Hey there, Dean here. I run content and SEO at AppSumo. Here, I write and share about productivity, leadership, money, psychology, marketing, and more.
Maximize Your Performance by Thinking of Your Goal Differently
I have talked about building routines and habits a lot. They are indeed the hidden foundation that shapes our life. But it’s easy for us to “sleep walk” after we have set a destination, developed a routine, and carried it out for the rest of our lives.
Is that the path to personal and professional accomplishments? Certainly not. To truly live a good life, we need to take one thing into account: Our profound capacity for growth.
There is a lot to learn when it comes to growth. However, the top factor that affects it comes down to our mindset.
In the year 1998, Professor Carol Dweck from Columbia University and her student, Claudia Mueller, carried out a study about how praise affects a student’s performance. They separated a group of fifth graders into two groups and gave both groups a very simple test.
After the test, they praised the first group of students for their intelligence, “You’ve done very well. You must be smart.” On the other hand, they praised the second group of students for their effort, “You’ve done very well. You must have worked hard.”
After that, they gave both groups of students a different test that was so hard that only a few students were able to solve it. But the interesting finding was not how well the students scored on the test, but how they responded to challenge. This is something that is far more important in our daily lives.
Carol and Claudia found that the first group of students who were praised for their ability spent less time trying to solve the harder test. While the second group of students, who were praised for their effort, were more willing to invest time in solving it.
Both groups were then given the third test which was relatively easy compared to the first. The results? The first group of students scored 15% lower than the second group of students on this test, even though both groups got the same score range in the first test.
This research demonstrates how different types of praise affect our performance. However, at a deeper level, it shows us that our performance is directly related to the way we approach our goals.
We approach our goals from one of two mindsets: Be Good or Getting Better.
As we excel in our career and life, the daily feedback we get directly shapes our mindsets about our performance.
When we receive praise and positive feedback based on our intelligence or ability to perform well, we’re more likely to adopt the Be Good mindset. We build a fixed standard of what’s good based on comparisons with others. And we start setting goals based on the final outcome, which I call the “Product Goal” in another article.
After a while, we attach our identity to these outcomes. We believe that the quality of our work and the results we get are innate. You’re either smart or not, a creative person or not, a socialize person or not.
This mindset doesn’t allow us to have flaws. Thus, people with the Be Good mindset are less tolerant of unexpected setbacks and possess less persistence when faced with tough challenges.
The problem is, nothing — no wisdom, no skill, no mastery — comes naturally. To be good at something, we need to be willing to suck at it first.
To be good at something, we need to be willing to be suck at it first.
This is where the Get Better mindset stands. It’s about learning, growing, and making progress. Instead of focusing on the outcome, people with the Get Better mindset tend to focus on the journey and set “Process Goals.”
With this mindset, we don’t expect to master a skill on Day 1, but at the same time, we won’t limit our ability to fit a particular mold. We give ourselves space to grow and are willing to put in the practice to get better.
Above all, people with the Get Better mindset tend to persist when faced obstacles. Just like how the second group of students did in the research back in 1998.
Now that you’ve learned that there are far greater benefits to adopting the Get Better mindset in work and life, the question is: How could we go about retraining our mindset?
When we’re approaching our goals, regardless of how complicated they are, we tend to believe or expect the process to be flawless. We plan, then we think we could act exactly like the plan. Furthermore, we expect the results and feedback (that are clearly outside of our control) to happen exactly as we've planned.
The first step to getting rid of the Be Good mindset is to give yourself permissions to screw up. Always prepare for mistakes and be okay with them. Instead of seeing mistakes as a sign of failure, see it as an opportunity to learn.
We should acknowledge that making mistakes doesn’t make us worse. In fact, they make us better at what we do and who we are — if we learn from the mistakes.
Vocabulary holds enormous power to influence our beliefs. The words we use define the way we think and thus, what we believe. To retrain your mindset to focus on Get Better instead of Be Good, change your vocabulary.
Vocabulary holds enormous power to influence our beliefs.
A great place to start is how we describe our goals. Revise the goals you set for yourself. If they are described in a Be Good tone, change them to the Get Better tone now. For example:
Instead of comparing your performance to others, compare it to yourself a day, a month, or a year ago. Comparing with others is unrealistic because we lack information to make a meaningful comparison (even if we think we see the complete picture).
External comparisons can shape our mindset and help us to aim for a particular standard. However, these standards can be harmful if we don’t evaluate them consciously. The external comparison is too often a self-esteem killer.
We must first understand our current position and focus on making progress. The best way is by building realistic measurements so we give ourselves room to improve at a steady pace.
It’s inevitable that we will compare where we are and how we perform with others. Even I compare myself with other writers from time to time. The key is to pull yourself back to the Get Better mindset as soon as you notice that you are comparing with others.
In a quick glance, there is no difference between both Be Good and Get Better mindsets. Both mindsets focus on the positive aspects of life. However, the two mindsets lead to very different outcomes.
The fundamental difference between these two mindsets:
This changes how we see problems, receive feedback and act in the face of adversity. And it matters a lot because it is how we grow into a better version of ourselves.