One of the hardest things in life is to keep going in the face of fear and self-doubt.
On the one hand, grit and determination are vital to success. Anyone who triumphs will face moments of uncertainty yet somehow find the inner will to keep going. If you want to get good grades, develop a daily meditation practice, or become financially independent, then “sticking with it” is perhaps the most critical trait.
Some people seem to be naturally resilient. When encountering obstacles, they appear to thrive despite, or perhaps even because of, the challenges ahead. People like Thomas Edison, Michael Jordan, and Ernest Shackleton faced tremendous odds and failed repeatedly on the way to reaching their objectives. “They failed their way to success,” as the saying goes.
On the other hand, fear often causes us to quit too soon, or worse, not even get started in the first place. Author Stephen Pressfield calls this inner struggle Resistance. Have you ever quit a gym membership, ended a diet early, or given up on a childhood dream? “Are you a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture?” says Pressfield. “Then you know what Resistance is.”
Other people seem to wilt at the first sign of difficulty. If results don’t come quickly, they become demotivated and give up before giving themselves a chance to succeed. The critical question is: How do we keep going when we’d rather call it quits?
One way to answer this question is to use the mindset that Carol Dweck calls The Power of Yet.
To explain what this looks like, let me tell you a short story.
In tenth grade, I occasionally played a video game called King’s Quest.
King’s Quest is about the fictional Kingdom of Daventry that has fallen into ruin after losing its three great treasures—Merlin’s Mirror, the Shield of Achilles, and the Chest of Gold. To recover the lost treasures, Graham, the king’s best knight, must travel through labyrinths and deserts and overcome ogres, sorcerers, and the wicked witch Dahlia.
The game is straightforward, but some riddles require creative problem-solving and persistence. Unfortunately, diligence was not one of my strengths in high school. If I couldn’t solve a puzzle immediately, I’d get discouraged and give up. “This game is stupid!” I’d say.
But then a curious thing happened. When my friend, Scott, played King’s Quest, unlike me, he didn’t quit. When the most obvious ideas didn’t work against the troll under the bridge, he tried novel solutions until, like Edison, he solved the puzzle. The more puzzles he solved, the more tools he acquired, and the better prepared he was for future challenges. Sound familiar?
So why was my friend willing to keep at it until he succeeded while I quickly accepted defeat? I assumed it was because he was smarter than me. Was that it, or was there something else going on?
Let’s discuss what lessons we can learn from King’s Quest about The Power of Yet.
In 2006, Carol Dweck wrote the groundbreaking and New York Times bestselling book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. In this book, she made a simple yet profound discovery about why some people shrink in the face of difficulty while others persevere.
According to Dweck, the critical difference was their mindset. Those who believed they had the power to change persisted, and those who did not quit early. In other words, Dweck realized that success is less about raw talent and more about having the right mindset, a way of seeing that our lack of present success doesn’t mean permanent failure. She called it the growth mindset.
The growth mindset is the belief that we can develop our abilities over time. The key is our willingness to persist through the discomfort of being on the learning curve. In other words, successful outcomes are more about dedication, hard work, and good ‘ol stick-to-itiveness than natural ability.
Later, in 2014, Dweck gave a TEDx talk at a NeuroLeadership Summit in Sweden. In her speech, she made another simple yet powerful statement about what to do when faced with uncertainty and self-doubt. She calls it “The Power of Yet.” You may not have succeeded yet, but you can if you keep at it.
If you fail and think, “I’m a failure, I’m nothing,” you will probably give up. But if you understand that learning new skills and achieving great things takes time, “not yet” reminds you that you are traveling along the road on the way to success. Not yet encourages you to keep going and gives you a pathway to future triumph.
Interestingly, we can have a growth mindset in one area of our lives while simultaneously having a fixed mindset in another. For example, I’ve always had a growth mindset about personal growth but a fixed mindset regarding my career. The Power of Yet helps me persist and develop new abilities beyond my current skill level when I feel stuck.
We can either luxuriate in the Power of Yet or struggle in the tyranny of now, says Dweck. “The tyranny of now” believes success should come now, without effort, not later. The Power of Yet understands that success takes time and requires overcoming challenges. More profoundly, the Power of Yet enables us to realize our potential and become who we are meant to be. We may not be there yet, but we will be if we keep at it.
“Be proud of your choices not your gifts.” - Jeff Bezos
Are you willing not to know things?
I can’t speak Spanish…yet.
I’m not good at math…yet.
I can’t get this bicycle to work…yet.
I don’t know how to ask a girl out…yet.
I can’t run a mile…yet.
I don’t know how to meditate…yet.
My friend playing King’s Quest illustrates the Power of Yet. Whenever he encountered difficulty, he didn’t quit because he knew it was only a matter of time before he figured it out. If he failed right away, he didn’t take it personally. Like any good inventor, he kept trying different tactics until something worked.
Are you willing to incorporate lessons from your failed endeavor into a future strategy?
There are things we can do to encourage and nurture the “not yet” mindset in our children, others, and ourselves.
We’ve learned that praising intelligence backfires and undermines motivation and learning. Instead of praising talent, praise the process in which you or another person engages—their strategy, focus, effort, and progress.
Praising process helps develop resilience and a willingness to stick with it. When we honor the process, we try harder over extended periods and try more strategies. We persevere longer. When children and adults push past their comfort zone to learn something new and different, neurons develop more robust connections. In other words, persistence is a mental workout that builds your brain and raises your IQ.
When talent is praised, and a person encounters difficulty, they assume they are dumb (inferior). However, when progress is praised, effort and difficulty are transformed to mean you are not dumb but one step closer to realizing your intention. Are you not smart enough…or have you just not solved it yet?
Michael Jordan improved his dribbling, dodging, and scoring in every practice session. Edison was one idea closer to creating the lightbulb with every failed attempt. Shackleton was a few feet closer to rescuing his men with every stroke of the oars.
If a child says, “I’m not good at writing.” Yet.
“I don’t know how to solve this equation.” Yet.
“I don’t know how to type.” Yet.
“I tried guitar, and I can’t play.” Yet.
“I haven’t collected the three King’s Quest treasures.” Yet.
Yet reminds us that we are on a curve unlearning the habit of “I can’t” and learning “I can, just not yet.” Each of us can get better at anything. But learning the Power of Yet doesn’t happen overnight. Like all things, it takes time and effort. “You just have to get in there and keep trying,” says Dweck.
“It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer.” — Albert Einstein
In one sense, your task in life is to create the conditions that allow you (and those around you) to realize your inherent ability. If you give up on yourself early, you are like an acorn never given a chance to grow into a mature oak tree.
One way to approach this is through the Power of Yet. Yet enables you to keep going and push through self-doubt to blossom into your full potential.