Ninety percent of the game is played above the shoulders
Acquiring new knowledge or skill directly influences our sense of self-esteem and self-actualization, broadening our horizons and making us feel motivated, engaged and energized. And so while Curiosity might just be the antidote of the ordinary mind's flaw – fixating on problems to solve, there’s greater benefit to it.
What is more is our approach to those problems that we now see as essential for long-term success or failure personally or professionally, and eventually our happiness, fulfillment and purpose in life.
Multiple studies have shown that having a growth mindset, grit and now adding a strategic mindset might just be the winning combination for getting ahead in life. Further, lifelong learning has always been fundamental to humans’ nature. But aren’t all those big modern words and concept just a reiteration of all-time concepts. Much like the evolution of life itself really which advances, only to go around in circles, swaying from one extreme to the other one, seeking balance while echoing wisdoms and prophesies, looking for truth and peace. As Mark Twain says: "a favorite theory of mine [is] that no occurrence is sole and solitary, but is merely a repetition of a thing which has happened before, and perhaps often."
So take Socrates, for example, and his student Plato, who believed that the more knowledge a person acquires about a topic, the better he/she becomes at it. That, of course, until Aristotel came along confirming their belief but also adding the dimension of acting upon the attainted information as only then could a man be truly virtuous – following the path between two vices. “For all the virtues will be present when the one virtue, practical wisdom, is present.” —Aristotle
In essence, the philosopher believed in obtaining abstract wisdom but reasoned that combining it with practical wisdom was imperative.
Remarkably, we see vast similarities of the above in the context of the growth mindset, for example. Carol Dweck’s over two decades of research on the topic is evidence that the growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts thus it creates passion for learning rather than huger for approval. Dweck works with the concepts of acquiring knowledge and applying it but continues to discoveries about our attitude in regards to the outcome that is vital.
Similarly, Robin Sharma talks about upgrading your life by the qualities of your decisions. He says that by expanding our mind with more knowledge and learning on a subject, not only have we advanced a level but we can never go back – un-seeing, un-realizing, un-learning. And then we are preordained to make better choices – we will do better because we simply know better. Right?! But doesn’t this sound strangely familiar to the G.I.Joe fallacy, for instance. The thing in common – not just application of the information but conscious actions and decisions. In other words – turning abstract into practical wisdom.
Here we could add, yet another layer - grit. Angela Duckworth has found that the combination of passion and perseverance for a singularly important goal—is the hallmark of high achievers in every area. Through her work, she’s found scientific evidence that grit can grow and it matters at least as much as talent and intelligence, that our mindset amidst overcoming challenges and setbacks is what makes all the difference.
At last, we’ll add our final ingredient – strategic mindset. It is not a synonym of strategic thinking as it takes into account the thinking, the planning, the feedback from the execution and the reflection of how the whole process could be improved. It is what researches call metacognition. That is the practice of thinking about our thinking - reflecting on the flaws in our (implementation) process and actively searching out more effective strategies.
Patricia Chen is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Departments of Psychology and Pediatrics at Stanford University. She studies the beliefs and behaviors that motivate people to achieve high performance and well-being. Patricia Chen dedicates her life’s work studying how a strategic mindset uniquely predicts how much people report actively using strategies and, in turn, how effective they are at pursuing goals across life domains. Chen and her team of researchers put together a questionnaire to test the strategic mindset, and you can try it for yourself below. Simply rate the following statements on a scale of 1 (never) to 5 (all the time):
1. When you are stuck on something, how often do you ask yourself: “What are things I can do to help myself?”
2. Whenever you feel like you are not making progress, how often do you ask yourself: “Is there a better way of doing this?”
3. Whenever you feel frustrated with something, how often do you ask yourself: “How can I do this better?”
4. In moments when you feel challenged, how often do you ask yourself: “What are things I can do to make myself better at this?”
5. When you are struggling with something, how often do you ask yourself: “What can I do to help myself?”
6. Whenever something feels difficult, how often do you ask yourself: “What can I do to get better at this?”
The higher you score, the more likely you are to have a strategic mindset.
Patricia Chen’s findings once again confirm that being strategic entails much more than just planning or even possessing strategic skills as it involves accessing and applying that ‘abstract’ knowledge into ‘practice’. Adopting a strategy mindset, is a precursor to addressing the world’s biggest opportunities and overcoming our global challenges. Living a strategy mindset is a lifelong journey of curiosity, learning, and thoughtful execution.
No one knows what is going to happen in the future and dwelling in the unchangeable past is certainly not recommended for the growing numbers of people suffering from anxiety nowadays. But we could change our approach to both by investing in lifelong learning – taking the lessons from the past and skilfully using that knowledge to make predictions as accurate as possible how will the future unfold so we could prepare and act accordingly. By now we know that history repeats itself – the question is how do we strategically employ our grit to make the best of it.