he felt that acting was something he could develop and grow, even though he felt he was initially poor at it.
The growth mindset is what you’ll find in people with higher levels of success.
The differences between fixed and growth mindsets manifest in several ways, from a particular kind of action to variances in speech and messaging: Fixed mindset Growth mindset Wants to appear smart or capable Wants to learn and improve Says “I don’t have the right set of talents” or “I’m not naturally gifted” Says “I can learn to develop more talents” or “If I learn this new skill, my capacity will increase” Gives up when problems or barriers arise Powers through roadblocks Disregards feedback or construes criticism as negative Welcomes constructive criticism Says “I did the best I could” Says “It’s okay if I didn’t get it all right in one shot— with gradual work and practice, I’ll get better” Resists leaving the comfort zone Pursues new challenges Let’s take something as simple (yet ambitious) as learning a new language.
The fixed mindset enters the endeavor with the expectation or hope that it will be easy to pick up.
But a few lessons in, the fixed mindset might get impatient if it’s not getting the pronunciations correct.
It’ll get frustrated and reach a certain plateau it doesn’t believe it’ll overcome.
It’ll stop practicing and decide it’s not worth the effort, thinking there’s no point in continuing because it doesn’t have “what it takes.” It’ll declare that it’s just “terrible with languages” and move on to something that feels easier.
But a growth mindset would embrace the opportunity as a chance to expand itself.
It’ll complete each step in its lesson plan patiently, working slowly enough to understand and comprehend each part of its study.
It knows effort and time is an integral part of its growth equation.
It won’t stop at the first sign of failure, will keep practicing, and will seek out assistance wherever it can get it.
It’ll be eager to learn more complex phrases or concepts as it goes along and might even expand its studies by learning more about the culture of its language or even another language altogether.
By adopting the growth mindset, you’re exerting control and power over the circumstances in your life.
Researcher Carol Dweck, who’s spent her professional career investigating and championing the growth mindset, observed some of the shortfalls educators unwittingly displayed when dealing with their students that led them to a potentially “false” growth mindset.
In essence, the development of the false growth mindset boils down to the educators praising the students’ efforts rather than their process.
The growth mindset focuses on the deliberate execution and gradual understanding of concepts.
In Dweck’s observation, some teachers praised their kids with generalized platitudes like “good effort!” or “you can do anything you set your mind to!” Someone with a genuine growth mindset gets more specific about their praise.
Rather than applauding the person,
Instead of exalting who their students are, they commend what they do.
For example, a fixed mindset would say, “Gosh, you’re really smart at math!” A growth mindset, on the other hand, would say, “I like how you worked on this problem by trying different approaches and how thoroughly you tried to solve the equation with these notes.
You put a lot of work into this.” A false growth mindset would simply say, “Great job for trying! Keep trying!” Just saying the student is smart—which they very well may be—only reinforces their identity.
Complimenting the work they put in strengthens their actions and gives them the reinforcement that change is possible through action and effort.
The instructors certainly didn’t intend to cultivate the fixed mindset in their students, but speaking in such ambiguous praise doesn’t take the step-by-step nature of the growth mindset into consideration.
It may have given the students a false sense of progress or expectations, taking their mind off the very gradual experience of the growth mindset.
The primary realization is that the growth mindset is about learning, not generating.
Leave the self-congratulations and look toward each next step purposefully.
Acknowledging your own progress is important, but anticipating your next moves is a great way to keep you focused on your motivation to always learn and improve.
The growth mindset is obviously well suited to educational endeavors, but it works in many other areas.
In business, a growth mindset allows you to seek new opportunities and areas in which you can improve.
A businessperson is more enthusiastic about making contacts, understanding employees’ roles, finding untapped markets or approaches, and projecting into the future if they feel that their efforts will have an impact.
Personal relationships and friendships also benefit from the growth mindset.
A fixed mindset is always looking for the perfect partner, someone who checks off every trait on their list and will live with them happily ever after.
But if they discover flaws in the other person—or themselves—they feel they’re just part of who they are and they won’t be able to change, whereas a growth mindset knows that all relationships take work and honest, active engagement with others.
They know love isn’t a magic potion that solves everything; it’s a consistently developing process that matures and grows the more it’s tended to.
Finally, be aware that it’s almost impossible to be in growth mindset 100% of the time—you will, occasionally, find yourself rooted in a fixed mindset where you feel you’ve hit a wall or a ceiling.
When it does, you might beat yourself up a little about it because that’s what a fixed mindset does: it judges according to a final result or lack thereof.
But spin off that critical voice by examining what you might have missed, diagnosing it, taking it into consideration, and trying again.
You don’t have the time or pressure constraints in the growth mindset.
You’re here to learn.
You’ll get to your destination eventually, and by absorbing all you can about your process, it’ll be better in the long run.
So will you.
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The Art of Intentional Thinking: Master Your Mindset. Control and Choose Your Thoughts. Create Mental Habits to Fulfill Your Potential (Second Edition) By Peter Hollins
Get the audiobook on Audible at https://bit.ly/IntThink
Show notes and/or episode transcripts are available at https://bit.ly/self-growth-home
Peter Hollins is a bestselling author, human psychology researcher, and a dedicated student of the human condition. Visit https://www.PeteHollins.com to pick up your FREE human nature cheat sheet: 7 surprising psychology studies that will change the way you think.
For narration information visit Russell Newton at https://bit.ly/VoW-home
For production information visit Newton Media Group LLC at https://bit.ly/newtonmg