Wellbeing

Learn A Thing: Train Your Brain To Follow Through On Things

If we’re not great at something from the outset, is it because we’re built that way – or can we train ourselves to improve?

It’s not uncommon for people to believe that genetics determine our success. If we flunked out of maths in year seven, we resign ourselves to a life of being bad with numbers. If we’re awkward handling a soccer ball, we’ll forever say no to team sports. We drop ourselves into these restrictive cages for a lifetime just because we tasted failure once and would like to respectfully decline another serving, thank you.

Instead of being okay with this casual surrender, we need to approach new challenges in a different way. The very nice people over at Quartz found that people who follow through on things share three mindsets.

They referenced research conducted by the Chicago Consortium on School Reform, finding if you want to do well, you need to believe that a) your hard work will lead to improvement, b) you feel like you belong and c) what you’re doing is valuable and relevant.

We want a growth mindset

This is all part of adopting a “growth mindset”. This is a concept discovered by Stanford Professor Carol Dweck, who studied students in various settings and found that when they realised they weren’t naturally good at something, they lacked the will and interest to pursue it further.

The most famous study involved low achieving seventh graders, who were split into two groups. In one group, the students were taught about the importance of memory; in the other, the students were taught about intelligence as a skill to be expanded.

Of the results, Marina Krakovsky writes, “Training students to adopt a growth mind-set about intelligence had a catalytic effect on motivation and math grades; students in the control group showed no improvement despite all the other interventions.”

Basically, if you treat your brain like a muscle that will be expanded through persistence, the limitations on your potential don’t exist.

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Sorry. Had to.

So, what’s that thing you always felt you weren’t cut out for? Team Sports? A foreign language? The details of string theory?

Here’s how to put the psychology into action:

#1 Give yourself a break

You have to kill that voice in your head that expects you to succeed at your goal straight away. Especially, as we’ve mentioned, if that goal is something that isn’t weaved into your genetic disposition.

Research has shown that when we make a mistake, synapses (the things that link our brain together) fire off a response. In fact, “the brain sparks and grows when we make a mistake, even if we are not aware of it, because it is a time of struggle; the brain is challenged and the challenge results in growth.”

That’s why it can be more useful to aim for rejection, rather than instant success.

#2 Visualise the future

Have a clear image of what it’ll look like when you’ve finally reached your goal. Maybe that means smoke machines and a screaming crowd of fans or maybe it’s a simple, successful conversation at a produce market in rural Italy; if you visualise that end goal, you’re allowing even seemingly outlandish or impossible tasks a chance to come true (as we’ve mentioned, they absolutely can).

It’s all about giving yourself permission to accept the possibility.

#3 Find a network to hook into

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Alienation is an easy way to extinguish your drive. There’s nothing worse than wanting to learn more but feeling like your efforts are futile.

Finding a community that shares your interests is a major factor for following through on your goal. Being held accountable is a sure fire way to ensure that your goals are met. This is especially true of exercise, where you’re motivated to keep going because the people around you lift you up and you’re at risk of letting them down if you don’t participate.


Josephine is a writer from western Sydney who likes to blatantly lie on her bios. She played the youngest sister in 80s sitcom Family Ties and looks fantastic running with a backpack on. Follow her on twitter here

h/t Quartz