Chapter 05: Growth Mindset
In the last chapter, we looked at the importance of overcoming fear – even overcoming a fear of death.
And similarly, it is equally important to be willing to be uncomfortable and to experience small amounts of hardship. How can you lose weight if you are afraid of dieting? How can you expect to progress in your career if you shy away from hard work?
But this is the reality for many of us. We are simply unwilling to do things we don’t want to do, or to put up with hard times. We have become exceedingly weak and it is ultimately making us unhappy.
Why We Have Become Weak
Consider your dog and compare them to a wolf (if you don’t own a dog, consider one you know). Look at the differences.
Your dog might be loving, loyal and fun but it is entirely dependent on you. It wouldn’t survive a day in the wild and it’s certainly not a warrior like the wolf is.
Why not? Because it has been domesticated.
And that my friend, is your problem as well.
We have not only become domesticated but we have also become lazy, spoiled and overly indulged. In modern society, everything is disposable, everything comes easily and we never have to wait.
Hungry? Order a takeaway. It will be with you in five minutes and it will be packed with salt and sugar so you feel a rush of reward hormones.
Horny? Watch some porn.
Bored? Turn on the TV and laugh at someone falling over.
Need information? Just ask Siri.
Want to get into better shape? Naah, that seems like a lot of effort.
Being so constantly indulged in whatever we want means that we find it harder than ever to put in effort when it is needed. Why would we put in effort when we can have so much, so easily?
And likewise, when we are used to getting whatever we want, we feel absolutely distraught when the shower doesn’t heat up properly.
And here’s the thing: in the wild, you would have only had cold water to wash in. Eating would have required hunting or foraging in the rain while avoiding predators. You could be so much stronger and so much tougher – mentally and physically. But as we are, we’re fat, lazy and low on motivation.
How to Get Tough
So with that in mind, how do you go about getting tough?
The first thing you need to do, is to try living with less. We discussed this already in our post on Stoicism, but travelling is a fantastic way to accomplish the warrior mindset. That means travelling and staying in hostels, not booking hotels the night before, only taking a few clothes.
I have been on a few journeys like this myself. I went on a trip around Europe and took only a backpack to get by. I remember lying at a train station in Poland in the snow, unable to read the signposts (despite my Polish heritage) and not knowing when the next train would come. Or even where I was! This was before data roaming or 3G, so that was out of the question too.
Then I found a little cafe and managed to order some tea – with milk rather than with a lemon as the Polish generally drink it.
You know what? I felt actually bliss drinking from that polystyrene cup. I appreciated the tea so much because it had been so long and because I was so cold.
Today, I often ask for my tea in polystyrene cups when it’s an option because it sends me back to that moment.
And this is what you realize when you force yourself to do without: you learn that the little things can bring you a lot of joy. That there is reward and happiness to be found in every moment. You don’t need everything to go perfectly.
And in fact, when things go wrong, it creates stories and helps you to grow stronger.
And that’s a key point actually: to keep a growth mindset at all times. Each challenge that comes your way is a chance to get stronger, smarter and better. By dealing with these hardships, your life has greater purpose (life is meaningless when it is easy) and you become better equipped to take on similar challenges in future.
So, the next time you find, yourself in debt, instead of letting it defeat you, instead see it as a challenge. How can you earn the money you need to get out of it? How can you become better?
Don’t wallow in stress or anxiety – that helps no one. See it as a chance to grow and to prevent this happening again and take the necessary steps. Don’t worry about how it looks to others, don’t blame yourself for letting yourself get into that situation before.
Just take action. And learn from it. You were not good enough before but now you are going to be better.
In fact, growth and challenge are things that the brain is actually wired for. We thrive when we are challenged mentally and physically and this results in the production of hormones like dopamine, brain derived neurotrophic factor and more that keep us focussed and that help protect our brains into old age.
Not only should you welcome the challenges that come, you should seek them out. During ‘times of peace’, you should prepare for battle by learning (reading books, adopting new skills) and by training your body.
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