by Darrin Schenck

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by Darrin Schenck

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It appears to me that far too many people these days are afraid to fail at anything, and this keeps them from attempting new things in the first place.  Maybe it is the over-exposure that we think we all suffer from; and I say “think” because the reality is that despite broadcasting your life onto social media all the time, hardly anyone actually notices.  And no one is sitting around waiting for your next post to finally hit their feed.  The reality is that most people are barely managing their own life to any degree, so to think that you are truly top of mind with every action you take is crazy.  Get over yourself, you are not that famous. Besides, maybe sharing the fact that you are not perfect would be more endearing versus the highlight reel of life that most people use to represent their life to the world.

If you really want to get somewhere in life, in any pursuit, there are two golden rules you have to live by:

  1. You need to barely care at all what other people think.    Yes, you need to adhere to the laws and societal norms for the most part, but you are not running the same race as anyone else, so how or why would you compare yourself to anyone else?
  2. You need to have a Learning Mindset.   You need to understand that making mistakes is an important and necessary part of the learning and growth process.  It cannot and should not be avoided.

As the title of this blog suggested, there are two types of mindset when it comes to acquiring knowledge and experience.  If you can find your way into a Learning Mindset, you will be off and running towards success.  The problem is, the school system focuses on Performance Learning, which means that you are expected to digest knowledge and then are graded on your ability to “perform” on a test.  It is black and white in its measurement, you either grasp this piece of knowledge or you do not, there is no in between.  In a Learning Mindset, the approach becomes much different; you are learning the concepts bit by bit, and are evaluated (not graded) on your effort and your attempts to understand the underlying concepts and patterns of the (for example) algebra equation you are trying to solve. In other words, you get credit for your work, not just whether or not you got the right answer.

To illustrate this, think of trying to learn how to hit a forehand in tennis.  At first, all you are trying to do is make contact with the ball as it comes towards you.  This is the goal, and when you manage to do so, you are happy and proud of your accomplishment.  But then you move the bar, and the goal becomes more refined to hitting the ball into the court on the other side of the net.  This ups the ante quite bit, and the degree of difficulty will make the next step in the progression much more difficult.  If you were in a classroom setting, you would be failing miserably according to that grading system, because every miss means that you do not understand the assignment.  You can either hit a solid forehand over the net and into the court or you cannot.  Pass or Fail, nothing in between.  If you were grading yourself solely on a Performance based approach, you and everyone else would deem themselves a failure at this task.  No one gets it right the first time out.  Or the second time either, it takes lots of work and practice to obtain the ability to hit a moving object and redirect it over the net but to bounce inside the lines of the court.  If you stay in a Learning Mindset, you are going to have a much more pleasant experience overall, but you are also far more likely continue to try.  You are not grading yourself on the end result, but rather the effort you put in, and how often you can actually make contact and hit the ball over the net.  Each “right” end result is a bonus, it is not the only measure of the process.

As a coach, I worked hard to get this concept across to a player of mine, regardless of their skill level.  It is much harder to have this mindset once you hit a certain level of experience, as your expectations change drastically.  You labor under the illusion that you are in command of your skills enough to not miss often, or maybe at all.  Think about how unrealistic that is, and how much fun it sucks out of the process.  You took something that you enjoyed doing in the beginning, and now you are upset that you can’t do it perfectly every time.  This is so far off base, in so many ways.  For one thing, if you are hitting with someone else, they are not trying to hit the ball to you, but rather away from you, so they can score a point.  Your expectation of perfection is completely discrediting your opponent’s ability to impact the outcome.  Many a competitive player has made the mistake of underestimating their opponent’s ability and paid the price.  Whether it is your first time facing someone and you made a snap judgement based on something you’ve observed, or it is the tenth time you’ve played them and you just assume they will shrink from your challenge once again, both assumptions are wrong.

In the first example above, maybe someone is just having a bad warm-up for their match, and they miss their favorite shot a couple of times that you notice.  Your assumption is “their backhand is weak” and you spend the rest of the match hitting into what is actually their stronger side.  Been there, done that.  And I have had other people do the same to me, I’d miss a couple of backhands in warm up and they locked in on their game plan based on that tidbit of information.  Bad move, as that was by far my stronger and more consistent side.  If they were grading themselves on that performance, and the subsequent lose, they failed the assignment.  If they had a Learning Mindset, they wouldn’t be focused on the outcome, but instead they would be trying to “solve the problem”.  The judgement would be solely on their effort, and if they are making progress to understand the problems I present to them and how they can solve them.  This is a huge difference between the two mindsets, but such an important distinction.

It is easy to get caught up in wins and losses, as in some cases they dictate making a team in the first place, or keeping your starting position.  But if you can look at things in the big picture and have Learning Mindset, you will be better off.  You will be less hard on yourself in the short term, and be focused on building the best skill sets for the long haul towards success.  You will want to have the journey be the focus, not just the destination.  Easier said than done.  But here is the formula for success in my opinion:

Dream in Decades

          Plan in Years

              Execute in Weeks

                      Live in Days

Map out your plan, stick to the plan but pivot when necessary.  Be patient, diligent, and in relentless pursuit of knowledge and skill acquisition.  I believe the rest will take care of itself.

I wish you luck in your endeavors.

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