Vail Daily column: How we become better
August 28, 2015
The message knocked twice in the same day, and I've been thinking about it ever since. I think it might just be the key to everything.
Ah, this is why I go to workshops and presentations. Why I hardly ever watch TV anymore.
No time, for one, and something else has crept over me. Gets me up before 5:30 most mornings now, pushes me longer in the evening. And dear God, even my fun has purpose beyond the play even the most grownup adults need.
But back to The Message. I was sitting among the crowd at The Bookworm last Thursday evening while ultra athlete Travis Macy told us about his book, "The Ultra Mindset." That morning I had attended a Vail Leadership Institute workshop led by Kara Penn, with her book "Fail Better: Design Smart Mistakes and Succeed Sooner."
The Message was obvious, there all along, an Easter egg in plain sight.
Both books aim to help us navigate through the ups and downs of our lives to reach our goals.
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I sometimes suggest to writers and editors to view their work like a stock market chart. Step far enough back and the improvement trend will look smooth. Up close, though, the graph gets jagged. All ups and downs, steps back as well as forward. There's real life. If you can accept this while punching away toward your higher self, odds are pretty good you'll get there.
Your best effort will have different results from day to day, for all sorts of reasons, including dumb luck. Try not to stress yourself, scare yourself, delude yourself, impress yourself, impress your boss, look around for admirers or critics — all those ways we undermine ourselves.
I'd say Macy's book is more focused on the individual, as might be expected, in the face of huge challenges. Penn's is more about leading a group through implementation of what at least seemed like a bright idea at the time.
In short both are about the hard part — the doing, and figuring out how to do better.
Here's The Message, at least as I understood it: Ironically enough, focusing on performance is not the best way to achieve it.
Wait. What? I'm thinking runners with their stopwatches, organizations and their arrays of metrics. Of course it's about performance. That's pretty much what it's only about. Right?
Penn started it in the morning. Our prevailing mindset fundamentally is wrong. All wrong. She called this the "performance" mindset vs. the "growth" mindset.
Macy that evening said the same thing, only he called it the "fixed" mindset vs. the "growth" mindset.
Let's put it this way: Higher performance is a gift from focusing on growth. It's also a mindset that assumes we each can develop ourselves beyond our current aptitudes, skills and perceptions of limits. It declares fundamentally that our limits are not where we have set them, not at all. We're capable of so much more.
A "fixed" or "performance" mindset is the wrong story to tell ourselves, basically, in part because it's not even true. Or, better put, its truth lies only in the story we tell ourselves why we can't. And so, of course, we don't. We don't even try.
Falling short — "failing" — in the "growth" mindset is an inevitable step along the way to higher achievement, like learning to walk and every lesson after that.
Of course, I only may be substituting one myth for another. I'm not going to dominate the NBA if only I keep trying, after all. Hah, not even noon ball.
Still, on a practical level, it's better to try, fail, try, … and eventually win the day, perhaps, and at the very least achieve a measure of growth for the effort. Failing to try is the real killer.
And so I get up early and all that, fired up with this weird quest to become better than I am today. That's the root of it, I think. My means might be writing and yours beer brewing or competing in ultramarathons or saving the world in some way.
In this the message, the story we tell ourselves, matters. I think it makes all the difference, actually.
Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 970-748-2920.