“Beliefs that can sabotage your life.” How’s that for a title? Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D., author of Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals, recently wrote about several psychology studies that found roughly half of us subscribe to the belief that our abilities are fixed. That means, we don’t really believe we can succeed. We assume we’re right about our judgments of our ability to learn new skills or improve at …using technology, being creative or running a business.
Halvorson gave this great example:
Years ago I dated an avid pool player, who convinced me one night at our neighborhood bar to give the game another chance. Before beginning, he gave me a brief lesson – how to hold the cue, how to line up a shot, etc. We played, and something totally unexpected happened – I played well. In fact, I came awfully close to beating him. And I remember feeling both elated that I had improved, and completely freaked out. Did I really improve? How was that possible? I’m not good at this sort of thing. Maybe it was a fluke.
A few days later we played again, and I approached the table with a nervousness I hadn’t felt before. What would happen? I had no idea. And that nervousness wreaked havoc on my ability to play – I couldn’t sink a ball to save my life. I knew it was a fluke, I thought. I’m definitely not good at this sort of thing.
Granted, we’re talking about playing pool here, and I realize that it’s not a skill that usually has life-altering consequences. But what if it was? What if instead of writing off my pool-playing ability, I had written off my ability to do learn new skills, use computers, write well, be creative, find love, have willpower, or make friends? What if I believed that I couldn’t improve when it came to something that really mattered?
The issue here is that if you don’t believe you can succeed, no amount of career development or self improvement is going to last because fundamentally you don’t believe you can improve. Halverson says, “Believing that your ability is fixed is a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the self-doubt it creates will sabotage you in the end.”
This leads back to questioning your beliefs. Are they judgments? Are they base on reality? Why couldn’t you learn, practice and get better at what you want? You’ll love this. Halverson writes, “Change really is always possible, and the science here is crystal-clear – there is no ability that can’t be developed with experience.”
So, go for it. Strategize and signal your mind to raise a big, red flag when you think you can’t improve or succeed.
Study:J. Plaks & K. Stecher (2007) Unexpected improvement, decline, and stasis: A prediction confidence perspective on achievement success and failure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93, 667-684.