A man, as a general rule, owes very little to what he is born with — a man is what he makes of himself.
Alexander Graham Bell
1847 – 1922
When you look in the mirror, how do you perceive yourself? Do you see a person possessing limited resources and abilities? Or do you see someone capable of learning and growing, and therefore able to get what they want from life?
No one knows your reaction but you. But if we answered honestly, I suspect a high number of us would confess to believing their resources and abilities are limited.
According to Sam Sommers, a psychology professor at Tufts University, “seeing the self as a static and stable entity is what puts us on the defensive and mandates chronic self-deception. You should train yourself to view intellect — and any other aspect of your personal skill set — as a muscle that grows with effort and atrophies with neglect.”
In fact, your perception of your own abilities can have a bigger impact on your success than you might think.
There was a study conducted at Stanford University where students were asked to send letters of encouragement to at-risk middle school students, to explain that there was hope for them. As part of each letter, the college students were told to relate the struggles they had faced and the obstacles they had overcome. The writers were instructed to emphasize the idea that natural intelligence is overrated; persistence is more important.
Did the letters help? We don’t know, because they were never mailed; the study was actually designed to measure the impact on their authors. And the simple experience of writing these letters had a profound impact on the college students. Their attitude towards school improved greatly, as did their grade point average — by one-third point on a four point scale. They took their own advice.
So what’s the lesson? That you shouldn’t think of yourself as having limited resources or fixed skill sets. Focus on effort. Remember that intellect and skills are like muscles: they grow with use. Make sure you’re building up your skills by using them and allowing them to grow.
Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you are probably right.
1863 – 1947
Copyright © 2018 John Chancellor