How to get a sense of direction and start a big project with purpose

Part 2 - Confidence

This is part 2 of my article on how to get a sense of purpose in life through starting a big, life-changing project. In part 1, I explained that such a project would give you a reason to get out of bed each day and how to start the process with a single piece of paper. If you missed it here is a link.

If you did as I said and wrote some headings on a piece of paper then hopefully you have a list. If you have the headings and still do not have a list then there are two possible reasons that I shall deal with here before going on to the first important point about starting your project.

First: Your mind is just a blank. No ideas or inspiration is forthcoming. You can't really get motivated to do anything. THIS IS NOT UNCOMMON. Don't feel that you are alone in this or that it's just not going to happen for you. There is a way out! But you DO have to do something to get out of the rut. If you are stuck in a hole, you can't just wait for the hole to disappear. You do have to make an effort to climb out. Even if you think it's not worth it, I guarantee that do these things and you will find a new sense of vigour.

Your mind is a result of what you feed it. The food of the mind is not just the vitamins and other nutrients you ingest. Rather it is the experiences you present to it. The words and sounds of the people you listen to. The written words of the things you choose to read. If your mind is not producing the life changing ideas you need then you are feeding it the wrong things. The answer is to feed it the right things!

So what are the right things?

If you fall into the above category then you have to be prepared to make some genuine changes in your day to day life. These don't have to be big changes to start with. Just small increments will add up and compound into bigger things. The first of these small increments should be to start to read more of the right things. Less of Facebook and Twitter comments. Less of the tabloid press and its moaning about politicians. And start reading stories of inspiration and success.

In his book Is Your Thinking Keeping You Poor, Douglas Kruger says, "I believe in reading broadly and voraciously, and that having done so is one of the major reasons I was able to lift myself out of poverty." Notice he uses the word major. Reading wasn't just one of the reasons, it was a major reason. Kruger goes on to convey the stories of others who have done the same.

Whilst Kruger's emphasis is on wealth generation and this article is about starting a purposeful project, the more you learn, the more you will discover that doing something with a major long-term purpose, achievement and success, and gaining wealth and financial independence are very closely related and all dependent upon the same ingredients.

So, if you are NOT getting ideas and you don't start to read some inspirational books, then what you are really doing, is deciding to stay the same and not make changes.

We all have a choice!

Second: Your mind may not be a blank but you still haven't quite written any possible projects as you're not quite sure they are the right ones.

Write them down anyway!

One of the main reasons I suggested more than one item on the list is that it gives you the ability to think and choose the right thing.

There can be two reasons why we are unsure about a project:

The first is it is something we 'think' we should do, rather than something we 'want' to do. Don't choose something just because you think it will make you money. Don't choose something just because someone else suggested it. Only choose what you think you'll really enjoy and will learn from. It should still be something that has the potential to be life-changing in some way. But in using the word potential, I am recognising that things don't always turn out the way you expect. If you enjoy doing something and learn from it, then you're in a win-win situation. You win if completing your project changes your life. You win if it doesn't because you've enjoyed learning new things along the way.

The second reason for being unsure about a project is one of confidence. I am not confident I can do this! Do I have what it takes?

As mentioned at the end of the last article, the main subject of this one was going to be confidence and motivation. However, I want to spend a bit more time on the subject of confidence which is key not only to getting started but as an underpinning for motivation to continue.

A new definition of intelligence

How do you define intelligence? And what does it have to do with confidence?

One might assume an intelligent person is naturally going to be a confident one. After all, they have the brain power to address a problem and find a solution. But then there are many people who do badly at school but go on to achieve success in their lives while the girl or boy who was top of a particular class never really quite made it. Why is this? Clearly there's more to it than simple brain power.

The answer turns out to actually be quite simple and is explained wonderfully in Carol Dweck's book Mindset which, as I mention in my review, caused me to redefine what I understood by intelligence.

Dweck started off as a researcher not looking into the secrets of success but rather the psychology of failure. And she was amazed to discover a group of young subjects who actually appeared to love failure.

What this turned out to be was a form of open mindedness whereby the subjects embraced challenges as learning opportunities. They were not afraid to fail and consequently took on more challenges and were able to grow and achieve more as a result. She calls this a growth-mindset.

Furthermore, her years of research led to the discover of another incredible fact that explains why some of the most gifted 'top of the class' students fail to go on to achieve what they might. And the reason is even more surprising!

And I've got some personal experience of this that took me over 40 years to discover.

Top of the class

At the age of 12, I can remember sitting in the classroom, watching the maths teacher draw a data table with white chalk on the blackboard. Rather than just handing out the results of our end-of-year maths exam, he decided to map out the results of the 120 students across 4 classes (or houses as they were called) by banding them into groups. (Number with under 40%, 40-50%, etc.) I suppose it was another lesson in maths . . . the presentation of numbers . . . but having written the numbers (not names) on the blackboard, he proceeded to hand out the marked papers in order from bottom to top calling out students names and their marks as he did so.

When I think back, it wasn't too much of an ordeal as I always knew I did reasonably well at maths. So I sat and waited patiently as I expected to hear my name being called when he got into the seventies or maybe even eighties. When he got to the 4 remaining students in the school . . . the only ones that scored over 90% . . . and my name hadn't been called, I began to wonder if I had missed it or my paper had been lost.

He called out the names of two of my friends and then came to the last paper: Top of the class and top of the school: Ninety three and a half percent. It was me! Wow, I couldn't believe it. I felt incredibly proud. My mother was proud too and heaped on the praise making sure that she told everyone how bright and intelligent I was.

But I wasn't.

And now I know why. And how this knowledge can guarantee your success.

Around 16 years later, I was at a school reunion and discovered one of my fellow students who didn't feature highly in any of the marks, as far as I can recall, was living overseas, effectively as a tax exile. Two years after that, I tried to get in touch with one of my friend who had scored highly in that initial maths exam, only to discover that he was now based in the USA working for NASA.

I had not done badly over the years but was more than aware of other achieving greater success either financially or otherwise.

Dr Carol S Dweck's Mindset doesn't just deal with what she calls the growth-mindset. It also explains the mystery of apparently talented or gifted people not reaching their full potential.

And the answer often comes down to the wrong type of praise!

The opposite to a growth-mindset is a fixed-mindset. This is the belief that one's level of ability is broadly fixed based on natural talent. You've either got it or you haven't!

Through research involving hundreds of students, Dweck's team discovered that praising a person's ability tended to reinforce fixed-mindset principles: Yes, I am clever. I am more clever than you. And that will never change because I have it and you don't.

This in turn leads to a reluctance to undertake new challenges. It instils a fear of failure because any failure would undermine the belief that a person has natural ability. If I try and fail, it means I'm no longer clever. So I am reluctant to undertake new and difficult challenges.

This is a remarkable discovery because in the modern world we are taught that giving praise is far more effective than giving criticism. This is still true. But Dweck points out that the praise should be about the effort that someone has put in rather than about someone's apparent natural gifts or abilities.

It seems we should all forget about any natural abilities we have and relish new challenges. And start to love the things we learn through inevitable failures!

Back to intelligence

After my initial top-of-the-class performance my marks started to tail off. Over my remaining school years they fell to barely a pass level before climbing back up to the top and then falling off again. Dr Dweck shows how with the right commitment, encouragement, training, a positive mindset and the willingness to take on difficult challenges just about anyone can attain success in any field from academic or artistic performance through to sporting or business success.

Intelligence is not fixed.

Intelligence can be acquired.

Discovering this led me to question why some people acquire more intelligence as they grow through their lives while others don't. The answer lies in what Dweck calls fixed and growth mindsets. I thought back to some of my more mature friends. Some who I would describe as intelligent and others I wouldn't. The one thing I could see in the more intelligent ones was a sort of open-mindedness that didn't appear to exist in the less intelligent ones.

If someone tells me a so called fact and then, if challenged, they just stick to it and say something like "well that's what I think, so we'll just have to beg to differ", then I'm left with the feeling that there is no depth to their intelligence.

On the other hand, if someone is able to discuss their assumptions and is willing to alter their view if presented with a better argument then I am left feeling that they are quite an intelligent person.

No-one likes to be proved wrong. But if rather than running away from the possibility you are prepared to be wrong about something then I would argue that your level of intelligence can only grow. If you're prepared to fail and learn from such failures then your abilities will grow. If you approach life with this level of open-mindedness, a growth-mindset, then you will gain the right sort of confidence!

Right sort of confidence

Back from intelligence to confidence and specifically the right sort of confidence.

Real intelligence is open mindedness and the understanding that you can learn anything if you go about it in the right way. And this leads to confidence. But what do I mean by the right sort of confidence.

When I was younger, I did have a certain confidence in my mathematical abilities and this allowed me to climb back up the scoresheet a number of times. But I was lacking in confidence in many other areas of life. I had a fixed mindset view that I wasn't the sort of person who could interact well with others or become a leader or build a business or anything that would count as true success.

I saw many confident people. they dressed in flashy suits, looked good, oozed confidence and were highly successful.

I thought of confidence as something you needed to find, discover . . . and if you did, it would suddenly transform you into one of these people and you could not fail. That however is the wrong sort of confidence.

The wrong sort of confidence is this apparently blind confidence that you will be successful because you cannot fail. Some people may have this sort of confidence but it will be short lived. (Because they WILL fail eventually and therefore discover that their confidence was misplaced. And then it evaporates.)

And then there are people like I was, who thought that successful people had this blind confidence and I wasn't able to develop it because I knew that I would fail at some point and the mere thought of this killed it before I could embrace it.

The right sort of confidence is therefore the same thing as Carol Dweck's growth mindset. It is the confidence that all you need to do is persist and learn, persist and learn. Try, fail, address the problems, try again, fail again, address the problems again.

The right sort of confidence is the knowledge that you are no better than anyone else and by implication no one else is any better than you. You can therefore believe in yourself and address whatever it is you want out of life. And you are as well-equipped as they are to achieve it.

Be open minded and be confident

Hopefully, the above should enable you to focus in on your list and have the confidence to choose a challenging and life-changing project to start.

However it is vitally important that you have this level of confidence before you start. Because you will meet obstacles and if the project is challenging, such obstacles (which will sometimes appear insurmountable) will destroy your motivation if you are lacking in the fundamental confidence you will need to tackle them.

So if you've still got doubts, go and read all of Carol Dweck's book and Douglas Kruger's book. You could also read other inspirational books. Try "The Power of Positive Thinking" by Norman Vincent Peale, "Think and Grow Rich" by Napoleon Hill or one of Dale Carnegie's books ("How to win friends and influence people" or "How to stop worrying and start living").

Napoleon Hill's book was written in 1937. So can seem dated in some respects. (Having said that, Dale Carnegie's "How to win friends .." was written in 1936 and felt fresh when I read it.) Notwithstanding that, Hill recounts some interesting anecdotes, although not enough given the number of people he claims to have interviewed. But there is one story about his own son, born deaf without ears. Needless to say the son went on to achieve great success and that is certainly a story worth reading.

Ready to start

Once you've decided on your project the next step will be to get started.

In the next article I'll be addressing this but feel free to start. Feel free to set out on the path to change your life!

Published 27th May 2020


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