It’s scary sometimes. This vision you have for the future.
You know that you want something different, but its hard not to look over your shoulder. The past looms large behind you.
And in the quiet moments, your doubts loom large too.
You’ve heard lots of advice about how to move forward. Most of it seems so far removed from you. From what it feels like to sit on your couch, sleep in your bed, live with your limitations.
But what if your assumptions about what it takes to succeed are wrong? What if you are more capable and better equipped than you thought?
I have five surprising realizations that will help you to claim your own power, and to step into success.
It’s Good That You’re a Work in Progress
It means you’re going somewhere.
Your brain grows according to what you ask it to do. It’s called neuroplasticity. And the results are so dramatic that it’s possible to tell by the anatomical structure of the brain alone something as specific as whether a deceased person took piano lessons or violin lessons while they were alive.
You are literally building your own brain. All the time. And the more you operate outside your comfort zone, the more you grow.
That means that where you are now matters much less than where you are going.
In her TED talk psychologist Carol Dweck explains what she calls the power of yet.
She says there are two ways to think about coming up against a problem you don’t know how to solve. You can tell yourself you aren’t smart enough to solve it. Or you can tell yourself you just haven’t solved it yet.
Study after study says regardless where you start, where you end up is determined by your mindset.
When you focus on the possibility for growth instead of your current limitations, you open the door to your own future.
It’s Good When the Road Gets Bumpy
We tend to look at other people’s success and assume their path has been smooth and straight-forward. Then when our own road gets bumpy, we think there is something wrong with us. The truth is, obstacles and discouragement happen to everyone. Bumps in the road mean that you are on a path to somewhere. Consider these examples compiled by Professor Frank Pajares from the University of Kentucky.
- In high school, actor and comic Robin Williams was voted, “Least likely to Succeed.”
- Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because he “lacked imaginations and had no good ideas.” He went bankrupt several times before he built Disneyland. In fact, the proposed park was rejected by the city of Anaheim on the grounds that it would only attract riffraff.
- Van Gogh sold only one painting during his life. And that to the sister of one of his friends for 400 francs (approximately $50.) This didn’t stop him from completing over 800 paintings.
- “So we went to Atari and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we’ll come work for you.’ And they said ‘No.’ So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, ‘Hey, we don’t need you. You haven’t got through college yet.’”—Apple computer founder Steve Jobs on attempts to get Atari and HP interested in his and Steve Wozniak’s personal computer
- In 1954, Jimmy Denny, manager of the Grand Ole Opry, fired Elvis Presley after one performance. He told Presley, “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son. You ought to go back to drivin’ a truck.”
- Thomas Edison’s teachers said he was “too stupid to learn anything.” He was fired from his first two jobs for being “nonproductive.” As an inventor, Edison made 1000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. When a reporter asked, “How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?” Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulbe was an inventions with 1,000 steps.”
The journey getting bumpy doesn’t say anything about you or your potential. But whether you persevere through the bumps will determine your future.
It’s Good to Take Breaks
I sometimes have students tell me something like, “I’m so psyched for this term! I have it all planned out. I’m going to study for six hours every night without stopping. And then eight hours straight on Saturday!”
Research says you will be more productive when you take breaks.
This study showed that between 81 and 100 percent of participants came up with more creative ideas when walking than sitting. So go exercise. And better yet do it in nature. Consider it a boost to your problem solving.
Ever felt like your head was overflowing from too much information? It wasn’t your imagination.
When you are working hard your brain needs time to sort through and consolidate all the new information. This study showed that breaks are critical to your brain’s process of building new memories. Participants who learning new motor skills made more progress in the rest periods between their practice sessions than in the practice sessions themselves.
You also need breaks to learn and develop new skills. Tony Schwartz, founder of The Energy Project, teaches that people cycle from energy to fatigue every 90 minutes. He suggests alternating pulses, or periods of focused work, with pauses for exercise and snacks.
It’s Good to be Happy Now
Have you ever told yourself Once I achieve (insert goal), then I’ll be happy?
Most of us start early. I can’t wait until I’m in high school. Then it becomes, I can’t wait until I’m outta here. Adult life is the same. We’re finally going to be happy when we get the job, the house, the car. When we get married, have kids, get the kids out of the house. As soon as you reach one target your brain switches to a different one.
And then at some point, it hits you. You’ve wasted years of your life waiting to be happy. And you still aren’t there yet.
So make time for the things research has shown to increase happiness. Psychologist Shawn Anchor suggests:
- Write down three new things each day that you are grateful for: This primes your brain to notice positives in your life.
- For two minutes each day journal about one positive experience: You get to relive it, and your brain learns that is something to focus on in the future.
- Exercise: 15 minutes a day of cardio will be as effective as the first six months of taking an antidepressant, but with a 30 percent lower relapse rate.
- Focus on your breathing for two minutes a day: This improves your accuracy, lowers your stress, and increases your productivity by taking your brain from multitask mode to single focus mode.
- Express kindness through a text or email: This is a two for one. Doing something nice boosts your happiness. Doing it in this way strengthens your relationships with your support network, another source of happiness.
Be happy now. When you enjoy the process you will make more progress toward your goals.
It’s Good to Dream Big
Dream so big that it scares you a little.
Because success is for you.
The one who wonders if you’re really up for the future. Who gets discouraged and tired sometimes. Who gets sick of always waiting for tomorrow, and who wants some of that joy now.
Because you are enough.
And when you keep moving forward, things will work out.
Even though you’re imperfect.
Even though there are setbacks.
Even though you need breaks.
You’re doing it.
Read about how letting yourself be vulnerable actually makes you stronger here.
Learn why you DON”T need more willpower to beat procrastination here.