I always hated being mediocre.

‌But I was one and I wouldn’t try much to change it. 

I wouldn’t try because I was entrapped by the false beliefs I had about how success and achievements work.

In every success story I would stumble upon, I would look for some attributes or condition that I didn’t have so that I could justify my passivity.

From math to sports, I wouldn’t even think of entering any competitions. 

Because I subconsciously believed whoever participated in those competitions had some sort of abilities or talents that I simply hadn’t. 

Up until 5 years ago, these false beliefs remained the same and I remained mediocre with no special achievement to give me self-esteem or cheer me up. I kept feeling that I am not enough.

About 7 years ago I started to occasionally read books and articles on self-transformation and things started to change for me.

During the past 5 years, I achieved many things (from academic awards to earning the top graduate title) that I thought to have been reserved for the “talented.”

Now that I reflect, these achievements hold no value to me.

The real value I earned is that from someone who didn’t see in himself to even participate in a simple competition, I have turned to someone who believes even becoming a president is absolutely possible.

I no longer have fears or doubts to pursue my desires and lofty goals. I am finally free from my fears and self-doubts. I am finally enough.

This massive transformation was not the result of a change in my IQ or talents. It was the result of the change in my thoughts and beliefs.

If you resonate with my story, I can tell you with absolute certainty that all such problems (inaction, feelings of unworthiness, fears, etc.) are rooted in the false beliefs about how success works. 

I changed them, you can change them too.

The Two Ways to Change Beliefs

1. Taking Action — Changing Your Beliefs The Hard Way. 

The first way to change your beliefs and getting rid of your fears is to actually take actions towards what’s terrifying you. In the words Dale Carnegie:

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”

Unfortunately, for some people (my previous self included), given the severity of the false belief, taking action might be too daunting to be a feasible solution.

This takes us to the second way of changing beliefs.

2. Perspective: Changing Your Beliefs By Questioning Them

Consider for a moment that there’s a room with a treasure in it.

Then I tell you there’s a pack of hungry tigers in that room — while there’s actually none.

Would you dare to open that door? Would the sheer will to act be enough to overcome the fear?

Rightly so, you will be paralyzed by dread of those hungry tigers.

But what happens if you make a pause and start questioning the belief that I instilled within you?

For instance, you would start by asking:

  • Shouldn’t those tigers, if they really exist in the room, make some noises?
  • Is there any other way I can verify if the Tigers really exist in the room? Looking through the keyhole, window, or something?

Even better, what if someone just opens that door and comes out? Wouldn’t you be assured that there is no tiger in that room? Wouldn’t your fears just vanish?

The following three simple lessons are the witnesses that vouched for the absence of tiger for me. 

They debunked my false beliefs and upgraded my mind to believe if it is humanly possible, I can do it too.

 1. Mindset

The first blow to the pillars of my false beliefs was reading a book title: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

This book was the keyhole through which I looked and started doubting the presence of tigers.

Part of my self-limiting beliefs stemmed from a false definition of IQ and intelligence and I refined them with the help of this book and the following message.

Fixed-mindset VS Growth Mindset

If you believe IQ and intelligence are what you are born with and that you cannot change them, it means that you have a fixed mindset

People with fixed-mindset are afraid to even try and even if they do, they will stop with the first signs of obstacles. 

They will give up when it becomes tough, thinking to themselves that they have reached their limits.

Unlike the fixed mindset, people with a growth mindset do not have anything in their vocabulary as a failure. It is just learning. Nelson Mandela is a shining figure with the growth mindset:

I never lose. I either win or I learn.

In the face of obstacles, people with the growth mindset, do not back down; they persist through because they know they just have to put in more effort and revise their action.

Achievement and success for people with the growth mindset is a function of effort and learning, not IQ and Intelligence. 

If they fail, it’s because they have not tried enough, not that they’ve reached the limits of their capabilities.

How to Change Your Mindset

It is simple and incredibly powerful. If you merely think about the following quote and genuinely accept it, you will upgrade your mind to a growth-mindset:

Success is a function of learning and effort, not IQ or Intelligence.

Or just let Carol Dweck — Stanford psychologist and author of the mindset — to come out of the room and show you that there’s no tiger there:

No matter what your current ability is, effort is what ignites that ability and turns it into accomplishment.

Recommended books

  • Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Carol Dweck)
  • Psychocybernetics (Maxwell Maltz) 

 2. Talent

The second pillar of my false beliefs crumbled when I learned about how talent really works, through a book titled: Talent Code: Greatness isn’t born, it’s grown.

This book was a window to the room. It made me more certain that there’s no tiger there.

I debunked my self-limiting thoughts about talent.

So, What Really is Talent?

What we refer to as talent, involves a neural insulator called myelin and is now considered to be the holy grail of cultivating skills.

From the simplest skill, such as flipping a coin to complex ones such as programming or playing the piano, every human skill involves chains of nerve fibers and neural circuits that carry tiny electrical impulses.

Simply put, each skill involves traveling of signals through specific circuits of neurons.

Myelin critical role is to wrap around those nerve fibers and circuits. Think of it in the way rubber is wrapped around a copper wire.

The more myelin is wrapped around those fibers, the faster and stronger those tiny signal travel through the circuits. Hence, you become faster and better at the task.

In addition, this myelination and insulation of fibers make you more accurate by preventing the electrical signals from leaking out.

talent
ig -1 Action potential travels much faster in a myelinated neuron (the right one) than unmyelinated neurons (the left one) - Wikipedia

So, I learned that talent is just creating more myelin. 

I further learned that everyone can grow myelin through practice. 

But, a special form of practice (called deep practice) makes myelin to grow at a much faster rate. 

Realizing this was immensely liberating and empowering for me.

How do these facts suppose to change your beliefs about success?

Just use it as the window to the treasure room with hypothetical tigers and know that:

Talent is not born, it is grown through practice. What appears to be the “talent” of prodigies and iconic figures is just mastery earned through sweating and practicing deeply.

Just know that while people marveled at the Pietà masterpiece, this is how the wizard, Michelangelo responded:

If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.

Recommended books

  • Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born, It’s Grown (by Daniel Coyle)
  • Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else (by Geoff Colvin)

3. How Success Really Works

You will become clever through your mistakes. — German Proverb.

Here’s where I finally opened the door to the treasure room and stepped in to see for myself. 

I deeply studied how successful people earned their success. 

The following picture is what I noticed in EVERY SINGLE achiever that I studied:

Fig 2. How Success Works

From the media and movies, we are constantly bombarded with success stories of individuals but we fail to see the failures and bleedings of all those individuals along their path to achievement. 

  • Did you know that Abraham Lincoln failed in his business in 1831, suffered a nervous breakdown in 1836, and defeated in his run for president in 1856?

“My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.” — Abraham Lincoln

  • Did you know that Walt Disney went bankrupt in his early ventures (Laugh-o-Gram Studios) and was fired from Missouri newspaper for “not being creative enough?”
  • Did you know that Steven Spielberg had poor grades in school and got rejected from southern California three times?
  • Did you know that Colonel Harland Sanders was a 6th-grade dropout and he got rejected 1,000 times before he could finally sell his KFC recipe and franchise idea?
  • Did you know that Steve Jobs was fired from his own company, failed with his NexT computer company and Lisa computer?

“I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.” — Steve Jobs

Step in the room and see for yourself that there is no talent at work and no overnight success. It’s just trying, failing, hustling, learning, and trying again.

What’s holding you back is a false belief that success and achievement require some special talent or conditions; that you are not enough for great achievements.

Real life is not like Good Will Hunting movie where a janitor solves an open math problem by his sheer glance, life is hustle and hustle, failure and failure till you get it right.

Embrace the hustle, embrace the pain, learn from your failure and failures of others, start over and over, till you get it right.

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