You might think that a solid, enduring self is the key to happiness and personal growth. But in fact, it’s just the opposite.
Let’s go back to the personality research of Dr. Brian Little, who we met a few issues back. His work reveals that the person we think of as our “self” is actually a bundle of personal constructs, and the more the better.
Little gives the example of a military man who had a single rigid sense of identity—one is either in the army, or not in the army. When the man was discharged for misconduct, he had a mental breakdown and had to be institutionalized. He simply could not function outside of the singular way he saw himself.
Now, that’s an extreme case. But Little’s research shows that the more limited your repertoire of personal constructs, the more you’ll suffer from anxiety and the less you’ll enjoy freedom when it comes to living. Put another way, the more distinct roles you play in the course of your life, the more able you’ll deal with adversity in any one area.
Aspects of our personalities are determined by genetics, and the culture we operate within has powerful influence on how we behave. Beyond these, Little asserts that our “free traits” are what provide for personal growth, in the form of the goals we pursue simply because we want to.
Fixed Versus Growth Mindset
Little’s work caused me to revisit the book Mindset by Carol Dweck, which should be required reading for anyone struggling to develop new skills and habits. Writing many years earlier, Dweck reduces Little’s spectrum of personal constructs into two broad camps: fixed mindset and growth mindset.
People with a fixed mindset believe that that they were born with certain attributes, talents, and intelligence … and that’s it. In their view, they’re stuck with the hand they were dealt. This leads to the avoidance of challenges that might lead to failure, a refusal to try to improve, and in extreme cases, cheating and illegal behavior to compensate.
The worst part about the fixed mindset is the constant anxiety and unhappiness. Failure at a task tends to be internalized as “I’m a failure,” instead of “I’m not good at this yet,” which can be rectified by effort and practice.
People with a growth mindset are different. They love new challenges, learn from mistakes and failed attempts, and are constantly evolving and improving. They also tend to enjoy greater happiness and well-being.
The good news is, fixed mindset people can escape “the box” by recognizing that how they perceive life events makes all the difference. It’s simple, but not always easy. And even people with a growth mindset often hold themselves back at times by slipping into a self-imposed plateau.
The Illusion of Self
The culprit in both scenarios is our sense of self. Whether you consult with a neuroscientist, speak to a Zen Buddhist, or reflect upon the writings of philosopher David Hume, you’ll hear the same thing—the self is an illusion.
That’s not to say the self doesn’t exist, it’s just not what we perceive it to be. What we experience as an integrated, tangible identity is really a bundle of memories, thoughts, and habitual responses arising out of various part of the brain.
Neuroscience reveals that there is no center in the brain where the self is constructed. It’s more of a trick of the ego that causes us to experience life as a conscious, thinking person with a unique historical background.
Cognitive neuroscientist Bruce Hood puts it this way:
“Who we are is a story of our self — a constructed narrative that our brain creates.”
If what you are is really a story, how you choose to interpret that story is always within your control. Best of all, your story can be changed.
When it comes to personal growth, your ability to evolve and change depends on whether you think your story is being written with your active participation, or whether it’s already set in stone. If you think it’s the latter, it may be time to stop taking your “self” so seriously.
- Me, Myself, and Us: The Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being
- Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
- The Self Illusion: How the Social Brain Creates Identity
- The Ego Trick: What Does It Mean to Be You?
Looking back, I suffered from a fixed mindset for many years. And by suffered I mean despite achievement and success, I tended to play it safe and was constantly unhappy.
Since 2005, I’ve shifted to a growth mindset, and my life has improved exponentially, especially in business. Writing Further is my way of staying focused on catching up in other areas of my life, as well as a constant reminder not to stop. Hopefully reading it helps you do the same.
Keeping going and growing.
In an interview with Bloomberg, Google Ventures’ president Bill Maris said he thinks it’s possible to live to 500 years old. “We have the tools to achieve anything that you have the audacity to envision. I just hope to live long enough not to die.” Seriously further, right?
Ever since I’ve started talking about meditation and mindfulness, I’ve had people tell me they get it done running. Apparently, this has been a thing for a long time: “Japanese marathon monks of Mount Hiei are reported to have walked or run a marathon each day for an incredible 1,000 days using these techniques.” If you’re looking to use meditation to get on the road in a different way, try Jack Kerouac on How to Meditate.
More research on the intermittent fasting technique of limiting the window of time in which you eat: You are when you eat.
Keeping with our growth mindset motif, here are a couple of articles that illustrate it in a business context perfectly:
If you’re still searching for the perfect investment process to beat the market, take this to heart: Even Warren Buffett Prefers Index Funds.
The stereotype is that success in business is all about deceit, double-dealing, and back-stabbing. In my experience, that’s completely wrong. Whether with customers or business partners, the idea is to provide as much value as possible while still obtaining your objectives. But since we just passed the Ides of March, here are 15 Back-Stabbing Facts About Brutus.
Finally, some really good news: Sex can make your brain work better, scientists say. No mention if DIY is just as effective (ahem).
“The more tools you have in your mental toolbox the better able you will be to make an incrementally better decision.” Developing a Mental Framework for Effective Thinking.
In keeping with my growth mindset, I’d sure like to grow the Further audience. If you can help spread the word, I’d be super-appreciative:
Archives are here. See you next week!