Jan 312013

the1bigthing.com so you think you're clever?

What have you given up, or never started because you thought ‘I’ll never succeed’ or ‘I’ll never be good enough’? If something’s sprung to mind, read on. This post is about what’s created those thoughts and what to do about it.

Psychologists have discovered that some labels we’re given as kids often have a lot to do with how likely we are to give up on things as adults.

Regardless of whether a label is positive (you’re so clever) or negative (you’re dumb), it automatically puts us in a box and treats our talent, or lack of, as fixed and unchanging. And this is a dangerous thing.

Here’s why…

Labels like ‘talented’ or ‘clever’ subconsciously tell us that we don’t need to put much effort to learn or succeed at something. So when we do have to make an effort we end up assuming that this is because we’re not that talented after all.

Test it out. Who do you think is the better guitar player – someone who’s gifted or someone who’s worked really hard at learning how to play?

See what I mean?

On the other hand labels like ‘rubbish’ or ‘stupid’ tell us that no matter how hard we try we’ll never be any good.

The common denominator in both instances is EFFORT. Both labels ignore it. They assume that our abilities and skills are FIXED, and no amount of effort will make a difference.

So when ‘Miss. Clever’ encounters a task that’s a bit more difficult to master, suddenly her ‘clever’ title is under threat. If she were really that clever she’d find this easy, surely. So ‘Miss Clever’ decides that it’s better to give up and forget about the task because then she could easily tell herself that the only reason she didn’t succeed was that she didn’t try. Her ‘clever’ status goes unchallenged.

Similarly Miss Croaky voice never bothers with singing lessons even though she’d love to sing, because no amount of effort is going to change that voice that sounds just like a fox in a fight (and if you’ve ever heard a fox fight, you know that sound is NOT pretty).

Dr. Carol Dweck defines this as having a FIXED mindset. A belief that ability is unchangeable.

It makes those of us who have been labelled positively expect ourselves to excel at something the minute we start. And if we don’t, we move on to something else lest our ‘genius’ is challenged. The same mindset makes those of us who have been labelled negatively never even try in the first place. Why bother, when it won’t make any difference.

Now if you’re shaking your head at this and thinking, this is absolute garbage  – that’s a good thing. It means you’re one of the lucky ones who has a ‘GROWTH’ mindset. A belief that we can master anything….if we put in the effort.

Personally I think we can have both mindsets in different areas in our lives. For example I’ve patiently built my skills at putting websites together as I ‘get’ that it requires effort and yet I’ve given up learning to play the Ukulele because I couldn’t play a proper song when I started.

The good news is that our mindset CAN change! Let’s go back to that goal you gave up on or never started. Take a moment (ok make it 5 minutes) to reflect on these questions:

How much effort have you put into developing this skill so far?

How high are you expecting this skill to be right now?

Are these expectations realistic given the amount of effort you’ve put in?

How much effort ARE you willing to put in?

Given this amount of effort, what would be a realistic goal you can set yourself?

By when do you want to reach this goal?

So what are you going to do about it?

What’s the first step you will take?

When will you take it?

I hope this post inspires you to start something you love.

Wishing you the persistence it takes to make BIG things happen

With love



P.S. This post was inspired by Dr. Carol Dweck’s book: Mindset. It’s full of inspiring stories of how mindset is linked to success in sports, business and school. Read it and let your mindset be transformed.

photo credit: devangmundhra via photopin cc

  2 Responses to “One for the clever serial quitters”

  1. hi karen.this is so true. growing up I was good at football .I taught I had it. which didn’t help at all when I encountered kids who where as good or better .I find this also very useful to raise my 3 year old as we always tell her how smart
    is and the other day told me she wants to be a quitter. i’ll be praising her effort from now on. thanks for the enlightenment x

    • Hiya Kris

      So glad that you found this useful. You’re right so many of us compare ourselves to others and then give up when we decide they’re better, which is a shame as it stops so many people from following their true calling.

      Praising for effort is one of the best things a parent could do, as it gives the message that it’s hard work that makes one succeed.


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