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There is a certain perceivable elegance in people who have achieved mastery of their crafts. “She’s a natural!” we say. “He’s a genius!” we claim. “It must be supernatural!” we believe. But what if I tell you that a simple formula Mindset + Habits = Success is responsible for this?

We are terrible at seeing the underlying machinations that produce brilliance. To us, the belief that success is the result of genius is preferable. After all, if mastery is the product of genius, we don’t have to feel bad about not trying ourselves. 

If we don’t have it, we don’t have it. Right? Well, today, I want you to challenge that way of thinking. I want you to understand better the building blocks of mastery and the attitude that manifests it. 

Let’s talk about how mindset and habits breed success.

Mindset

First, let’s clarify what mindset is since mindset is usually the first thing we need to work on ourselves.

Our mindset is a set of assumptions, notions, and beliefs that inform our behavior and view of the world. It helps us frame what we are experiencing at any time.

If you have a ‘positive’ mindset, you might be inclined to see the world as welcoming, safe, and nurturing. However, if you have a ‘negative’ mindset, you might see the world as dangerous, neglectful, and hostile; Serving as a meta context for our experiences.

Additionally, it helps us have an outlook on them and act accordingly. Based on this information, you can see how important it is to have a strong mindset. One that helps you grow and move forward.

Growth mindset

A mindset that allows you to face complex challenges, build lasting resilience, and grow consistently is a growth mindset. Having a growth mindset is probably one of the most telling indicators of success in life. 

Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck says it best in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. “For thirty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you see your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value”. This view you adopt informs your decision-making process and influences your relationships, work, and even your health.

People with a growth mindset have a distinctive overview of life that allows them to see opportunities everywhere. They see the world as an endless source of challenges and growth, and their success results from their work. 

These people realize that life is a journey of constant development and effort and welcome new challenges; That the most important things are on the other side of honest hard work. Most importantly, they understand that their skills and abilities are not fixed and can continuously be improved.

“The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset.”

Carol Dweck – Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Mindset and prejudice

Working and cooperating with our peers is an inevitable part of our journey. Yet, sometimes dealing with prejudice and criticism can be challenging. 

We might feel attacked when we are receiving constructive feedback. Growth-minded people can reframe the feedback they get from others into something positive.

Dr. Dweck claims that “Growth mindset helps people to see prejudice for what it is —someone else’s view of them.” 

Prejudice is just someone’s opinion based on their mindset, experiences, and beliefs. It does not define us.

Having a growth mindset might not be the only factor for success. Nevertheless, it makes the whole process much less stressful.

Shrink mindset?

Knowing all this, it’s not hard to conceptualize what the opposite of a growth mindset is. 

  • If you believe that your qualities and capabilities are fixed and set in stone. 
  • If you agree with the notion that some people are intrinsically better than others.
  • If you think that your grades are an accurate prediction of your future and cannot be changed.
  • If you believe that a genius must always succeed or that success belongs only to genius.

If some of these sound true to you, you are a victim of your own “fixed” mindset.

As described above, a fixed mindset is a set of beliefs that one’s capacity is determined at birth. Furthermore, given that capacity, whether you are remarkable or not, is fixed in stone. Fixed-minded people believe this to be a fundamental, self-evident truth and shy away from ever trying to venture away from the notion.

Additionally, fixed-minded people don’t necessarily perform poorly or are at the bottom of the academic ladder. 

Most fixed-minded people are the ‘geniuses’ we have labeled before. Parents and peers have constantly praised them. They were growing in an environment that has reinforced their belief that they are unique and innately talented. 

For them, success has come easy, and they believe that that’s how it will always be.

Identity and limiting beliefs

This mindset is very counterproductive, especially in terms of productivity.

Fixed-minded people tend to avoid challenges and new experiences. They fear being proven wrong, people labeling them as mediocre or impostors. Some even boast of their confidence, yet that confidence is very frail.

At any moment that they can’t deliver, their whole world falls apart, and they have a crisis of identity. After all, if you have defined yourself your entire life with the belief that you are a genius that can consistently deliver. When that is not true, who are you?

Fixed-minded people are usually victims of their flawed thought processes, which can reinforce their limiting beliefs and challenge their identity. For them, failure is a devastating blow that can cripple their ability to create and move forward. 

Failure has changed from an action (I failed) to an identity (I am a failure). For these people, it’s an admission that they are not worthy

What’s worse, if they are not good, then they are stuck. Their beliefs won’t allow them to see the possibility of growth.

Cultivate growth

Now, if all this happens to sound all too familiar to you, don’t worry. You can always change your mindset.

Dr. Dweck tells us that “Growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, your strategies, and help from others. Although people might differ in every which way —in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments— everyone can change and grow through application and experience”.

We can take steps to stir our mindset towards growth through conscious effort and patience. We need to identify the instances where our limiting beliefs start to show up and be aware that they are just that, beliefs. They are not objective truths about us or our reality.

Most importantly. It’s crucial to start cementing into our psyche the belief that we as humans are capable of adaptation and change. We can change ourselves, we can change the environment around us, and we can grow.

As Dr. Dweck puts it, “A person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training.”

Our game plan

Once we have empowered ourselves by understanding how important our mindset is for our success, we can start working on our game plan. 

Daniel F. Chambliss writes in his paper, The Mundanity of Excellence: An Ethnographic Report on Stratification and Olympic Swimmers, “The most dazzling human achievements are, in fact, the aggregate of countless individual elements, each of which is, in a sense, ordinary.” 

These elements are building pieces of achievement; Each compounding over years of work and consistency, merging into the capacities and skillsets that bring success.

It is said that learning any complex skill well takes about 10,000 hours of practice. That level of commitment and work might drive some people away from ever trying. They would attribute it to some shortcut or even a hidden secret only accessible to the few. 

But there is no real secret to it. The only remarkable thing about the people who have put the work and hours aside from a resilient growth mindset is a solid set of good habits.

Habits are acquired behavior patterns that tend to be involuntary. It’s the internalization of routines and behaviors by frequent repetition or physiological exposure that is so engraved in our psyche that it bypasses consciousness and becomes difficult to avoid.

Why habits?

Now, why is all this important for success? You might ask. Well, it’s all about how our brain works and how we leverage its behavior. 

Our brain releases a chemical called Dopamine when we have a pleasurable experience. It’s a big part of our uniquely human ability to think and plan. It helps us strive, focus, and find things interesting. This neurotransmitter helps create the connections between neurons that establish behavior and complexity.

The more your brain releases Dopamine on a specific link related to a particular behavior, the more connections it builds around it. More links mean the brain has to engage less to carry this behavior through —think, wake up early, and work on your swimming. 

Eventually, the connection becomes so strong and the brain so optimized that the behavior becomes second nature and requires little to no conscious effort. Your brain created enough shortcuts that you go from conscious mediocrity to unconscious mastery.

Carving paths

Every time we engage in a particular behavior, we reinforce it. We make it more of a definition of who we are. 

It’s like walking in the forest. The more you step on the same path, the more that path clears out and becomes easier to walk on, so you keep walking on it. 

It is a powerful feedback loop that can carry you through. Making the mundane and tedious daily work that you must do part of who you are —second nature behavior.

There is a word in Japanese that encapsulates the notion of consistent, diligent work that breeds success. The word in question is ‘Kaizen,’ and it roughly translates to change for the better or continuous improvement. It is a Japanese business philosophy regarding the improvement in productivity as a gradual and systematic process. 

This process is enabled through the optimization of countless small activities and behaviors. These behaviors are so engraved that at an individual level become part of their culture and sustain the productivity and output of the company at an organization level. 

This philosophy is an excellent analogy of what a good set of productive habits can do for you.

Building habits

When building habits is vital to know that positive feedback is essential to help cement our minds’ behavior. 

We are all guilty of attempting a significant achievement with an unreasonable expectation at some point. 

  • Striving to learn a new language in 6 months because we want to talk with this friend on the internet in their native language. 
  • Wanting to lose 40kg by summer, so we don’t feel judged by others. 

But alas, we fail. 

However, we don’t fail because of our ambitious goal setting; we fail because we don’t prepare ourselves for the long run. 

 

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Photo by Lucas Favre on Unsplash

Working on a goal must be seen as a race of endurance, not speed. It takes time to make a behavior stick.

Additionally, it’s imperative to get positive feedback on every inch we move forward. Building habits requires setting small, easily achievable goals that can compound while rewarding yourself for every small accomplishment in a way that is in line with the goal itself.

If you want to learn a new language, set a daily learning goal that is easily achievable (5 words a day, for example). Then reward yourself with a walk in the park —or anything you enjoy that is productive— every week. The reward will serve as positive feedback that will make you more likely to repeat the behavior.

Tips and tricks

Another essential trick to help make habits stick is essentially sticking routines to ones you have already adopted.

If you love listening to podcasts and you want to start waking up earlier in the morning, then listen to your favorite podcast every time you wake up. This approach works because habits can be compounded and can help make the difficult task of repeating the behavior easier on your will.

Will to Will

Speaking of will, we all have a pool of willpower that helps us do the things that don’t come naturally to us. We use some of that reservoir every time we get up early, go for a run, or choose to eat a salad instead of unhealthy meals.

Eventually, this pool gets exhausted, and our capacity to deal with stress-inducing activities sharply diminishes.

At this point, we start making bad decisions in our day. We say, “fuck it, I want this now,” and we shove that chocolate bar down our throats while we spend countless hours mindlessly watching YouTube —don’t judge.

Habits, however, use very little of our willpower. They come automatically and sometimes unconsciously to us. We find it very hard not to do the thing we have been doing every day. It hardly engages our mind as it has essentially become part of our routine, our identity.

Moreover, habits are so ingrained in our lives that we usually schedule our days around them instead of the other way around.

Mindset + Habits = Success

If you look at the remarkable people who have achieved or are doing great things, they all display these two traits in one form or another.

It is profoundly clear to researchers who have studied the greats in history that there is a pattern. Anyone can adopt this pattern, and it produces results!

Mindset of an entrepreneur

Michael Jordan, Michael Phelps, Serena Williams to Jeff Bezos, Mark Cuban, Bill Gates. They all display signs of a growth mindset and have an arsenal of habits that make them the juggernauts they are today. And the good news is, these tools are accessible to you. You just have to work on acquiring them.

Habits are a double-edged sword. They can be a fantastic asset in your growth journey by removing the friction of boredom and mundanity in the endless actions we have to do every day. They can quite literally carry you to mastery. However, they can also be a debilitating hindrance to your productivity, growth, and even mental health if they are detrimental, self-defeating behaviors.

Conclusion

Mastery is, in the end, the product of countless hours of hard work, dedication, and consistency. It’s the long hours of work we don’t get to see that allows it to seem like sublime, effortless work. The framework that sustains this mastery —the one built with work over some time— is seldom visible or self-evident. 

Success is a consequence of having the right mindset and habits.

I will leave you with this quote from Angela Duckworth’s book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. “Thinking of yourself as someone who is able to overcome tremendous adversity often leads to behavior that confirms that self-conception.”

See you in the next post.

Cover photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

Juan
From early on in his life, Juan knew he was destined for greatness —and then proceeded to waste his time watching YouTube. A talented tech/random fact expert who refuses to let fear get in the way of his self-development. You can count on Juan to show up as a natural-born leader, funny man, and loving friend.

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