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How Only Doing What You Do Best Holds You Back

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"The brain grows most by getting questions wrong, not right." ~ From the video "You Can Learn Anything" by The Khan Academy


We all love getting it right. That sweet feeling of completing a task with ease, or having the answer pop into our heads with little or no effort. But getting hooked on that feeling can deprive us of an even sweeter success -- the feeling of doing something hard, even something "impossible."

Like any type of performance, doing the "impossible" requires training. Training requires a willingness to fail. If you're training to be an Olympic gymnast you have to be willing to fall, a lot. If you're training to be a champion player you have to be willing to lose, a lot. And if you're training to be a successful entrepreneur you have to be willing to fail, a lot.

Like any type of training, success begins, not in your physical abilities or your intellect, but with your attitude. A series of studies that looked at how kids (even as young as 1-year old) respond to different types of encouragement and praise indicate that most people fall into one of two categories:

  • Those with a fixed mindset, who believe their successes are a result of their innate talent or smarts.
  • Those with a growth mindset, who believe their successes are a result of their hard work.

It turns out that kids who are praised for their accomplishments using phrases like, "You're so smart," or "You're so talented" start focusing on their performance to the exclusion of focusing on growth. From the study by Mueller and Dweck:

"That is, 'being challenged' and 'learning a lot' are rejected in favor of 'seeming smart' by children who subscribe to a performance orientation."

On the other hand, kids who were praised for their effort, determination and improvement continued to increase their abilities because they didn't see falling, losing or failing as an indication of ability.

But you and I aren't kids. Quite possibly we weren't raised to have a "growth mindset." I know I wasn't. As entrepreneurs we've had it drilled into us that we need to play to our strengths, delegate anything we aren't good at, and replicate what we do well.

Here are my five tricks for getting into growth mindset , with no regression therapy required.

1. Tackle only one "Impossible" at a time.

There are a lot of things I know I'm not good at -- now. If I tried to get better at all of them, or even two or three of them at once, I'd compromise the performance of my business and give myself a breakdown. So I limit myself to one "impossible" goal at a time. Once it starts feeling doable, then I can pick up something else. Right now I'm working on learning podcasting. I'm going to make some stellar mistakes, but my brain will love me for it.

Related: Here Are 3 Unorthodox Techniques for Learning Leadership Skills

2. Honor progress, celebrate mistakes.

Every mistake is something I know not to do again. Some lessons come hard, and expensive, but is always an investment. Personal mistakes are the "stickiest" form of learning I know. As hard as it may be, I have to celebrate those "F's" and know that I've just been given a study guide for acing it next time.

It's also important to me to honor the incremental milestones that prove I'm making progress because if I wait until I post a big win I'll get discouraged and never finish what I started.

3. Laugh when you fall.

This one is the hardest for me. Falling hurts. But I know that laughter heals, so it truly is the "best medicine" for getting over a tumble of any kind.

Related: What Bouncing Back From 3 Lost Super Bowls Taught Me About Celebrating Failure

4. Stop the comparisons.

Of all of the incentives we're given to play to our strengths, do what we're good at and focus on performance, comparison to our peers may be the greatest. There are so many people out there doing amazing things. Their accomplishments are in your face constantly, from to live networking to the barrage of email promotions that most of us receive daily.

Let them have their wins. It doesn't matter if the "outside" they're showing you is real, exaggerated or an outright fabrication. Stay keyed into your own desires and stay committed to turning your own "impossible" into an "I can too."

5. Stay connected to your truth.

There's no shortage of feedback and advice for entrepreneurs. You'll find hundreds of people willing to tell you what you "should" do, what you "have" to do and what you "can't" do. None of them are you. Evaluate their opinions according to your personal truth, and know that your vision, hard work and determination trump their "shoulds," "have tos" and "can'ts" every single time.

Related: 10 Truths We Forget Too Easily

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