Have you ever had moments when looking towards others and thinking how lucky they are, born with so many skills and qualities? I remember when I went to secondary school watching my sporty class mates and friends while thinking that I would have loved to be born with that gift: ball eye, precision and flexibility. As I watched them, I kind of accepted that those skills were given to them by birth, not me. So I focused on other things.
Though when I grew older, that desire for flexibility kept nagging me. I was so stiff and it really bothered me. I started travelling after finishing gymnasium (equal to A-levels in the UK). At that time, a shift in my perspective of myself happened. And now, 8 years later I have just finished a book that introduced me to a research project, that reminded me of this perspective-shift I experienced. A shift that changed my life forever.
I have, like I am sure many of you have, experienced a feeling of there are some things that I am simply not made for. That there are certain skills and qualities that I am born without. What I am about to tell you, will dramatically change your life, possibilities and capabilities.
We live in a time where pressure, stress and due-dates are constantly being fired at us. We can not delete these emotions from our experiences. Those emotion we try to delete by forcefully neglecting them, we actually fertilise and they become stronger. Rather, we must focus on the qualities and the mind-states that we like to see more of in our life. It is important for all of us to learn how down-play stress by promoting inner-peace, trust and an ability to see the bigger picture. That way we move strength from those emotions that are not helping us to thrive to the emotions that do provide us with courage and gumption.
Ever thought about that the word ‘emotion’ comes from the word ’motion’ - ‘To move’. Emotions move us. Each emotion guides and moves us in different directions. It is therefore our job to fertilise the emotions that helps us turn the sail in the right direction, for the wind to carry us where we want to be!
Something that can bring stress, anxiety and pressure into all of or lives, are when being approached to new things. It can at first seem completely overwhelming. I remember, when I lived in New Zealand learning rock climbing. When my friends first time took me with them to the rock to teach me, I couldn’t possible imagine I would EVER master it. The gear alone was overwhelming, not even to mention how to assemble and use the it. Inside my head it all seemed like a complete mess. Next time we went I had a list with all the things I needed to remember to bring. The list seemed endless. What have you learned in your life that at first seemed like an impossible mission? Am I right when saying, that suddenly, sometimes even without noticing it, what we before found so hard, has become a routine to us and we engage with it effortlessly? A bit like when we have hick-ups. We notice them each time, but we rarely notice the last one. First long time after we notice that we no longer have hick-ups. It is a bit the same with learning something new, suddenly we are, because of countless of repetitions, able to do it. I didn’t even notice it, but soon I didn’t even need to look at the lists anymore. The tools where no longer an overwhelming amount, I had made “friends” with them and now I just brought them along for a climb.
Okay, let’s get to the root of this, what I really want to share with you is this research that I bumped into the other day. Before we get to it, I want to ask you a question. I encourage you to pause and reflect before you read along.
How do you understand intelligence? Is it something that we are born with? Or is it something that we can acquire?
Pause to answer this question. When you read along your answer will help you to understand yourself and the people around you. Really take your time to answer this questions in details. Note it down in notes on your phone or a piece of paper.
Do you also have things that you are just not made for? Are there some skills you are simply born without? Read this to see how this belief is preventing you from growth.
Okay, perfect. You now have your answers written down. We will put them aside for a moment to look at a thought-provoking research. Keep those answers close by though, we will get back to them shortly.
The Research Project:
As I mentioned, a though- provoking research was conducted. The research subjects were children. The children were given a task to solve independently where after they were praised upon completion. Here comes the interesting fact. Half of the children were praised for their intelligence, the other half were praised for their effort.
Were you praised mainly for your intelligence as a child, or your effort? Was the sentence something like: “You are so clever” or “Awesome effort you put into getting this good” And as a parent how do you praise your child? Or as a employer, how do you praise and value your employees? Note it down, it is interesting what the research is about to reveal.
SO half of the children were praised for their intelligence the other half for the effort they applied to solve the task. Afterwards the children where given a new task, but this time, they could choose themselves between two options:
1) They could either choose a task that was more difficult than the one that they just solved, but a task they would learn a lot from (they were told this before making the choice).
2) Or they could choose a task that was same difficulty-level as the one that they just solved (so easier than option 1. This they were also told before making the choice).
It turned out that 90% of the children who had been praised for the EFFORT chose the more difficult task. The majority of the children who had been praised for their intelligence chose the task that was same difficulty-level as the one they just solved, easier than the other option.
The same children now got a new task. The task was created for children 3 years older than themselves. The researchers wanted to see how the children reacted to this challenge. Those children who had been praised for their EFFORT approached the task with strong dedication. Some of them expressed that this exercise were their favourite of the 3.
Those children who had been praised for the intelligence were hesitant. The first mistake they made, they saw as defining their failure. All the children were bound to make mistakes in this challenging task as the researches had ensured they would be exposed to a failure, to observe their reaction. These children, who had been praised for the intelligence quickly began to doubt their own intelligence; “Maybe I am not as clever as I had thought”, they said. They were likely to compare themselves to children who did worse than themselves whereas the children praised for their EFFORT showed a curiosity and interest towards those who had done better than themselves.
One last phase of the research project exposed all the children to a task that was as difficult as the last one. This they new. The result was astonishing: The children who had been praised for their intelligence completed the task but performed 20% worse then in the previous one. Those children who had been praised for their EFFORT performed 30% better than they did in the previous one. It looked like that the children who had been praised for their intelligence had taken their “failure” so close to heart that it had affected their abilities.
We have all been in situations, trying to solve a problem or assemble Ikea furnitures, when our inner voice begin to tell us what a huge failure we are, and how dum and unintelligent we are. This inner conversation is essential to the outcome we produce. We have a certain capacity in our WORKING MEMORY, if we fill it with distractions such as our inner voice, that aren’t cheering on us, we take away energy to actually complete the task properly.
Okay, so what can we learn from this research project?
For a moment I want to return to my travels when I was younger and my nagging desire for shifting my body from stiff to flexible. For me, sitting on a train, in a plane on a boat or in a bus gives me the best atmosphere to reflect. During my travels, I had plenty of moments looking out of the window, seeing the world go by while just being present, still and reflecting upon my life. These moments are SO enriching for me. I wonder when you feel the best space to reflect and contemplate? BUT in that time, I came to wonder, whether my lack of sport skills actually hadn’t anything to do with my born qualities, but rather my preferences. That the reason why I hadn’t achieved any medals or trophies for my team sport skills, were purely because I didn’t ever practice, because it didn’t have value to me. It also meant that if I wanted to be good at something I wasn’t; I simple just had to engage with the practice. I know it is simple, but it just hit me. And so in my twenties I started a dedicated yoga and meditation practice, because my physical body meant a lot to me. Seeing people around me not able to bend down, jump or move freely, imagining myself like that in my thirties, scared me, that was definitely not something I wanted to experience in my life! So I figured that yoga and meditation were the best ways for me to reverse this stiffness and shift it to flexibility. I have always loved using my body, working, swimming and cycling, but not on a sport/professional level, or a team sport level. So I had to find a way where I could reach these goals, while enjoying the time. For me, and it might be completely different for you, it was, and is for the time being, yoga and meditation. In just 3 months I went from super stiff, like we are talking a standing forward fold with my hands 50 cm of the ground to collapsing in half. I can’t express to you how free I feel in my body and how much energy and confidence it gives me. Flexibility was not something I was born with, I trained it, just like rock climbing.
And that experience shifted my whole perspective on my possibilities in life. Suddenly I was as free as I felt in my body, because I knew, I had an experience that I wasn’t my current intelligence. rather I AM THE CONSTANT GROWING QUALITIES. This means, I am and you are noo to identify with something permanent or static. We are the impermanent, the changes, the movements.
You can train yourself to be able to see things, situations and yourself as impermanent, alive and changeable. This will help you stay curious, explorative and with energy to keep on going! Read on to understand why this is and how the way we identify with intelligence or nor plays an active role in developing these.
It turned out longer than I thought, I think we all need a little break now! But be sure to read the second part with a valuable practice to get you living your dreams!