Growth Mindset

“The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.” — Captain Jack Sparrow

Tuesday this week, I completed first run as a back-again resident of Hyderabad. It was hot and humid compared with Pune and hence the run felt harder than usual. This run also kicked off my training for a marathon at the end of August this year. At the end of this run, I ran into my childhood friend and we walked a good 6K together. My friend is a runner himself and a very senior corporate leader at a leading firm in India. In that conversation we got to talking about growth mindset — that all the time, we somehow end up making efforts to improving something or the other in our lives. It struck me that this, perhaps, is a core human tenet. Perhaps growth mindset is the defining characteristic of the “human” animal.

While it may not feel that way when we follow news media but as human beings, we have been increasing quality of our lives by leaps and bounds for a couple of million years now. The pace of improvement is only accelerating. Most of us can evidence how our circumstances have improved in our own lifetimes. Our quality of life has grown from that of our parents’ lives. Our prosperity and leisure has grown (if not individually, as an aggregate group certainly). Strife, rife and violence have come down.

All this is fine and good but how about individually — do we feel we are able to accomplish extraordinary goals or are we sailing on the default ebb of humanity’s progress. This individual growth mindset may not seem universal but there are people among us who are achieving extraordinary stuff. Few of us are able to lose weight of up to 100 pounds without sacrificing health, increasing number of people are running full marathons (running for 4–6 hours continuously to cover 42.2 kilometers is no easy feat), while a few others are making speedy progress in their careers or starting and growing spectacular companies. So, are these people who are able to achieve these born with special capabilities? I sincerely doubt that. Having observed a number of extraordinary athletes closely for a number of years (and also few extraordinary investment managers and a few who made remarkable career progress), I think it is their growth mindset which primarily sets them apart from others.

“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.” — Pelé

Their (common) characteristics

  • They arrive at challenging goals that are meaningful to them
  • They visualize achieving the goal — the more lofty the goal, the more “visualization” seems to help
  • They make realistic plans to achieve their goals
  • They take guidance from mentors/coaches
  • They develop a method/process and trust the process
  • They believe in their planning — they believe that it will lead to success in performance
  • Once the process has been arrived at, they try not to fret over the enormity of the goal
  • They go about executing their plan — one day at a time
  • They are consistent — perhaps the biggest hallmark of these folks: They show up every day and do what needs to get done
  • They focus on very few goals — they do not dissipate their energy and will power
  • They tend to be perseverant and resilient — they do not brood over setbacks and bad luck
  • They tend to operate at just outside the edge of comfort zone
  • They acknowledge their vulnerabilities and do not get dissuaded by them
  • They do not look for inspiration or motivation to get through their planned activities
  • They learn and improve. They seek feedback and take corrective measures, if and as needed
  • For them , progress happens every day but manifests occasionally
  • Action leads to learning; learning leads to depth of knowledge; depth of knowledge leads to ideas of improvement (innovation). This cycle can become self-perpetuating; this leads to compounding of their progress
  • Eventually destination becomes subservient to the journey just as growth becomes mindset and way of life

Few tips on building growth mindset (based on what I have seen work)

  • Arrive at a sufficiently challenging goal in any facet of your life. Let the goal not be very overwhelming. For example, when I could barely run 1 Kilometer, I took up a goal to run 2K first and then run 5k ultimately. Other examples: modest weight loss goals to begin with; as opposed to looking to become CEO of a large firm right off the hook, aiming for a level-up promotion at work
  • Starting small is critical because the intention is to build a mindset and not just to achieve a goal
  • It is in our nature that we try to improve what we do but if we don’t do “something”, improvement cycle does not kick-off
  • Arrive at a plan to achieve the goal — ideally under the guidance of a coach/mentor
  • Schedule your plan into your day-to-day activities: The idea behind integrating the plan into daily life is that you do not need to look for inspiration to strike to make progress — you go about executing your plan, whether inspiration strikes or not
  • Curate your immediate circle of people carefully — average of their attitude/outlook can drag you down or pull you up

Things that may come in the way

  • Laziness
  • Being too busy otherwise
  • Fear of failure
  • Lack of guidance: Not knowing how and where to start

“We like to think of our champions and idols as superheroes who were born different from us. We don’t like to think of them as relatively ordinary people who made themselves extraordinary.” — Carol Dweck

PS: All this is based on my experience and I’m sure there is more to growth mindset.

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Thanks for your time. In this newsletter, I share my learnings that can help you improve your decisions and make meaningful progress on your goals and desires. I share stuff that I have personally experimented with. To this extent, this is not traditional “self-help” advice.

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