“If you think you can, or if you think you can’t, you’re right”
~ Henry Ford
The Evolution of Success
Starting anything new is challenging. Whether it is a new hobby, fitness routine, diet, habit, etc…..stepping into the unknown is tough. So, what makes someone successful in these situations? Why do some people seem extremely adept at reaching goal after goal, while others can toil away but just never quite get there? As someone who has been working in the education field for the last 8+ years, this is something I think about pretty often. We’ve all seen it — incredible success stories that just blow us away….but how do people make it happen? The impressive part [that we have really started to analyze in the past decade or so] is that success does not evolve from talent alone. It’s not as simple as, “she is a natural athlete,” or “he is just a genius.” The magic really happens when we look at these people’s MINDSET: the way they view a challenge, how they approach failure, and what they choose to do when the “going gets tough.”
Growth Mindset; and is Hard Work Enough?
The concept of Growth Mindset was coined by a psychologist named Carol Dweck. She has done extensive research on mindset and motivation. Her concept of Growth Mindset works in conjunction with an opposing idea: Fixed Mindset. Let’s just direct-quote this to get the ball rolling…
“In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.” — Carol Dweck, 2012
Obviously this definition is taken in the direct context of students in a classroom, but clearly this idea transcends academia. Every day [or at least every few days, right?], each of us is presented with new and challenging obstacles. Whether it is learning how to use our phone after a new iOs update, taking up cross-fit, or walking a mile when we have never exercised before….our success is not based solely on nature-given talent, nor is it based just in hard work. Turns out, all those cheesy quotes out there that tell us to “believe you can do it” or “don’t give up” are actually on to something! In her studies, Carol Dweck essentially found that some of the most successful people she monitored were the ones who: (1) were willing to try new things that were out of their comfort zone or talents, and (2) were able to experience failure and still go back for more. This is where the concept of Growth Mindset gets really interesting! Talents/abilities are great for getting started, and hard work and perseverance are certainly important in success….but if you’re too afraid to get started, then how will you meet your goals? And if you do get started, but quickly fail…then do you have the courage and confidence to start all over again? When it comes down to it, do you really believe that your time and hard work are enough to enable you to grow, adapt, and succeed? If you do, then research shows that it’s likely you will :).
[Personally I’m a big fan of this Ted Talk on Growth Mindset]
The Grittier, the Better
The concept of Grit is an extension of Growth Mindset. It is the idea that people — both kids and adults — are most likely to succeed when they exhibit “passion and perseverance” in working toward their goals. This might mean overcoming extenuating circumstances like poverty, personal issues like health or family trouble, or simply individual shortcomings. It means working hard for a long period of time, and pushing forward through struggles. While this might all sound a bit obvious, it is definitely easier said than done (not to mention it is a good reminder to stop comparing ourselves to the seemingly smooth and easy journeys we see on social media).
To hear about it straight from the source, I highly recommend the video below of Angela Duckworth from 2013, where she speaks about Grit. It’s well worth the 6 minutes, and her book on Grit is now on my reading list :).
Motivation, and Why I Abide by Growth Mindset and Grit
I think one of the reasons why I love these concepts of Growth Mindset & Grit is that they appeal to the dreamer in me. This might sound strange, but hear me out! We have all heard the term “The American Dream”, right? Now, whether or not you agree with or support this ethos….its a nice idea, right? People starting with very little, working hard, persevering, and finding their way to success? I think we can all get behind that possibility. Whether or not you believe that romanticized notion of the American Dream is still true, but maybe we can pivot a little, and call it the Human Dream instead. That’s what the concepts of Growth Mindset and Grit stand for in my mind — this incredible possibility [and ability!] for humans to succeed despite tons of factors that are stacked against them. The icing on the cake here? If we look at Grit and Growth Mindset, this concept isn’t just a dream, but a determined probability, backed by extensive research. If you work for it and really believe it can happen, it will!
As far as motivation goes, these concepts of Grit and Growth Mindset also back up a strong belief of mine — that motivation shouldn’t be the central driver of how we achieve success. When it comes down to it, if you want to succeed in an endeavor…get a good grade on a school assignment, complete a workout, change the way you eat…its all about making the hard choices. Are you ready to change and push through your comfort zone, or not? Sure, get a buddy to workout with you, or spend a bit more money on prepared food if that will help…but after a while, what will really make you continue with those goals long term? Please, build a support system! I am by no means discounting how important one can be. But, at the end of the day when you are tired or uncomfortable or crazing junkfood….you need to be able to tell yourself “this [exercise, food, study time, etc] is what’s best for me, this is what I need to do, and I am going to do it”. Both the beauty — and terror — of this school of thought…. is that ultimately, it’s all on you.
Have you experienced moments in your life where you overcame difficulties with a Growth Mindset or Grit? What do you think are some ways we can get better at seeing failures as opportunities? And how can we learn to pick ourselves back up again and keep trying without those failures weighing on us? What did you love about these videos, or what stood out to you? I’d love to hear from you :).
Yours in Success,