The view you adopt for yourself 

For twenty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value. How does this happen? How can a simple belief have the power to transform your psychology and, as a result, your life? 

Believing that your qualities are carved in stone — the fixed mindset — creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character — well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.

I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving themselves — in the classroom, in their careers, and in their relationships. Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser? . . .

There’s another mindset in which these traits are not simply a hand you’re dealt and have to live with, always trying to convince yourself and others that you have a royal flush when you’re secretly worried it’s a pair of tens. In this mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way — in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments — everyone can change and grow through application and experience.

Do people with this mindset believe that anyone can be anything, that anyone with proper motivation or education can become Einstein or Beethoven? No, but they believe that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training.

Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Primed for Action

Does your frame of mind before an event make a difference in the outcome? Read this quote from Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink:

Two Dutch researchers did a study in which they had groups of students answer forty-two fairly demanding questions from the board game Trivial Pursuit. Half were asked to take five minutes beforehand to think about what it would mean to be a professor and write down everything that came to mind. Those students got 55.6 percent of the questions right. The other half of the students were asked to first sit and think about soccer hooligans. They ended up getting 42.6 percent of the Trivial Pursuit questions right. The 'professor' group didn't know more than the 'soccer' group. They weren't smarter or more focused or more serious. They were simply in a 'smart' frame of mind and, clearly, associating themselves with the idea of something smart, like a professor, made it a lot easier - in that stressful instant after a trivia question was asked - to blurt out the right answer. The difference between 55.6 and 42.6 percent, it should be pointed out, is enormous. That can be the different between passing and failing.

Call it positive thinking or priming or whatever you like, but don't neglect the mental prep before each "big game." Actors must "get in character" by focusing on the task at hand before the curtain rises. In the same way, give your best effort by first dipping your mind in some positive energy.

Stephen Goforth

Finding Happiness

Remember that thin, watery barley or the oatmeal porridge without a single drop of fat? Can you say that you eat it? No. you commune with it, you take it like a sacrament. Like the prana of the yogis. you eat it slowly; you eat it from the tip of the wooden spoon; you eat it absorbed entirely in the process of eating, in thinking about eating - and it spreads through your body like nectar. You tremble at the sweetness released from those overcooked little grains and the murky liquid they float in. And then - with hardly any nourishment - you go on living six months, twelve months. Can you really compare the crude devouring of a steak with this?

Satiety depends not at all on how much we eat, but on how we eat. It's the same way with happiness, the very same. Happiness doesn't depend on how many external blessings we have snatched from life. It depends only on our attitude toward them.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The First Circle

It's all in the 'tude

Several years ago on an extremely hot day, a crew of men were working on the road bed of the railroad when they were interrupted by a slow moving train. The train ground to a stop and a window in the last car – which incidentally was custom make and air conditioned – was raised. A booming, friendly voice called out, “Dave, is that you?” Dave Anderson, the crew chief called back, “Sure is, Jim, and it’s really good to see you.” With that pleasant exchange, Dave Anderson was invited to join Jim Murphy, the president of the railroad, for a visit. For over an hour the men exchanged pleasantries and then shook hands warmly as the train pulled out.

Dave Anderson’s crew immediately surrounded him and to a man expressed astonishment that he knew Jim Murphy, the president of the railroad as a personal friend. Dave then explained that over 20 years earlier he and Jim Murphy had started to work for he railroad on the same day. One of the men, half-jokingly and half seriously asked Dave why he was still working out in the hot sun and Jim Murphy had gotten to be president. Rather wistfully, Dave explained, “twenty-three years ago I went to work for $1.75 an hour and Jim Murphy went to work for the railroad.”

Zig Ziglar, See You at the Top

Every Human Heart

“The line separating good and evil passes, not through states, nor between classes nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart."

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn endured many years in a Russian Gulag (labor camp) and could write that statement with conviction. Many men did not survive the terrible weather and the harsh treatment in the Gulag. Solzhenitsyn was slowing dying himself while he was interned-until a fellow prisoner showed him unexpected kindness and it changed his attitude and refreshed his spirit. He survived to become one of the most well-read and revered authors in Russian.

We each face will choose living on one side of the line or on the other.

Stephen Goforth

Focusing on the Bright Spots

Suppose that you go to bed tonight and sleep well. Sometime, in the middle of the night, while you are sleeping, a miracle happens and all the troubles that brought you here are resolved. When you wake up in the morning, what’s the first small sign you’d see that would make you think, “Well, something must have happened – the problem is gone!”

The miracle question doesn't ask you to describe the miracle itself; it asks you to identify the tangible signs that the miracle happened. Once (someone has identified) specific and vivid signs of progress... a second question is perhaps even more important. It's the Exception Question: "When was the last time you saw a little bit of the miracle, even for just a short time?"

There are exceptions to every problem and that those exceptions, once identified, can be carefully analyzed, like the game film of a sporting event. Let's replay that scene, where things were working for you. What was happening? How did you behave? That analysis can point directly toward a solution that is, by definition, workable. After all, it worked before.

Chip & Dan Heath, Switch

Focusing on the Bright Spots

Suppose that you go to bed tonight and sleep well. Sometime, in the middle of the night, while you are sleeping, a miracle happens and all the troubles that brought you here are resolved. When you wake up in the morning, what’s the first small sign you’d see that would make you think, “Well, something must have happened – the problem is gone!”

The miracle question doesn't ask you to describe the miracle itself; it asks you to identify the tangible signs that the miracle happened. Once (someone has identified) specific and vivid signs of progress... a second question is perhaps even more important. It's the Exception Question: "When was the last time you saw a little bit of the miracle, even for just a short time?"

There are exceptions to every problem and that those exceptions, once identified, can be carefully analyzed, like the game film of a sporting event. Let's replay that scene, where things were working for you. What was happening? How did you behave? That analysis can point directly toward a solution that is, by definition, workable. After all, it worked before.

Chip & Dan Heath, Switch

The Halo Effect

If you like the president’s politics, you probably like his voice and his appearance as well. The tendency to like (or dislike) everything about a person–including things you have not observed–is known as the halo effect. The term has been in use in psychology for a century, but it has not come into wide use in everyday language. This is a pity, because the halo effect is a good name for a common bias that plays a large role in shaping our view of people and situations. It is one of the ways the representation of the world that system one generates is simpler and more coherent than the real thing.

You meet a woman named Joan at a party and find her personable and easy to talk to. Now her name comes up as someone who could be asked to contribute to a charity. What do you know about Joan's generosity? The correct answer is that you know virtually nothing, because there is little reason to believe that people who are agreeable in social situations are also generous contributors to charities. But you like Joan and you will retrieve the feeling of liking her when you think of her. You also like generosity and generous people. By association, you are now predisposed to believe that Joan is generous. And that you believe she is generous you probably like Joan eve better than you did earlier, because you have added generosity to her pleasant attributes.

The sequence in which we observe characteristics of a person is often determined by chance. Sequence matters, however, because the halo effect increase the weight of the first impressions, sometimes to the point that subsequent information is mostly wasted.

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

The Joy of Third Place

Is third better than second place? It seems to be better if you are in the Olympics. Psychologists at Cornell University say their research shows bronze-medal winners are generally happier than silver medalists. Here's the reason: When you come in second place you focus on what you might have done differently in order to win. Come in third and you’re happy just to get a medal.

The phenomenon of "what if" reasoning (knows as Counterfactual thinking) leads us to imagine how things could have been different rather than on what actually has happened. The bronze winners generally think “what if” I hadn’t won anything and realize how fortunate they are to be on the podium at all. But for the silver medalist, “what if” means pondering the little things that might have turned silver to gold.

It seems counterfactual thinking plays out, not just in games, but in every day life. If a student misses making a grade of "A" by one point, having a "B" is no longer so satisfying.

"Would I be happier today if only I had married someone else?" “What if I had attended a different school or majored in another field?” “Suppose I had selected a different profession?”

Miss a flight by five minutes and you are frustrated. But if there’s no way you could make the flight you don't waste time on it. It's like the football team losing in the final seconds of a game. If the team had gotten blown out, then the players can more easily put it behind them and move on. But when victory was so very close, they can always think of little things they might have done differently to affect the outcome.  

Do you puzzle over what you might have done until you what-if yourself into dissatisfaction? Do you get stuck thinking about what almost happened? Do you feel like you are the silver medalist in life?

It's worth noting that first place has its pitfalls as well. Research shows the first runner in a long-distance race puts in three times more effort maintaining that position than the runner-up. The researchers recommend when you are in the lead to focus on the struggle with one’s self rather than the pace of the other runners.

Stephen Goforth

Imagining the Future

I often ask people to tell me how they think they would feel two years after the sudden death of an eldest child. As you can probably guess, this makes me quite popular at parties. I know, I know—this is a gruesome exercise and I’m not asking you to do it. But the fact is that if you did it, you would probably give me the answer that almost everyone gives me, which is some variation on "Are you out of your damned mind? I’d be devastated—totally devastated. I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed in the morning. I might even kill myself. So who invited you to this party anyway?"

If at this point I’m not actually wearing the person’s cocktail, I usually probe a bit further and ask how he came to his conclusion. What thoughts or images came to mind, what information did he consider? People typically tell me that they imagined hearing the news, or they imagined opening the door to an empty bedroom.

But in my long history of asking this question and thereby excluding myself from every social circle to which I formerly belonged, I have yet to hear a single person tell me that in addition to these heartbreaking, morbid images, they also imagined the other things that would inevitably happen in the two years following the death of their child.

Indeed, not one person has ever mentioned attending another child’s school play, or making love with his spouse, or eating a taffy apple on a warm summer evening, or reading a book, or writing a book, or riding a bicycle, or any of the many activities that we—and that they—would expect to happen in those two years.

Now, I am in no way, shape, or form suggesting that a bite of gooey candy compensates for the loss of a child. That isn’t the point. What I am suggesting is that the two-year period following a tragic event has to contain something—that is, it must be filled with episodes and occurrences of some kind—and these episodes and occurrences must have some emotional consequences.

Regardless of whether those consequences are large or small, negative or positive, one cannot answer my question accurately without considering them. And yet, not one person I know has ever imagined anything other than the single, awful event suggested by my question. When they imagine the future, there is a whole lot missing, and the things that are missing matter.

Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness

Build yourself a great story

How will you use your gifts? What choices will you make?

Will inertia be your guide, or will you follow your passions?

Will you follow dogma, or will you be original?

Will you choose a life of ease, or a life of service and adventure?

Will you wilt under criticism, or will you follow your convictions?

Will you bluff it out when you're wrong, or will you apologize?

Will you guard your heart against rejection, or will you act when you fall in love?

Will you play it safe, or will you be a little bit swashbuckling?

When it's tough, will you give up, or will you be relentless?

Will you be a cynic, or will you be a builder?

Will you be clever at the expense of others, or will you be kind?

I will hazard a prediction. When you are 80 years old, and in a quiet moment of reflection narrating for only yourself the most personal version of your life story, the telling that will be most compact and meaningful will be the series of choices you have made.

In the end, we are our choices.

Build yourself a great story.

Jeff Bezos, speaking to the Princeton Class of 2010 (watch the video here)

don’t make waves

Thomas Moriarty arranged an experiment in which innocent persons would be practically accused of stealing. The experimental aide would stand behind an adult businessman making a call in a phone booth in Grand Central Station; when the call was completed the aid would play out the following script: “Excuse me, I was here a few minutes ago I left my ring on the counter under the phone. Did you find it?” Of course, all subjects replied, “No.”

The aide would then say, “I've got to find it. Are you sure you didn't see it? Sometimes people pick things up without thinking about it. Again, subjects would deny having seen the ring. Then the aid would ask, “Would you empty your pockets?”

The Investigators wondered how many people would comply with such an overbearing request, one which amounts to an allegation of petty thievery. The compliance rate was 80 percent: four of every five adult males essentially submitted to a search by emptying their pockets. The percentages were even higher in laboratory experiments. And even when a “disinterested bystander” said to the aide. “You’ve got no right to ask him to empty his pockets,” the subjects still complied.

Such studies show how prevalent passivity is. It is alarming that so few people are willing to stand up for their rights when they are being put upon and clearly annoyed. Apparently, most of us would rather not get into a hassle about anything, especially with a stranger. The slogan is: Don’t make waves.

Sharon and Gordon Bower, Asserting Yourself

The abundance-oriented approach

When you don't need to compare yourself to other people, you gravitate towards things that you instinctively enjoy doing, and you're good at, and if you just focus on that for a long enough time, then chances are very, very high that you're going to progress towards mastery anyway, and the fame and the power and the money and everything will come as a byproduct, rather than something that you chase directly in trying to be superior to other people.

If you were to go back to the three things that people need—mastery, belonging, and autonomy—I'd add a fourth, after basic necessities have been met. It’s the attitude or the worldview that you bring to life. And that worldview can be characterized, just for simplicity, in one of two fashions: One extreme is a kind of scarcity-minded approach, that my win is going to come at somebody else's loss, which makes you engage in social comparisons. And the other view is what I would call a more abundance-oriented approach, that there's room for everybody to grow.

Raj Raghunathan quoted in the Atlantic

Making exterior changes to avoid internal changes

Some people make changes so they won’t have to make transitions. They walk out on their marriages, but take along the attitudes toward partners that destroyed their marriages. Or they continue to search for “someone to take care of me” after they quit their jobs because their bosses are not interested in playing that role. Or they move because their town doesn’t have any “interesting people” in it—only to find that their new town doesn’t either. Such people may claim that they are “always in transition,” but in fact they are probably never in transition. They are addicted to change, and like any addiction, it is an escape from the real issues raised by their lives.

William Bridges, The Way of Transition


The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company...a church....a home.

The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past...we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude...I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you...we are in charge of our attitudes.

Charles R. Swindoll

from “dunce” to genius

When Victor Seribriakoff was fifteen, his teacher told him he would never finish school and that he should drop out and learn a trade. Victor took the advice and for the next seventeen years he was an itinerant doing a variety of odd jobs. He had been told he was a "dunce" and for seventeen years he acted like one. When he was 32 years old, an amazing transformation took place. An evaluation revealed that he was a genius with an I.Q. of 161. Guess what? That's right, he started acting like a genius. Since that time he has written books, secured a number of patents and has become a successful businessman. Perhaps the most significant event for the former dropout was his election as chairman of the International Mensa Society. The Mensa Society has only one membership qualification, an I.Q. of 140.

The story of Victor Seribriakoff makes you wonder how many geniuses we have wandering around acting like dunces because someone told them they weren't too bright. Obviously, Victor did not suddenly acquire a tremendous amount of additional knowledge. He did suddenly acquire tremendous added confidence. The result was, he instantly became more effective and more productive. When he saw himself differently, he started acting differently. He started expecting, and getting different results. Ah yes, as a man thinketh..

Zig Ziglar, See You at the Top

The boy with the bread sandwich

Norman Garmezy, a developmental psychologist and clinician at the University of Minnesota, met thousands of children in his four decades of research. But one boy in particular stuck with him. He was nine years old, with an alcoholic mother and an absent father. Each day, he would arrive at school with the exact same sandwich: two slices of bread with nothing in between. At home, there was no other food available, and no one to make any. Even so, Garmezy would later recall, the boy wanted to make sure that “no one would feel pity for him and no one would know the ineptitude of his mother.” Each day, without fail, he would walk in with a smile on his face and a “bread sandwich” tucked into his bag.

The boy with the bread sandwich was part of a special group of children. He belonged to a cohort of kids—the first of many—whom Garmezy would go on to identify as succeeding, even excelling, despite incredibly difficult circumstances. These were the children who exhibited a trait Garmezy would later identify as “resilience.”

If you are lucky enough to never experience any sort of adversity, we won’t know how resilient you are. It’s only when you’re faced with obstacles, stress, and other environmental threats that resilience, or the lack of it, emerges: Do you succumb or do you surmount?

Resilient children (have) what psychologists call an “internal locus of control”: they believed that they, and not their circumstances, affected their achievements. The resilient children saw themselves as the orchestrators of their own fates. In fact, on a scale that measured locus of control, they scored more than two standard deviations away from the standardization group.

One of the central elements of resilience is perception: Do you conceptualize an event as traumatic, or as an opportunity to learn and grow?

Maria Konnikova writing in the New Yorker

Cancer has ushered in new ways of being alive

(At the age of 35) CANCER has kicked down the walls of my life. I cannot be certain I will walk my son to his elementary school someday or subject his love interests to cheerful scrutiny. I struggle to buy books for academic projects I fear I can’t finish for a perfect job I may be unable to keep. I have surrendered my favorite manifestoes about having it all, managing work-life balance and maximizing my potential. I cannot help but remind my best friend that if my husband remarries everyone will need to simmer down on talking about how special I was in front of her. (And then I go on and on about how this is an impossible task given my many delightful qualities. Let’s list them. …) Cancer requires that I stumble around in the debris of dreams I thought I was entitled to and plans I didn’t realize I had made.

But cancer has also ushered in new ways of being alive. Even when I am this distant from Canadian family and friends, everything feels as if it is painted in bright colors. In my vulnerability, I am seeing my world without the Instagrammed filter of breezy certainties and perfectible moments. I can’t help noticing the brittleness of the walls that keep most people fed, sheltered and whole. I find myself returning to the same thoughts again and again: Life is so beautiful. Life is so hard.

Kate Bowler writing in the New York Times

choosing your way

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.

Victor Frankl