Earlier this year I read a great book – Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg Mckeown. And it clarified my thoughts on an idea that has been dancing around the edges of my mind.
I like to do many things. In varsity, I did so many different things…taught dance school, involved in church activities, led cell group, designed on the side, attended classes, had a social life, etc, etc.
I liked doing many things because I liked the rush of being busy and trying to cram a thousand things into an impossible space of time.
Over time, some things fell away and I became more focused. My life was centred around designing and trying to make a living from that. For the past few years, I have been very undisciplined with my work. I would take on as many jobs as came my way, while trying to work on my personal ideas and projects. The price of this indiscipline was I was always frantic and at the mercy of my clients, and email. I burned out regularly as evidenced by my blog posts around mid year, every year. I never had the chance to slow percolate ideas and projects the way I really wanted to.
Last year however, I had the experience of being able to work on one project for months, building it from the ground up and designing multiple collateral for the idea. It was a nice change of pace from trying to fit 10 things into a month of time. I liked it, the pace of work was both challenging and easier. Challenging because it takes discipline to work in this way…pushing past resistance and fighting distraction. Easier because I didn’t feel so frantic and rushed. Better because my quality of work was higher.
As the third month of the year begins and we continue to plow through, I want to make great impact this year. I recognize that that means working on the right things. But you can only know what the right things are if you know what you truly want and what is important to you. Then you can identify what paths of action would take you there. You can sacrifice short term gain for the long term goal, and move steadily towards your aims. But this way of doing things is not always natural and is something we must develop a discipline in. You have to decide where your greatest level of contribution is, and where the greatest need is and where the two intersect. Eventually, you can do less and achieve a lot more, because the essential few things have a great pay off.
Having many options and opportunities is a blessing and a curse. Its great to be able to explore all these possibilities, but at some point, you have to close off some doors and focus on the essential few. Otherwise, your energy will be scattered in too many directions and you will not make any impact.
Focus on the essential few.
So I came across this idea again a week ago – the concept of two different mindsets: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.
The concept is fairly straightforward. On the one hand, you have the fixed mindset. This way of thinking assumes that intelligence and traits are fixed, they are either there or not, either high or low, and you have what you have, it’s just the way it is. If you are smart, you are smart. If you are dumb, you are dumb.
On the other hand, there is the growth mindset. This basically means that what ever is…can be changed. So, intelligence is fluid, traits and skills are fluid, they change. You can actually become smarter…or dumber.
Now what is fascinating are the consequences of each way of thinking. In the fixed mindset, things get dangerous. You get told, ‘hey, you did well in this math test, you are quite intelligent’. What gets into your subconscious is ‘I am intelligent, this is part of my identity now. Because I am intelligent, I SHOULD always do well. If I don’t do well, then it means I’m dumb and that’s just not true, I am intelligent and awesome’. You carry around this self-identity and look for cues to support it. So you do things that you know you are definitely good at and shun everything that seems hard. Effort isn’t a good thing because it means that the thing is hard, and intelligent people don’t find things hard. You might even start to lie and inflate your performance or importance because you MUST support this idea of your intelligence.
In the growth mindset, you get told, ‘hey, you did well in this math test, you must have worked really hard on this’. Here the focus is on the EFFORT, what gets communicated to your subconscious is ‘I did well because I put in work’. So its not about you being smart or superior, its about the work and energy you put into solving those problems. Generally these people do better than the former group, they relish a challenge and are keen on working hard to overcome obstacles and learn, grow, become better.
I got the impression when I was very young that I was intelligent. I did very well in primary school without really trying. It was only in high school after languishing in mediocrity for a bit that I realized that if I put in more work and tweaked my study/learning habits I could actually go back to doing very well. So I learned from experience that if I wanted to be ‘intelligent’ I could boost that by practicing and working hard.
But the fixed mindset is still rooted quite deep within even though it’s slowly crumbling. The growth mindset requires humility and a focus on the process. You must be willing to come to the situation as a pure open-minded beginner, not thinking you know it all or anything at all. You must be okay with failing as long as each failure is an exhaustive lesson of where to grow. You must love the effort and the grind to the top. I’m not a good designer because the gods magically blessed me. I am a good designer because I have been working hard at my craft and if I continue to grind and tweak my process, I will continue to get better
Another place the fixed vs growth mindset plays out is in relationships, especially romantic ones. I am terribly guilty of being of the fixed mindset. Here, its all supposed to magically work out. The girl I’m with needs to just fit, the relationship should work, be sparkles and fireworks half the time, her flaws are problems that threaten our connection. While there is baseline for qualities I’d like, fairy tale perfection rarely happens. If I want an amazing and fulfilling relationship, that is something that will require mistakes, learning and working together to build that.
Lastly, I think about the effect of the fixed mindset on my life by the way of my fixation on perfection. I always thought I had to be the perfect kid, the perfect Christian, the perfect guy, and that caused me A LOT of distress when I would inevitable mess up. I have spent days pondering the question – ‘am I a good person?’ But if success comes from working towards being my best self, I don’t have to get it right all the time, I just have to be committed to working towards it.
I love to read. I love to read so much; I seldom finish one before I pick the next one. Actually, it’s a bit worse than that. Sometimes I read 2, 3…5 books at the same time.
I used to think this was a problem. I mean, shouldn’t one finish one book first then go to the next? Read sequentially, diligently.
Not according to this new mental framework I am using to evaluate things in my life. The idea that I am perfectly fine the way I am and leveraging that which is most authentic and natural to me to reach my aims. So basically, instead of being dissatisfied at myself for not being what I think I should be, I look at what I am and work with that. If you maximize what already is, you can eventually expand into what is not.
For instance, I like to read a lot, but I also lose interest quickly. I read quite a few blogs daily and I bathe in a constant stream of information and ideas. Shiny new books distract me, and I hunt down, buy and download as much as I can. I used to feel a little guilty when I’d pick up a book and then two weeks down the line realize I’m on a fifth book when I did not go past the 4th chapter in the first one. Then I realize it’s not about the books. No one is going to grade me on how I read books or give me a ribbon for good reading. It’s about ideas, extracting those ideas, and using those ideas.
I read across categories/topics…spirituality, business, psychology, design, success/motivation/self help, and I bump around so this week, I may be more interested in life hacking ideas and so I read some Tim Ferris, or Leo Babauta. Next week, I may want to wax philosophical so I settle into some Alan Watts or some Krishnamurti.
The good thing about reading in this way is that the ideas can cross pollinate in real time. The other week, I was busy digging into 4 books simultaneously – So Good They can’t Ignore You (Cal Newport), 33 Strategies of War (Robert Greene), How to learn anything fast (Josh Kaufman), The Start-Up of You (Reid Hoffman). And I did this intentionally because I was taking a week ‘off’ to think at length about my creative career and how to move things forward. Cal’s book traces the paths of great careers and how one cultivates one, Robert’s book deals with war and lessons learned from the greats, because lets face it, every encounter in the market place, in relationships is a warzone. In the new world, everyone has to think, network and operate like an entrepreneur, hence Reid’s book. And if you want to thrive in this new world, you must master the skill of learning so I’m reading Josh’s book.
The last book I finished was ‘Unlabel’ (Marc Ecko) and that begins to raise another layer of questions on authenticity, embodying your brand, and selling that to the world.
Reading in this way allows me to absorb ideas quickly and slowly begin to link them together and create a best practice, a way of being based on new knowledge that should move me closer and faster to my goal of living a good engaged creative life and providing value.
And that is why I read many books at once, it works for me and it is okay.
I’ve been reading ‘Moonwalking with Einstein’ by Joshua Foer, and this piece of text stood out for me.
Monotony collapses time; novelty unfolds it. You can exercise daily and eat healthily and live a long life, while experiencing a short one. If you spend your life sitting in a cubicle and passing papers, one day is bound to blend unmemorably into the next—and disappear. That’s why it’s important to change routines regularly, and take vacations to exotic locales, and have as many new experiences as possible that can serve to anchor our memories. Creating new memories stretches out psychological time, and lengthens our perception of our lives.
One of my values is living an interesting and varied life. It’s easier said than done, I tend to spend a lot of my time following the same routines, waking, working, attending to visitors. But, I am trying to switch it up a bit, walk around, visit people, sit in the park, be random. I also guess I’ll start taking more pictures of things and events…memories are good, they speak of rich life.
I read a lot, and fairly rapidly too. I get into about 2 books a week, sometimes multiple books simultaneously, and I can attribute most of my ideas and paradigms to these great authors and thinkers. This year I estimate I’ve read in part or in full about 50+ books and ebooks, and even more articles from blogs around the web. However, in this year 2010, these have been the most important books, that have challenged my thinking and provided ideas in navigating the exciting road less travelled.
1. The Four Hour Work Week (Tim Ferris)
This is one of the first books I read this year and one that really expanded my paradigm of what is possible and the various alternative lifestyles available. Tim has become someone to watch and listen to in my eyes, and his ideas are invaluable. Essentially, this book is about automating income, developing incredible efficiency and productivity, and freeing up one’s time to do…well whatever one really wants to. Key word here: Lifestyle design. Learn more about The Four Hour Work Week here
2. Rework (Jason Fried and David Hansson)
A re-examination of work and the culture of work and business. Jason Fried and David Hansson of 37 signals ( a company of less than 20 people who generate millions of dollars every year) present a book with a contrarian view of what it means to build and run a business. With chapter titles like ’Ignore the real World’, ‘Planning is Guessing’, ‘Make a dent in the Universe’ and ‘Outside money is Plan Z’, this book is a classic on my shelf. My favourite quote from this book is ‘’The real world isn’t a place, it’s an excuse. It’s a justification for not trying. It has nothing to do with you.’’
3. The Art of Non Conformity (Chris Guillebeau)
Chris is a man on a mission…to take over the world, by building and linking up with a small army of individuals who live a life of non-conformity, thriving in the new economy with the most innovative and surprising of lifestyle options whilst making a tangible impact today! Am only about ¼ through it, but this book is a must have! After working in West Africa for four years unpaid volunteer work, Chris now spends his time travelling the world and connecting with fellow world changers. Read his story here
4. The E-Myth: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It (Michael E. Gerber)
Knowing how to do the work of a business is NOT the same as knowing how to run that business. Michael E. Gerber points this out, saying that most business are not started by entrepreneurs, but by technicians caught by the entrepreneurial seizure. He outlines the idea of turn key systems that create a viable, and scalable business.
5. The Leader Who Had No Title (Robin Sharma)
Ah…the great Robin Sharma. This book is a classic. True leaders need no title. In-fact, everyone is a leader in their own right, regardless of their own position in life or in business. Everyone can make the commitment to being a leader, doing their best work and taking responsibility for their results. Unleash the leader and the winner in you.
6. The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari (Robin Sharma)
Another great read from Mr Sharma. Written in his distinct parable style, This is a book about connecting with one’s self and living a life of congruence, power, and excellence. A must for anyone looking to tap into and be their best self, with lasting fulfilment. Find Robin Sharma here
7. Style Deficit Disorder: Harajuku Street Fashion – Tokyo
A chronicle of the culture and fashion hotspot in and around Harajuku, Tokyo Japan. Very vibrant, very edgy, here we meet now global fashion entities such as ‘A Bathing Ape’, ‘Commes des Garcons’, and Hiroshi Fujiwara in their infancy and see their growth beyond. A demonstration of what happens when young talented people are able to express their ideas and pursue their dreams relentlessly.
8. Secrets of The Millionaire Mind (T Harv Eker)
Why is it that some people who make tons of money can never seem to keep it or grow it. It may have to do a lot with internal scripting. What is your financial mental blueprint? Is it set to success? Eker shows you how to indentify your inner wealth scripting, rewrite them and start off on the path to financial prosperity.
9. Getting Real (37 Signals)
This is a book about moving from ideas to actual prototypes and product…as fast as you can. Action oriented, progressive enhancement, with a shipping bias, this book is written primarily for software developers, but the principles are applicable in almost every creative endeavour.
10. The Bootstrapper’s Bible (Seth Godin)
Starting a business with no cash? Don’t worry, we got you. In this powerful free ebook. Seth Godin outlines how to startup and run a business with little or no cash, all it takes is careful planning, guts and lots of elbow grease. Good luck. Find the book here
*An 11th book, which I only started reading yesterday is ‘A whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers will Rule The Future’. Looks like a very promising read.