Tag Archives: people

How do successful people become successful?

I came across two articles that were of interest to me. One discussed whether talent is overrated, and the other discussed how learning can be improved through a change in mindset. I also read a book called Psychology of Flow.

Why are some people able to accomplish certain goals better than others?  Is it because of talent?  Or is it inherent ability?

According to Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck, it is one’s outlook and attitude towards learning a task or concept that makes a big difference.  Attribution Theory, which examines people’s judgements on causes of events and behavior has  a big impact.  When someone fails at a task, is it attributed to a lack of ability or is attributed to something the person can control (e.g. environment, effort, etc.).

Learning to “master” a goal or concept is different than having “performance goals.”   When learning has “performance goals” attached to it, the person is less likely to take risks, and each task is a challenge to their self-concept.  Because the person becomes risk-adverse, experiences that will help them grow or flourish maybe ignored.  However, when trying to “master” a concept or task, people do not worry about failure and take the necessary risks, experiment and tinker with new approaches.   With a “mastery” mindset, the person believes that intelligence can grow and has a growth mindset, whereas, someone with “performance goals” may believe that intelligence is fixed and possess a fixed mindset.

The differences between a fixed and growth mindset are noticeable.  In a recent study, a group of Stanford undergrads with the growth mindset found it easier to transition to college life.

I read the book “Think Big,” by Ben Carson, who grew up in a poor neighborhood in Detroit.  His mother did not even have a High School education.  He grew up in a single family setting.  In the fifth grade, his classmates taunted him and called him stupid.  Currently, he is a neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins University.  In his book, he mentioned how the majority of people are “surface skimmers,” people that engage in “performance mindset,” and looking to acquire adequate information in order to pass a test.  There is a minority, known as “in-depth learners,” who learn for the sake of acquiring knowledge and understanding, also known as people with a “mastery mindset.”  Dr. Carson was doing in-depth learning while many of his classmates were not.

With the growth mindset, in order to grow, one’s current abilities must be stretched beyond one’s current abilities.  This is called Deliberate Practice.   With sustained practice, that is how one grows.  It is certainly unpleasant because practicing an activity that is beyond one’s current abilities is quite mentally demanding, otherwise it becomes mindless.  In other words, Deliberate Practice must be repeated many times.  Feedback on results must be continuously available.  A teacher, mentor, coach, parent is vital for providing crucial feedback.  Deliberate Practice requires much focus and concentration, which makes it “deliberate.”  This growth activity must be hard because it is mentally demanding, it is difficult to be sustained for a long period of time.   Since this is a growth mindset, one needs to focus on their weaknesses.  Because if one only focuses on what they are good at, they already know how to do it well and one does not grow.

Isn’t work Deliberate Practice?  No, because it is typically mentally demanding and tiring, but it is not because of the intense focus and concentration, but rather engaging in activities that one already knows how to do and spending long hours doing this.

A fixed mindset sticks to what is safe and reliable, which is does not help one grow.  Engaging in Deliberate Practice makes it tempting to frame one’s mind into the fixed mindset.

To grow, successful people have immediate goals and long term goals.  The immediate goals are the activities that need to be completed today.  These goals are used as a stepping stone to whatever the long term goal maybe.  These goals must be exact not vague.

While performing a task, successful people have an excellent ability to self-regulate themselves.  When self-regulating oneself, one becomes engaged in metacongnition, which is thinking about one’s thinking and actions.  “What do I already know about this problem?” “If A is about X, what does B mean?”  An example is working out.  It can be painful especially if one pushes oneself to the max.  It is easy to think about other thoughts because it is painful.  But athletes would think about the specific muscle they are developing in their head.  Working out becomes as much as a physical challenge as it is a mental one.

Successful people after completing a task or activity, don’t simply think that their performance is merely good or okay.  They have specific goals and standards.

In one of Dweck’s experiments in 2002, Parents that praise their children for their intelligence rather than for effort, drained the children’s motivation.  The most disturbing aspect was 40% of the children who had their intelligence praised overstated their scores to peers, and made them lie.

To conclude, one must examine one’s mindset.  Does one have a fixed or growth mindset?  With a growth mindset, sustained Deliberate Practice that is mentally challenging and has a specific, measurable goal and can be performed with metacognition is essential to how successful people operate.  This experience may not be pleasant, but pushing oneself beyond one’s personal limits is so important.  It is easy to avoid these challenges, and that is what is endemic with a fixed mindset.

Engaging in Deliberate Practice also ensures one is in the state of Flow.  This is when one abilities and ones challenges simultaneously are it its optimal peak.  When one’s mind is in the state of Flow, there is a merging of action and awareness which people are so involved with what they are doing, they stop being aware of time.  Learning becomes an autotelic experience, which means that engaging in self-contained activity that has no expectation of future reward but by doing it is in itself enjoyable.

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Paradox of Choice

Does having more choice make a person freer and happier?  Does this satisfy them more?  According to professor and psychologist, Barry Schwartz it does not.  Instead with more choices, it makes people unhappier to the point that they are paralyzed by the sheer number of choices.  This video discusses how the western societies value freedom greatly, and with greater number of choices enables people to have greater freedom, which results in greater welfare for the people.  Western societies subscribe to this dogma of maximum choice = maximum freedom = maximum welfare. 

All this choice has multiple negative effects: 1) With so many choices available, people have difficulty in finding a choice and this leads to paralysis.  For example, if the investment (401k) program at work features 100 choices of mutual funds versus 10,  people’s participation wanes because they constantly delay the purchase decision to deal with the enormous number of choices. 

2) Once the selection from one of the numerous choices is completed, the overall satisfaction decreases, even if the choice is terrific.  This is due to regret and the anticipation of regret, resulting from.the cognitive dissonance experienced after purchasing a product/service, also known as buyer’s remorse.  If the consumer selects a particular good/service and is aware of the multitude of choices that are available, he/she may not be satisfied knowing there could be a better product/service that could have been chosen amongst the plentitude of choices.  With the increasing number of choices available, also comes with an increasing number of opportunity costs.  For example, upon purchasing a mutual fund, one may express buyer’s remorse in thinking that a different brand could have been better.  Or even, investing in an altogether different financial instrument (e.g. T-Bills, Bonds, Stocks, etc.).

3) Escalation of expectations.  Adding more choices only raises people’s expectations of the product/service.  The professor’s example was in the past, buying jeans was simple because there was only one style of jeans.  These jeans were not particularly stylish nor did they fit well.  But today, there are a multitude of styles of jeans (e.g. boot cut, slim fit, relaxed fit, tapered, button fly, zip fly,stone wash, faded, etc.).  When the professor went to a jean store to ask for a similar style that he bought several years ago, it was not easy finding them.  When he did find the right style, an hour later, the jeans were more stylish and fitted better than the previous jeans in the past.  However,  the process and the elevated expectations waned the experience.   With the multitude of choices that are available, people’s expectations have risen precipitously to the point that being pleasantly surprised was a phenomenon that mostly occurred in the past.  

4) Secret to happiness is low expectations.  When people have such high expectations, self-blame is what people experience when they choose the wrong product/service.  For example, in the past, if the jeans were a horrible fit or if the quality was poor, you could blame the jean company. Today, with the multitude of choices, you have yourself to blame.

This problem is rife in modern affluent societies.  There needs to be a balance between too little and too many choices.  A possible solution espoused by the professor is income redistribution it becomes a win/win scenario for both the poor and the affluent.  It addresses the problem of having too little or too many choices.