Tag Archives: psychology

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.

Rapid Thinking makes people happy

rapid thinking.001.001

What does rapid thinking do to people? The above chart summarizes an article about rapid thinking from Scientific American.  Scientists from Harvard and Princeton found that accelerated and varied thoughts improve your mood and can change a lousy day to possibly a creative one.   However, if ones thoughts are fast and repetitive, it can cause anxiety.  If these thoughts were slowed down, and are repetitive, it may cause depressive thoughts.   If these slow thoughts were varied, thoughts of peaceful happiness, commonly associated with meditation would be stimulated.

Why does speed of thought affect mood?  The researchers infer that dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that is important for motivation and pleasure, maybe stimulated.

The psychology of Flow

In an earlier post, I had written about ten traits of creative people.  The author of that list, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, had written a book on the psychology of Flow, that is, when one is faced with a task/project, he/she is able to draw from his/her highest level of skills to tackle this difficult challenge.  When people are in the state of flow, time almost disappears, this is when the mind is working and one becomes “in the zone.” Or as he is quoted as, “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.

More from Dr Csikszentmihalyi, 

For instance, the fact that you were completely immersed in what you were doing, that the concentration was very high, that you knew what you had to do moment by moment, that you had very quick and precise feedback as to how well you were doing, and that you felt that your abilities were stretched but not overwhelmed by the opportunities for action. In other words, the challenges were in balance with the skills. And when those conditions were present, you began to forget all the things that bothered you in everyday life, forget the self as an entity separate from what was going on—you felt you were a part of something greater and you were just moving along with the logic of the activity.

Everyone said that it was like being carried by a current, spontaneous, effortless like a flow. You also forget time and are not afraid of being out of control.” 

This article discusses the feeling of being in the state of flow, as well as how to get into the state of “flow.”  Daily mundane activities as well as a fear of others’ opinions can stifle one’s ability to be in the state of flow.

When students experience procrastination, they experience the state of flow far less than those that did not. In a study conducted by Eunju Lee, a research from South Korea, found the following:

Lee summarized his findings like this, “The more students procrastinate in doing their academic work, the less likely they are to experience flow state in the learning processes . . . students who did not have clear goals, did not concentrate on the task at hand and had high self-consciousness showed high procrastination tendencies” (p. 12). Lee then laid out the potential implications of these results for educators in helping students define clear goals, concentrate and not be excessively self-conscious.

Finally, Lee focused on the subscale that he found related most highly to procrastination, namely self-consciousness. “High procrastinators were more likely to be concerned with what others may been thinking of them, how they were presenting themselves, and about their performance during the learning process” (p. 13).

Do you all get into the state of flow on occasion?

For me, I need to be exposed and be involved in novel experiences. There needs to be sufficient challenge, and the feedback needs to be positive, whether it involves learning or doing a physical activity.  In the case of learning, it could be learning a new concept, and it simply clicks in one’s mind, and all connections and tangential ideas all make sense, consequently, the concept of time disappears.

Are you a conservative or a liberal?

As this is the election season, both those words can be loaded.  Social liberals are stereotypically casted as people that like to embrace new experiences, changes, and are open to new ideas.  Social conservatives are stereotypically people that like to keep traditions.

Psychologist Jonathan Haight, from the University of Virginia, explores the psychology behind these two groups.  In his research, he examines five moral areas:  fairness/reciprocity; harm/care; in-group/loyalty; authority/respect; and purity/sanctity.  

Fairness is about ensuring people all of all backgrounds have fair justice opportune to them. Harm is ensuring the weak and oppressed are protected.  Loyalty is ensuring that no matter the conditions, there is utmost loyalty among groups. Authority ensures there is societal semblance to societal norms and that deviant behaviors are discouraged.  Finally, for purity, it is to ensure that society maintains a certain level of decency.

People that were socially liberal generally had high care and fairness moral scores, and these two scores were even higher than the socially conservatives.  Despite the slightly lower care and fairness scores, the socially conservatives placed a very high emphasis on the authority, loyalty and purity moral scores, and placed these values significantly higher than social liberals.

Looking at cross countries and cultures, this is true for most around the world.  In the Eastern Asian cultures, there is less variance in the authority, loyalty and purity moral scores among socially liberal and conservatives versus North American and European scores.

Certainly this explains the voting patterns among socially liberals and socially conservatives and the differences in ideologies for the various political parties and their supporters.  I was hoping a third group would be studied, the Libertarians.  There seems to be a rise in this third group, as evidenced by the strong Ron Paul supporters.

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.

10 Traits for Creative People

A prominent author and professor, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who published the award-winning book, “Flow: Psychology of Optimal Experience”, wrote about ten seemingly paradoxical traits of creative people in this article. 

He mentioned that: “When we’re creative, we feel we are living more fully than during the rest of life……But creativity also leaves an outcome that adds to the richness and complexity of the future. 

Other than being creative, what makes creative people so unique?  He author said: “Creative individuals are remarkable for their ability to adapt to almost any situation and to make do with whatever is at hand to reach their goals. If I had to express in one word what makes their personalities different from others, it’s complexity. They show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are segregated. They contain contradictory extremes; instead of being an “individual,” each of them is a “multitude.“”

The following ten traits of creative people are as follows:

1) They possess an abundance of energy, while simultaneously able to find periods to rest and recharge/regroup.  Being able to focus intently on anything at anytime is paramount.  Being able to shuffle this balance, is important for these people’s success.  Past trial and errors helped them with achieving their goals.

2) Ability to balance convergent and divergent thinking.  Convergent thinking is the ability to solve well-defined problems that have one correct answer, this can be measured by IQ tests.  Divergent thinking is the ability to generate a multitude of ideas while being flexible and being able to use different perspectives, but not necessarily arrive at an answer.  This is the type of thinking that is encouraged by creative workshops.  Finally, the creative person is able to use Convergent thinking to select the right answer/solution from Divergent thinking.

3) Balancing playfulness and discipline is also key.  Creative people persevere during hardships and periods of difficulty.  It is not uncommon when most people are relaxing, these people are hard at work.

4) Alternate between the realms of fantasy and imagination.  Many creative ideas are borne from that extra leap in imagination.  Many people view artists, musicians, etc. as being part of the fantasy realm, while scientists, mathematicians, etc. as being realists.  When the creative person begins to work, this is no longer true.

5) Be simultaneously extraverted and introverted.  Most people are one or the other, but creative people are both.

6) Be self-deprecating and humble, while being proud.  They understand the quality of work that was accomplished before theirs and are able to put their work into perspective.  They focus on future ideas and current projects, as past projects no matter how interesting or significant, are no longer interesting.

7) Possess both female and male traits in thinking.  Being psychologically androgyny means a person has the ability to be both aggressive and nuturant, rigid and sensitive, competitive and collaborative, dominating and submissive regardless of gender.

8) Act rebellious/iconoclastic, and be concurrently traditional/conservative. Creative people understand and appreciate current dogma.  Being able to take risks to possibly enable paradigm shifts may be necessary.

9) Are passionate about their work, yet, objective about it.  The ability to detach oneself from a project and can identify and understand criticism from others.

10) Are sensitive, which opens to them to pain, yet it can become enjoyable.  Creative people are usually at the forefront of new ideas and designs, and are subject to criticism.  Due to their nature, many things bother them, and they need to correct these imperfections.  For example, a badly designed vehicle would bother a creative engineer.  Divergent thinking is viewed by many as deviant, resulting in many creative people feeling misunderstood.

The above ten antithetical traits of creative people underlie some of their motivations and ways of viewing the world.  Most importantly, is that in order for creativity to thrive in people, they must enjoy the process of creation.  Without this, it would stifle creativity.