Growth the fuck up

August 5th, 2017 – Books & Self-Improvement

I recently read a “self-help” book entitled “Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential” - and trust me, this isn’t the kind of wanky bollocks that I’m normally keen on. If it lacks mages, spaceships or nerd humour I’m usually not interested but, on this instance a few factors came into play that made me give it a go (and, spoiler alert, it’s pretty damn good, so I’m glad that I did!).

The first motivator (and probably the biggest) was that it was given to me by Hotjar’s CEO at their recent Marbella company retreat. David was keen for us all to give it a read and I rate him as a pretty clever chap so I figured I’d give it a go. This got me through the first chapter. This first chapter isn’t great. It reads a lot like “How to win friends and influence people”, a self-aggrandisement of why you should read the rest of the book, ramming down your throat the authors credentials (ok, it’s nowhere near that bad, but I think it’s safe to say that this kind of thing puts me off).

Based on that, I probably wouldn’t have continued reading but, lucky for me, I was stuck on the plane back from said jaunt in the mediterranean so, on I delved into the next few chapters, and then the few after that. By the time I landed back in Blighty I was about a 3rd of the way through. My initial, pretty critical thoughts, were quashed and I was convinced. This was a good book. But now you’ve heard about how keen I am, here’s some more about the book itself. It’s premise is essentially, no brilliant person is really born brilliant. Sure, some have more innate talent than others, and that sure helps at becoming the best artist, scientist, musician. But really, the only true greats, or the majority at least are only there because of all the hard work that they’ve put into it on the way.

And, probably more importantly, the people who are more successful are those who believed they could get better. This is the key premise, that there are 2 “mindsets”. The first, a fixed mindset where you assume you are as good as you are every going to be at things. Your talents are final and you’ll either be better than someone or worse and there’s little you can do to change that. The other mindset is the growth mindset. These guys think that their skills & intelligence aren’t limited. That with hard work and perseverance they can get better in the things they work at. The most surprising thing is that, even if these 2 people start off at exactly the same level of innate talent and ability, the one with the growth mindset will nearly always end up further/better/more successful than the fixed mindset guy.

Personally, this was kind of a revelation to me. The person the book describes as the static mindset is/was me. I was the clever kid in school that didn’t really have to try hard to succeed (at first). I was the kid who was praised for being the talented top-of-the-class nerd and I was then the kid who eventually got too scared to try. Definitely the kid who didn’t want to try at something that he might fail at, so when he inevitably met other people who were better than him (usually because of all their hard work) he thought well, what’s the point? They’re better than me, and if I’m not the best person in the room when I try it I’ll just fail and look stupid, so why bother?

Don’t get me wrong. I was also lazy. I preferred video games (there I tended to always be pretty awesome cause of all my practice :P) and I preferred drinking and smoking and generally achieving little. But as I look back on it, I definitely see a lot of the roots of my “laziness” in fear and ascertaining the dopamine rush of achievement from doing well, not from becoming better. I think this is key to any thoughts of “self-improvement” and (thank fuck!) something I got to later on in life. Nowadays, I love learning. I love getting better at things, and oddly, I really like helping other people get better too (sometimes even better than me). This kind-of-humility is hard, sometimes I struggle. Sometimes I have to force myself to ignore the fixed-mindset-demon in my head that gets his back up when someone critiques my work. But I do. I manage it, usually without much wasted time along the way. And because of that, I’ve gotten a lot better at a lot of things. I do a job I love at a place I consider to be at the top of my field. I work with super-talented people who I learn from all the time. I have a happy life with a lovely wife and we have a relationship that we work at daily, which makes it super-bloody-awesome.

None of these things have been easy. But they’re worth it.

So in all, this book didn’t really teach me to BE a growth mindset person. I’d already kind of figured that out. But this does help me name it, help me teach others about it and, importantly for me, it helps to remind myself every day, when I slip back into a fixed mindset from time to time, to steer back on course. Another added benefit I got from the book is that mindsets have categories. I’ve got a pretty growth mindset about coding and work and my relationship, but I’m still pretty fixed about art and music. I don’t think I have that aptitude and I now know that if I don’t think it’s possible, then it never will be. Maybe I should spend some time getting better at these things. Learning, working and forcing myself to grow in these directions. I strongly suspect I’d be a happier, healthier and more rounded person if I did so it’s something I plan to give a try.

Anyways, go buy the book, read the book and then do the things the book tells you to do. Trust me, it helps and you’ll be glad you did it. Oh and, once you’ve read the book a few times and you’ve got the concepts to work on down, go give the book to someone else. Maybe someone you think might really benefit from it. I figure helping people is good self-medication too.