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Believe you can change (aaronsw.com)
294 points by bensw on Aug 20, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 68 comments

An experience I had as a teenager really drove this lesson home for me, and is partly responsible for successes I’ve had since.

My Dad had copy of ‘Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain’ by Betty Edwards lying around. I’d always been really bad at drawing - never progressed beyond the kids-drawing phase, got bad feedback on drawing at school, so stopped.

Anyway, Edwards’s theory is that ‘bad’ drawers don’t look at the thing itself and draw its shape, they translate reality into abstract concepts first and then draw what that concept visually looks like. So I’ll look at a face, then decide I’ll draw the ‘eye’ first, query my mind to see what an ‘eye’ looks like, then draw the generic 'eye' shape that everyone draws.

Whereas a skilled artist looks at the eye in front of them - which looks nothing like the standard symbol for ‘eye’ - and draws THAT.

Edwards has a bunch of exercises to prove this, and one of them triggered a massive epiphany for me.

She had a Picasso sketch in the book which was printed upside down on the page. Her instructions were to copy the drawing, keeping it upside down, and never naming the limb/whatever you’re drawing, and never turning your drawing right-side-up until it’s complete.

I was sceptical, but decided to test her theory. So I started copying this upside-down drawing, fully expecting it to turn out even worse than usual.

When I finished, I couldn't believe it. The drawing was AMAZING. It looked like someone else had done it. The figure I’d drawn looked alive.

I went on to learn to draw pretty well. So after that, my mind always looked back and thought - well, if I can learn to DRAW, and I was so BAD at drawing initially, I can pretty much learn to do anything.

+1. I heard about those theories, so I once did an upside-down drawing as well. As promised, it turned out substantially better than a regular copy of mine. (I thought this was impressive, but I didn't have any real need to learn to draw well, so I left it at that.)

I started like you but pushed the abstract idea further down to reality. I'm not good and my drawings have a mechanical aspect, or at best a crafted/regular organic style. Later I read the Loomis book, which is filled with delicious drawings of human figures, used the same principles. Use abstract references, refine, analyse.

That said, the idea of abstracting away from abstraction/interpretation is a great one that I never considered

    ... well, if I can learn to DRAW, and I was so BAD 
    at drawing initially, I can pretty much learn to do 
I used to think like that. If I tried hard and applied myself I could do just about anything...until that sort of thing stopped working. It certainly helped but it won't take you to the stars. It just seemed that no matter how hard I tried, I never got better at what I had in mind.

I think this kind of thinking is helpful but it has its ultimate limits, which seem to be set to 'low' for me.

Well I think most of it is time, the whole 10,000 hours thing.

Since we are talking about drawing take a look at MindCandyMan on conceptart.org (His journey sketchbook http://www.conceptart.org/forums/showthread.php?t=870)

Post of an example of how far he has come: http://www.conceptart.org/forums/showthread.php?p=1789531#po...

His website showcasing his work: http://www.jonathanhardesty.com/paintings.htm

My favorite example of this is Penny Arcade.

First year: http://penny-arcade.com/comic/1998/11/18

Five years later: http://penny-arcade.com/comic/2003/11/18

Drawing at the level of that book isn't a hard problem, as, say, learning organic chemistry. Or is it? some people seem to have a natural ability in some things. In fact, the idea that some children naturally fall into "try harder" vs "this is too hard" camp points to something influenced by biology.

How about creating new solutions to what are considered hard industry problems?

If it takes you 10,000 hours to learn the basics Organic chemistry, can you say you succeeded? That's almost five years learning what most people do in five or ten weeks.

The 10,000 hour thing is about mastery. Is someone who spent ten weeks learning about organic chemistry able to operate on the same level as someone who has been working in the field for decades? I suspect the answer is no.

Anyone can learn how to play golf in just a few minutes, but what does it take to become a PGA-level player? The theory is that it only takes 10,000 hours of focused practice and it is currently being put to the test: http://thedanplan.com/

Two things come to my mind:

- the test: learning science is done via text. no tangible tests. as opposed to the pioneer of the subject field. They didn't pop theory out of thin air. Lots of intermediate steps/theories failed, many experiences that produce hints. Education systems assume students can cut corners on this and reach the same level of intuitions as the masters ? .. seems wrong.

- 'meta': the first subject you spend 10K hours on to reach some level of mastery, the next subject won't require as much, a lot of the first 10K journey was mostly about learning yourself, teaching yourself patience with regard to the relationship between preciseness and scalability. How to keep moving smoothly cm by cm when your goal is 1M meter.. Also detaching ego,emotions and perception. Don't be angry or sadistically attached to solve the problem. Focus on .. focus, not missing data, immersing yourself. Less emotions means to me less distraction, the less you miss the faster you reach your goal. Now that you've experienced a 1M meter journey, it will probably feel a lot easier the next time.

Anyone can learn how to play golf in just a few minutes, but what does it take to become a PGA-level player?

The corollary is, what does it take different people to become a PGA-level player?

That is to say, the second question is, is being a PGA star within reach of anybody, so long as they can do 10,000 hours of golf? Or does it take Tiger 10,000 hours while it takes me 20,000 or 30,000 hours?

Couldn't tell you, but it would certainly fit with the concept of some folks having a bit of a "natural ability"; 'Everybody can become a master, but some people can get there faster'.

>If it takes you 10,000 hours to learn the BASICS of organic chemistry,

Disclaimer: I had to put in something akin to a 1,000:1 hour ratio type effort to learn stuff like that.

That's not really the point to the 10,000 hour rule though. It is about practice.

If it takes person A five weeks to learn the study and it takes person B 10,000 hours to learn the study, after the next 10,000 hours of working in the industry, can we consider both individuals masters? Or are you suggesting that mastery is somehow proportional to time to original training completion?

>Well I think most of it is time, the whole 10,000 hours thing.

Please stop repeating Gladwell's pseudo-scientific BS.

Putting in a lot of hours is necessary but not sufficient to become excellent at something.

I'll be honest I've never read his book but the 10,000 hours fits as an analogy to the hard work that one must put in to be an expert.

Sure 10,000 hours isn't going to make you excellent but focused hard work can and most of the time does.

You can become good in under 10,000 hours I just used it for reference. Maybe you would have preferred this: http://norvig.com/21-days.html

It is actually Anders Ericsson's[1] theory, popularized by Gladwell. Feel free to read Ericsson if you like, but he says basically the same thing, though neither he nor Gladwell ever said "put in the 10,000 hours and you will be the Tiger Woods". Ericsson has studied the realm of expert learning (for quite some time) and tries to tease apart what makes Tiger Woods, and those like him, able to attain the things they do. He has a lot of evidence that it is not some inborn talent but rather (shockingly) a shit-ton of hard work (and the quip "You'll never be Tiger Woods because your dad wasn't Earl Woods"). The book Talent is Overrated[2] is also a decent read on the topic. It also tells the somewhat humorous story of László Polgár[3], who wrote about how he was going to turn his yet to be born children into chess stars through rigorous training/practice, and then proceeded to do so.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anders_Ericsson

[2] http://www.amazon.com/Talent-Overrated-World-Class-Performer...

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%C3%A1szl%C3%B3_Polg%C3%A1r

I find that interesting. Would you mind sharing examples of some things that you tried to improve at, but couldn't?

A lifetime of observation of painful personal experiences. I don't really want to go into it publicly.

I read somewhere that it's common for people to plateau at a certain skill level, but some people overcome that. My google fu is not working for me, but I think it was to do with changing the approach. I've also heard of changing how you view yourself, imagining you already have the ability, "what would X do?" (Usain Bolt actually peaked and burned out when was younger, regained with a new coach, less training, and exercises to compensate for a congenital spine defect). i.e. Also, while at a plateau at one specific thing, there are many other things where effort still works (not overgeneralize from that one thing). I'm also plateauing (at discrete mathematics), so I'm interested in the answer here. Many creative people talk about leaving something that they are stuck at, and doing other things (perhaps a short break, perhaps for a long time) - then the answer (sometimes) comes to them, when they see with a new point of view. Talking to people about it can help (even "explaining to a duck").

Of course, maybe there are attributes that we can't change, like height, that seem as insurmountable barrier. While these may be a limitation in themselves, we may be able to work around them (e.g. professional basketball players under 6 foot http://www.toptenz.net/top-10-shortest-nba-players.php). And, well, there are invasive ways to increase height, medically.

There are three stages when learning a skill ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_apprenticeship#Overvi... ) :

The cognitive phase where you think about what you are doing and develop strategies to complete the task. The associative phase where you practice, eliminate mistakes and learn what works. The autonomous phase where you don't have to think about what you are doing anymore.

It is likely you are reaching a plateau because you entered the autonomous cognitive phase. To get off this plateau you should : focus on staying in the cognitive phase by thinking about what you are doing. Set yourself goals in proficiency and most importantly, stay off you comfort by going (~10%)faster than your cruising speed or performing a task more difficult than you are comfortable with. e.g : repeat the harder parts of songs you haven't mastered yet instead of playing the same old song you have mastered, type 10% faster on the keyboard and note the mistakes you make,...

I tend to have thoughts that maybe I have a genetic disadvantage that prevents me from excelling from things that I care about (programming, computer science, drawing, etc.), but I would rather die with the illusion that I could succeed in anything I set my heart to, than in to throw in the towel and accept that I'm hopeless. Having that mindset is working out for me so far.

If I never give up and I never get better, despite trying new methods, what does that mean?

Also, if everyone says, "If you failed, you haven't tried enough, despite years of effort", what do I do?

Readjust what "failure" means for you. If you've improved, it's not a total failure. Pursue what you love, and steadily improve upon it.

It's common for people to always adjust their goals upwards when a milestone has been met. But it's also healthy to adjust them downwards, and take satisfaction in the act of improving.

My fallback example of overcoming something I thought I never would is playing an F chord on a guitar. Sure, a lot of people can play this easily, but just knowing that there was a time when I thought this was beyond my reach to now being able to play it as well as a C, A, G, E, D, etc chord is a constant reminder to stay in the growth mindset.

To be fair, I think drawing is an exceptionally good example of a learnable skill. Is the same true of music, though? If someone has trouble hearing and distinguishing intervals, can that person learn music? What about ballet, which pushes physicality just about as far as it can go?

BTW, ear-training is part of just about any decent music-theory course.

You probably can't give perfect pitch to someone who's tone deaf. You can definitely teach them to recognize intervals, though. In my counterpoint course, there were some people who had terrible pitch recognition at the beginning of the course who were halfway decent by the time it was over.

It's tough to say. It partially depends on how you define the ability to play music. I definitely think that the average person can play notes on a piano given enough time for another average person to enjoy.

On a person-to-person basis, we don't know until we try. Kind of like knowing the half-life of some material: we know the decay rate of a large mass, but we can only guess at a per-atom level, and we only truly know when it finally decays. I don't hope to belittle your question, but I don't find it particularly important what the average person can do. I find it much more important to figure out what I can do.

Keyboard instruments have the advantage that note formation is relatively straight forward compared to (say) the violin, but then you do have to play two handed, i.e. at least two lines of music.

"It partially depends on how you define the ability to play music."

We tend to judge ourselves against recordings of the best artists, and those recordings may have been heavily edited. Before recordings were easily available, amateur music making was much more widespread. I think I can see signs of a return to social music making for the fun of it.

Your mention of unrealistic comparisons reminded me of the Dove evolution commercial http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYhCn0jf46U

The original question asked about whether a person can "play music" or "do ballet". I want to add "being beautiful" to the list because I think it will help me express my point that I want to make.

I believe that most people can improve on most skills, and that improvement is correlated to the time and effort they put into it. I believe that "being beautiful" counts among these skills along with "playing music" and "doing ballet". The reason I added "being beautiful" to the list is because I have found an attitude among many people, even those with a "growther" mindset, that treats beauty as static. I argue that the general expectations (or at least the projected expectations, which to the projecting person is the same thing) is unreasonable, causing many people to think of their improvements as failures because they fall short of those unreasonable expectations.

So if one defines the ability to "play music" as the ability to produce live music that is on par with best-selling recordings, then I argue that no, the average person cannot "play music". Likewise if one defines the ability to "be beautiful" as the ability to look as flawless as the final product in the Dove evolution commercial. I find definitions like these to be unreasonable because these definition/expectations discourage the average person to try to play music or be beautiful when it may bring them and the people around them much joy.

I hope that you are right that people can shed these expectations and do things for the fun of it. I see signs of it in music too.

Is there a reason you believe drawing is a learnable skill? Betty Edwards has shown that it is learnable by actually constructing a curriculum that lifts horribly bad drawers into competent ones.

In an almost identical but betty-edwards free universe, do you have any reason to believe the same?

Do you have reason to believe the opposite about music?

Yes, it's possible someone might not be able to learn it but I believe this is rare. If you can recognize common tunes from the melody alone, you almost certainly hear well enough to recognize intervals; it's just a matter of practice.

> Anyway, Edwards’s theory is that ‘bad’ drawers don’t look at the thing itself and draw its shape, they translate reality into abstract concepts first and then draw what that concept visually looks like.

This is so true.

By squinting one of your eyes (looking through only one eye) you can approximate the 'upside down' effect pretty remarkably.

Drawing is all about the relation of shapes to each other. Portrait drawing is too - but has the additional constraint of very little tolerance for off-by-one errors. Everyone is particularly attuned to facial recognition - lines that are off by even a millimeter or a fraction of an inch (by position or more generally - the angle) - you notice that. It is the difference between a portrait that looks like someone, a portrait that looks like someone else (but not her).

If you want to get better in portrait drawing and don't have the luxury of a live model posing for you, don't draw from pictures. Draw from live TV (like a newscast where the poses are relatively static but still fluid).

I've been taking a progression of art classes for just over a year now. A year is actually a long time in art class world. Really enjoying the escape from coding. It rocks because you lose yourself (like when you are on a focused coding tear). Have gotten much better yet have still so far to go. Have plateaued many times.

In my Portrait Drawing class, the thing that stopped me most was trying to draw what I thought the eye/nose looked like and actually drawing what it looks like. My internal model of what the eye/nose looks like is flawed because I lack experience. As an aside, if you look at other people's portraits of the model - there is usually part of the portrait that resembles them.

The professor was amazing. She could take a blank piece of paper and in 15 min. create the person's portrait, capture their essence. If she worked on it more and more, it got even better. But she got the basic essence in a very short time. She didn't make mistakes in positioning - like most of us in class did (we did get better by the end of the course) - to draw fast - you need to draw very accurately and with confidence. Mistakes can be corrected, up to a point.

If you don't draw the eye as it really looks, you can easily end up with something that looks like an egyptian mummy. There is a very clear orbital socket that needs to be shaded/drawn - without that the eye isn't an eye. Shading is so, so important.

Adding the little stuff to your drawing - like adding a little more shading to the half/side of the pupil that is on the dark side (away from the light) makes a difference. By itself, it doesn't add up, but it makes it look better - when adding all the other little stuff.

Now, drawing in public (e.g. someone's portrait for money in 15 min.) is a whole different ballgame. At least, starting with a controlled environment (precise teacher feedback) is a start. I believe the key is to have the basics down (and basically do a Mr. Potato Head from your experience drawing the basics)

I think this isn't a good demonstration of trying hard. These little puzzles only went on for a few hours so a person who is highly intelligent but perhaps not so diligent over a long time won't see bad results in this test. The comments here demonstrates survivor bias.

Furthermore, it's easy to quote Alan Kay about perceiving reality, or non-verifiable comments about 80 IQ points, etc, but what about all the Alan Kay-s who failed that you never heard of, that tried harder or were smarter? What about them? What if no matter how hard you try, how long you try, you still fail?

What about people with learning disabilities? What about people who might be mutants? I.e., in the same way our nearest primate relatives are a few percentage points of DNA different from humans, what if having a few hundredths of a percentage point difference in the right direction, away from me, makes the difference? A thousand years of chimp intellect won't produce an aircraft. A thousand hours of me contemplating won't be the same as someone else who is smarter and contemplates for just ten hours. That's just the way it is. I feel like I know this because I'm on the wrong side of that few-hundredths of a percentage points.

Trying hard is important, and trying hard over many years is also important. But for someone like me, the window is permanently shut as far as what ever biology I have been born with compared to people who excel in ways I simply cannot. Not that I haven't tried. It's just that there are limits on all of us, and this method. Some people, fortunately, have less limits on what they can do.

Trying hard is important, and trying hard over many years is also important. But for someone like me, the window is permanently shut as far as what ever biology I have been born with compared to people who excel in ways I simply cannot.

It's not just about trying -- it's about your emotional state while you're trying. If you approach hard problems with fear and dread, your mind will be full of the noise that comes with anxiety, and your cognitive functions will be reduced because your dopamine and serotonin levels will be lower than when you're doing something you love.

Furthermore, if hard problems put you in a state of anxiety and fear, you'll probably be inclined to avoid them more than someone who gets excited at the thought of tackling them. But if you can get to a point where you love them, then the whole complexion of things changes.

This has parallels in working out and exercising. One of the best ways to get back in shape is to get to a point where you love working out. When you first start out it's often a chore, but if you can get over that initial hump to the point where you can't wait to get to the gym, then you're golden. If you take two equally out-of-shape people and start them on an exercise program at the same time, and one reaches the point where they love working out and the other still dreads it, which one do you think is going to make the most progress?

Alan Kay's comment about "a change in perspective is worth 80 IQ points" isn't meant to be precisely verified, it's meant to emphasize that mindset/perspective can be as important or more important than raw IQ horsepower. This study is one example of why that's true.

If it's any consolation, Alan Kay still credits some unknown airforce programmer for the invention of OO programming. He just saw a good idea and ran with it.

On the other hand, you might look at Van Gogh. he tried his whole life then died unknown and penniless. He was told his whole career to give up painting and do something respectable.

I think the best a random person can can hope for is to do something they enjoy. We all have our little victories and losses. What's more tragic, Van Gogh, or the miner that wanted to paint and resented every day of work?

There are limits. You cited some very obvious ones.

I have no idea why you think that you are among the "catastrophically limited" as I will call them.

You presumably can program a computer based on your comment history. This puts you firmly in the "not really limited by IQ" camp. You may never be a Terrance Tao of John von Neumann, but every other level of achievement is probably available to you.

Even your own self knowledge of skills puts you above most people I work with. When it comes to overall competency, knowing that you aren't very good at programming puts you above many programmers I know.

Just browsing through your comment history it really seems more like you lack direction for getting better.

You didn't even answer someone's direct question toward you, a question that can really help you focus and find the direction you need to improve: "What are you working on now?"

Assuming that you don't have an answer for that question: I think I found your problem.

> You didn't even answer someone's direct question toward you, a question that can really help you focus and find the direction you need to improve: "What are you working on now?"

I didn't see it.

My day job leaves me pretty drained. Aside from that, I've been learning more about web-app programming. I allegedly do embedded and kernel work now for a large network hardware vendor so I realized a while ago I need to spread my wings so to speak.

Embedded and kernel work? I do web-app programming because I thought I wasn't smart enough to do that stuff!

It's mostly commoditized work where I am as well as throughout industry. The glory days of being a branch maintainer are over but there are still device drivers to be made for custom hardware, but a lot of consumer hardware is covered.

But it's mostly patch slavery. You ever wonder why old android phones don't get newer versions of android on them? One reason is that maintaining device drivers across kernel patches is a serious problem. I know of a product that is still using the 2.6.10 kernel because they have changed so much code they can't port it. iPhone doesn't have this problem since there are only, what? Five of them at any time? I guess they could but that's too much effort (slightly above 'breaking a sweat') so OEMs won't do it.

Doing anything with an embedded system always takes a long time. Even moving, adding or changing a single file into a packaged file where a bootable system lives can take a good 20-30 minutes depending on how much has to be rebuilt and how crappy the build system is (always). The deadlines are always short and immediate, too.

My job is mostly herding patches with an antiquated versioning system that never makes any sense, trying to herd machines to duplicate a 1:10,000 bug. Stuff I could have done when I was in school. I think I made a mistake agreeing to work here.

What about people with learning disabilities? What about people who might be mutants?

Whatever built-in position you're starting from, having the attitude that you can't improve is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A good attitude for wanting and believing in change is healthy no matter how low your IQ is.

Sometimes I believe, Hacker News should have more of this kind of "self hacking" articles. It may seem more like reddit, but it is surely not.

I normally hate self respect, self development books. I feel they are mostly bullshit. HN main page is a great filter for bullshit so I really like these more.

And thinking about change, I also had the introvert/extrovert change for myself. But this was not just me, my friends helped me a lot. If they were not telling me that I was not a problem, but my attitude is a problem. I would never have enough self confidence and would not ever change.

Sometimes I get more introvert, but I know, this is just because I want to be. And whenever I want, I can change.

But this was not just me, my friends helped me a lot.

The problem is that our neurons are wired to lead us to behave in a certain way. People with addictions and serious dysfunction are often trapped by their own programming and can't just "reason their way out of it". Friends serve as a "leap of faith" mechanism that help you to change the way you think.

If you think you'll reason yourself into making different decisions than your current programming, you'll often be stuck making the same decisions as always. For the really big changes, you need to unplug your current decision-making software long enough to do things you wouldn't normally do.

This is why 12-step programs always have some element of god/spirituality. When people open themselves up to "a higher power", they allow a sort of human meta-programming to rewrite their connections. This leap of faith reason is also why group therapy works so well. You can suspend your normal programming if the steps to get you to where the person next to you in the circle is are small ones.

I've also gone through the same process of being a strong introvert and learning to be more sociable. And I thought that was a really excellent application of the idea of the growth mindset for the article to point out. But I've gotta take issue with the idea that learning to be sociable is the same as learning to be an extrovert. It's just learning good social skills and learning to enjoy using them despite being an introvert.

I'm pretty well convinced that introversion vs. extroversion is just a part of everyone's neural anatomy, as much as being right-handed or left-handed is. That is somewhat plastic, but it takes fantastic levels of effort to fundamentally change. In/extroversion is a matter of how you think and what drains or recharges your mental energy, not how good you are at interacting in social groups; those things happen to be correlated, but there are some really awkward extroverts as well as really sociable introverts.

I believe you have pinpointed the issue here. I learned to be more sociable and I'm still introvert. Making the distinction is important. Thank you.

But while having transitions, sometimes I really became extrovert. Mostly I like to hold my issues to myself. But sometimes - with the help of booze - letting go of my thoughts is easier.

These findings should not be misinterpreted, since it is indeed impossible to reach any goals. A person in their late 20s is extremely unlikely to become an olympic swimmer or a squash player because of physical limitations. And some people will relentlessly try and never succeed.

But believing that you can change is useful because it makes it easier to persist in my efforts to change. Because if I believed that change is impossible, I'd give up on the spot.

I found that I simply cannot believe a statement like "I can get much smarter" or "I can get much better at X", but I found that I can easily (fully, honestly, without reservations) believe that "I can get a bit more smarter", or "my intelligence is sufficient for mastering this material, so I need to push harder", or "I can get at least a bit better socially." These beliefs motivate me and make it easy for me to do the work even when it looks like progress is nonexistent. This is the meaning of believing that you can change.

I wonder if the phenomenon of growth-mindset vs. fixed mindset is related to an ability to delay gratification, (another trait with a high correlation to succes in children [1]). That is, the "growth-minded" individuals are willing to slog through frustration and failure, because they know the payoff will be greater in the long run, while the "fixies" can't look past the immediate sense of frustration


I think it's not just slogging through it, but associating the slogging through it with success. That is at the end to enjoy slogging through it, or at least embrace it as part of the process. That way you don't have to delay gratification completely, just change your attitude towards what is gratifying.

I actually just read this book due to you, aaronsw. Your post on LessWrong where you mentioned it caused me to go out and read it.

I am now aware that ~90% of the people I associate with are very much in the "fixed mindset". It is kind of sad, honestly, because they are all bright people, but you can tell they have essentially stagnated because of their mindset. This includes myself, of course, but I have been slowly realizing the usefulness of the "growth mindset" over the last several years. Now I have a name for it.

Thanks for this. I will be sending your write-up to several of them.

"Mindset" by Carol Dweck is one of the greatest books I've ever read. Sadly though, I didn't discover it until the age of 41.

Of equal value is "the War of Art" by Steven Pressfield.

In my opinion, these are the only two "self help" styled books anyone needs.

I actually found "Mindset" underwhelming and couldn't finish it.

I noticed that I do have the growth mindset... in certain areas of my life. In others I need to remind myself of it. I found Dweck's binary/black-and-white description of "growth" vs "fixed" mindsets to be contrived and unconvincing, and ended up putting the book down, feeling I hadn't learned anything new.

I'm interrested. Why are they so good books?

What's the latter book about?

The creative process of writing, which trends to anything creative which needs "shipping." The difference between an "amateur" who dabbles at writing, and a professional, the power of pushing through and consistency to complete projects (ship). Additionally, a theory on why we try to hard to procrastinate away from the things we either know, or want, we would do.

Very direct, a bit of "muse" hokiness which most readers I've given the book to can deal with or understand (it is a foil for the author, not a belief). He was a man who failed until his late 40's? or some such, and it is extremely motivating and direct in its instructions.

from Amazon:

"Drawing on his many years' experience as a writer, Pressfield (The Legend of Bagger Vance) presents his first nonfiction work, which aims to inspire other writers, artists, musicians, or anyone else attempting to channel his or her creative energies. The focus is on combating resistance and living the destiny that Pressfield believes is gifted to each person by an all-powerful deity. While certainly of great value to frustrated writers struggling with writer's block, Pressfield's highly personal philosophy, soundly rooted in his own significant life challenges, has merit for anyone frustrated in fulfilling his or her life purpose. Successful photographer Ulrich (photography chair, Art Inst. of Boston; coeditor, The Visualization Manual) explores the creative impulse and presents an approach to developing creativity that, like Pressfield's, will be relevant to artists and others. He identifies and explains seven distinct stages of the creative process: discovery and encounter, passion and commitment, crisis and creative frustration, retreat and withdrawal, epiphany and insight, discipline and completion, and responsibility and release. He also develops his view of the three principles of the creative impulse, which include creative courage, being in the right place at the right time, and deepening connections with others. Rooted in Eastern philosophy, Ulrich's fully developed treatise nicely updates the solid works of Brewster Ghiselin (The Creative Process), Rollo May (The Courage To Create), and Julia Cameron (The Artist's Way). It also supplements Pressfield's inspirational thoughts on overcoming resistance through introspective questions and practical exercises that further elaborate the creative process. Both books are recommended for public libraries needing additional works on creativity."

Of the dozens of articles on Carol Dweck that I've read, this is by far the best one. Awesome writeup Aaron.

When I read about this research, it changed the way I raise my kids. Given our society's emphasis on intelligence (and the fact my kids are smart), it was natural to complement them on that. I now go to great efforts to make sure they know that smart alone isn't enough and, when they are putting good effort into something, I acknowledge the effort and not the results. Hopefully it is pushing them towards being "growthies".

Aside from the book recommended in the post, Learned Optimism by Seligmen is another dealing with "learned helplessness" and how to combat pessimism. It frames the struggle as optimist vs pessimist instead of growth vs fixed mindset.

I don't know if anyone else has had this experience, but for awhile in my teens to early 20s, I strived really hard to be a good musician. Everytime I would notice a marked improvement, I would have this almost excruciating sense of being overwhelmed. It was like almost forcing me out of reality, because I couldn't simply believe it. Sure enough, though, the next day I'd work on music I would be at a different level of sorts and would be on to tackling the next challenge.

Due to the fact that music doesn't really pay all that well, and I went for a comp. sci. degree, I've ended up as a software developer. What I'm starting to notice now, though, is that I haven't really had the same experience with developing my technical chops as a developer. I think I need to find more interesting projects outside of work to really scratch that creative itch.

This is where the "learn a language in a different paradigm" advice comes in. And do a non-trivial project in it. It shouldn't be enormous, but it needs to be non-trivial.

Yep, I just started diving into Clojure. It's really been a shift for me, even though I took a class in Haskell. I still haven't totally internalized the functional paradigm. I'm really eager to see how it changes my understanding of the current crop of languages I use (C#, Java, Ruby).

This is a great read, and I believe it's spot on. It's also a perfect example of what Alan Kay means when he says, "We see things not as they are but as we are"..."We can't learn to see until we admit we are blind"..."A change in perspective is worth 80 IQ points."

Humility is a key ingredient because it saves you from the mindset of "Success comes from proving how great you are. Effort is a bad thing — if you have to try hard and ask questions, you obviously can’t be very good."

The most important meme for success is agency: you can make a difference in your life.

But this one -adaptability- is not far behind it. You can make a difference in yourself.

Awesome article.

I started learning to program when I was in middle school and since that I've pretty much always messed around in the same programming language and it was always fun because I was always learning new and challenging things. Recently though I've found that I wasn't learning as many new things (as frequently) as I once used to and no longer had the same level of excitement that I used to have doing it, so I decided to make a change.

I've always been somewhat afraid of learning new programming languages because it's "new" and "different" and "I might not understand or be able to get it the first time around" but what made me do it is remembering back to when I didn't know anything about computers and how without any books or any help I was able to learn some really cool stuff. I'm now taking that same approach to learn Ruby on Rails, Python, and iOS and plan to go back to school next year to get a degree in Computer Science.

As the saying goes: "If you're not learning, you're dead"

This reminds me a lot of what I learned from the book, Flow. That author talks about what makes people happy and the common thread is intrinsic motivation to continually learn and grow. This current article isn't saying that anything is possible if you work hard. I like to think we all have an achievement continuum given to us by our genes that is unfortunately then artificially restricted when we say "I can't" or "I never had a good rememory". If you set your personal goals somewhere outside your physically possible achievement continuum, no amount of work will ever result in success. But identifying your continuum and then being aware enough to approach roadblocks as growth opportunities will result in great success. I think the chance of ever reaching the end of your physically capable achievement continuum is far more rare than those of us who spend large amounts of time artificially restricting that continuum by not even trying.

I think it's important for a lot of people to realize that it's possible to be a growther in certain aspects of your life and a fixie in others. As I was reading the article, I thought about how I approached problems like learning new programming languages and solving logic puzzles and such and I thought to myself "cool, I'm totally a growther!" But as I read on and read about the authors social growth and realization that "introverted" is not a permanent state of being, I realized that in this area I'm a complete fixie. My next growth project should probably be to convince myself that a compiler error message is no less offensive than acting awkward in a group of people you don't know.

I keep an image in my Pinboard that reminds me of this whenever I begin slipping into the fixed mindset. I think it succinctly summarizes Dweck's observations.


You know how some people just seem to succeed at everything they do, while others seem helpless, doomed to a life of constant failure?

I never noticed that, except in greek tragedies.

Great summary and how to apply it to your own life. I find this particularly relevant for entrepreneurs where you must either love the challenge of learning/failure or you will be miserable.

Carol Dweck was obsessed with failure. [...] So she began watching kids [...]

Scientists rarely proceed that way.

This article precisely explains what John Carmack was like as a kid.

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