It’s not easy to become successful. Everyone wants to achieve all their goals and dreams, but how many people actually do? Right. Not that many…
What stops most of us from achieving our goals?
What really holds us back from becoming bestselling authors, millionaire entrepreneurs and happy, kind, loving parents?
It’s not our lack of education, opportunity or luck.
It’s not our skin color, race or gender.
It’s not our looks, IQ or genes.
It’s the choices we make and what we do with our time, attention and focus that make all the difference in our lives.
Is a student with an IQ of 150 a “success” just because he can get straight A’s in school without much effort? Sure, he looks successful. “Look at that report card – all A’s,” his parents say. But so what? It takes no more effort for a genius to get an A than for a 7’6” man to dunk a basketball.
True success doesn’t come from our genes or external factors. True success comes from within. A genius with an IQ of 150 is successful if he learns to apply his unique skills and abilities consistently and achieves his full potential in life. Anything less than full effort and commitment does not make you a champion, no matter how much bigger, smarter or faster you are thanks to good luck or good genes.
“True Success Comes from Within”
This same principle applies to bestselling authors, rock stars, successful entrepreneurs and investors too. Having your first book, record or product sell millions of copies very quickly feels great, and it is, but it doesn’t give you an excuse to stop growing and improving.
Living in the past is a good way to kill your creative genius. You can’t get to the top and stay at the top without continuing to put in the work and effort. That’s what makes the difference between a lottery winner and a disciplined investor, between a lucky author with big sales and career writer who constantly hones their craft.
Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset Thinking
We have to learn to shift our focus from an external locus of control to an internal locus of control. Carol Dweck calls this shifting from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset in her groundbreaking book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
Someone with a fixed mindset believes consciously or subconsciously that all the events in your life are caused by uncontrollable external factors (like your IQ, height or a higher power). In contrast, someone with a growth mindset believes that events in your life are caused by controllable factors like your basketball training habits, study skills and perseverance.
The fixed mindset person says, “I failed this writing test. I’m bad at writing.” Then that person starts to believe they are bad at writing, and so they never try go improve their writing skills or learn new things about writing.
The growth mindset person says, “I failed this writing test. I made a lot of mistakes, and clearly there’s a lot I need to learn. What could I do to study and practice writing so I can get a better score next time?”
Mindset Makes All the Difference in the Long Run
The difference may not seem all that important. Both people still failed the writing test. Neither of them is any farther ahead, more talented or more skilled than the other. So why does mindset matter?
How can a growth mindset help you become a better writer, author, artist, entrepreneur or person?
To answer this question, picture two people in your mind: one with a growth mindset and one with a fixed mindset. They’re both authors and have each just finished their first book and published it on Amazon. Imagine that both authors are essentially the same – their book is the same and their results are the same. Everything about them is the same except that they have different mindsets when it comes to writing and being an author.
Let’s say they get lucky and both get a glowing 5-star review on Amazon from a new reader whom they have never met before. The review is so long, so detailed, and so full of praise and admiration that the authors can’t help but smile and giggle as they read it.
What happens next? Both of the authors start to feel really good about themselves. They picture themselves in their mind as a bestselling author getting great reviews on Amazon. Can’t you just feel how exciting that is?
But then something bad happens…
(Something bad will eventually happen if you live long enough. In fact, because humans are hardwired to expect bad things to happen, it’s a crucial storytelling technique to include disappointments, failures and mistakes to make the characters more relatable. Otherwise, the story feels really boring).
The next review both authors get is a terrible, scathing, horrifying 1-star review. This new review is even longer, more detailed and more well-written than the 5-star review. The reviewer points out all the typos, grammatical errors, factual errors, inconsistencies, plot holes, and poor word choices in the book.
If you ever had a paper you wrote in English class get sent back to you by the teacher covered in red ink from top to bottom with a big “F” at the top of the page, trust me, this review is even worse than that.
How You Respond to Failure Matters
So how do our authors handle this horrible 1-star review? Not all that well, unfortunately. They are both devastated. Reading the review, they feel like they got run over by a truckload of shock, anger and self-righteousness.
They think, “Who is this jerk who wrote such a nasty review?! Who does he think he is?”
They stew in that toxic emotional brew of anger for a few minutes… but then something happens. The growth mindset author snaps out of it and thinks, “Wow, this is a really uncomfortable spot I’m in. I just launched this brand new book on Amazon, and now I have one nice 5-star review and one really harsh 1-star review. It seems like I need to make some changes to my book or else I’m going to keep getting bad reviews.”
So, gritting his teeth, the growth mindset author rereads the negative review and takes notes on the typos, errors and mistakes pointed out by the reviewer so that he can go back to work improving the book.
Meanwhile, the fixed mindset author is still in a rage. Unable to control his emotions, he lashes out at the reviewer on Amazon. He thinks launching personal attacks at this unknown critic will shut him up and make the author feel better, but it won’t. He’s just making things worse and ignoring any possible solutions to the real problem.
Instead of focusing on the underlying cause of the problem (the author’s own past actions and mistakes), he’s constantly focused on symptoms of the problem (what the reviewer said and how that made the author feel).
Rather than spending time rewriting his book, the fixed mindset author spends his time rewriting his response to the reviewer on Amazon. He replays the review and his response to it over and over again in his mind, trying to find a better comeback, a better insult, a better justification. He thinks of all the things he could have said or done differently, all the possible arguments and rationalizations for the way the book is, all the ways to avoid blame and responsibility… but for what?
What do we hope to achieve by lashing out and avoiding blame? It won’t make us a better author, it won’t help improve our book, and it certainly won’t endear us to readers.
I have to admit I’ve done this, too. I was the new author with a fixed mindset. I tried responding to negative reviews with comebacks, and it never worked. It never helped me improve as a writer or a person. It never helped me sell more books. And it never made me happy.
You Can Change Your Mindset on Writing and Life
Eventually, I learned better. I learned to focus on what I could learn from a negative review and how I could improve my work and my attitude. Instead of spending hours or even days wallowing in anger and hurt feelings from a bad review, I learned to change my emotions in a few minutes or less.
I learned to take a walk, practice deep breathing exercises, and meditate. I learned to calm my mind and feel my emotions, staying present in the moment instead of lost in a torrent of furious thoughts with no purpose or aim.
I also learned the importance of staying humble, asking questions and being willing to reexamine myself, my life and my work.
I made the switch to the growth mindset, and it made all the difference.
The Hero’s Journey Never Ends
But that’s not the end of the story…
Despite all the changes I’ve made, the personal growth I’ve experienced and the meditation skills I’ve practiced, I’m still stuck with a dilemma: the more I grow and improve, the more I notice problems in my writing and opportunities for improvement. When I read a book or an article I wrote years or even just a few months ago, I can’t help but find typos, grammatical errors and room for improvement.
It’s scary. It’s uncomfortable. It forces me to confront the truth that I am just a human being who makes mistakes, trying to communicate through words on a page or computer screen, and that even my best words can only approximate the true message inside me that helped create them.
All I can do is put everything I have into my writing and continue to grow knowing that I will never be a perfect writer.
As corny as it may sound, I just want to be the best I can be. And for me, that means doing my best every day in every situation whether I’m editing an old book, writing a new one or spending time with friends and family.
How about you?
Will you embrace the growth mindset?
Are you willing to put your ego aside, accept that you’ve made mistakes in the past and work to improve today?
Are you giving your best to everything you do and everyone you meet throughout the day? If not, why not?
When you look at your book right now, whether it’s published or not, is it the best book you can possibly write? Have you given the project every bit of intelligence, creativity and experience you have, and then gone out to find even more to put into it?
You have a simple choice today. You can choose the growth mindset or the fixed mindset.
Which will you choose?
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