Chill the f**k out...!

The human brain

It propelled us into outer space. It created modern medicine. We’ve used it to unravel the wonders of the world. The fields of Physics, Chemistry, Biology - all human constructs created to decipher the natural world around us. The human brain has created thousands of different languages. It has started wars, and wreaked havoc with our eco-systems. The brain allows us to think, and it allows us to feel. The brain is, quite simply, who we are.

From the moment we are born every one of us starts a lifelong journey of continuous learning. Some of us become academics, researchers, and writers, and formalize this learning for much of our lives. Most of us move on from formal education in our early 20’s and simply learn as we go along, in a very random and haphazard manner. Our mind is constantly being stimulated, shaping our thoughts, decisions, and our overall experience of life.

The growth mindset

In her seminal work titled Mindset, American psychologist and Stanford Professor Carol Dweck, describes a growth mindset as the following.

“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”

To a certain degree, as humans, we all have a growth mindset. However, to what extent varies significantly from person to person. On a scale of one to ten, with one being a fixed mindsight and ten being the highest level of growth, I’d definitely score myself closer to a ten.

"Not planning to die"

Earlier this year I published a blog titled “Not planning to die”. In the article I explored my obsession with personal development and learning. The explosion of literature on personal development, the rise of life coaches, and the recent exponential growth of podcasts were all discussed. We explored why lots of us sleepwalk through our lives with a niggling dissatisfaction but unwilling to find answers.

Over the years, to fuel my thirst for learning, I immersed myself in the literature by studying psychology, neuroscience, mindfulness, health, nutrition, diet, and exercise. I’ve devoured biographies and listened to podcasts by some pretty radical thinkers. I’ve been a seeker and I’ve craved answers. To what end, I’m not entirely sure, but that’s what makes us human, right? I’m constantly tinkering – diet, exercise, social media usage, even my daily routines. You name it and I’ve experimented with it.

Let’s take the last year for example.

At the beginning of each year, instead of writing a New Year’s resolution, I write a long list of goals. I also jot down my thoughts on how I want the following year to pan out. This will include a mix of personal and business goals, things I’d like to do more of, things I’d like to do less off, as well as dissecting my routines and habits that are working well, and not so well. This will include writing down a list of running targets and a golf handicap goal. It might include TV and phone screen times, how many books I’ll read, and set times for daddy/son time. Yes, it becomes rather granular!

I also make sure that I scope out the types of podcasts that I’ll listen to. Many of these are hosted by leading global thought leaders who deeply question many of the ways in which we lead our lives. I’ve become obsessed with them, and they form a great deal of who I am and how I think.

Is it really a good thing?

However today, I want to pose a question to you all….

“At what point does a growth mindset become prohibitive to our enjoyment of life”?

The problem with being so goal oriented and seeing everything as an intellectual or physical challenge is still need to live day to day in the modern world. This can be hard as it creates a significant amount of cognitive dissonance when everything is effectively gamified.

Everything becomes a project that needs focus and attention. Let me give you an example - instead of simply going for a run to enjoy the great outdoors, each session becomes a carefully choreographed training session with the aim of increasing VO2 max or strength. Each leisurely round of golf becomes a frustration if you start with a range of bogeys. Hell, even a chocolate brownie can become guilt ridden if you are in the middle of a no gluten or no sugar experiment!

A realisation

Do you see the problem?

2020 has undoubtedly been the most bizarre, scary, confusing, crazy year that most of us have ever experienced. We started the year by launching Vero and within three months the world had started to collapse. Firstly, the oil price crashed and then Covid struck. However, through it all I stuck to my routines, goals and habits, effectively using them as a safety net, thinking that by having a laser focus on everything that I do that I’ll achieve better outcomes.

I thought that all these things made me happier, more content, more interesting even. However, and it’s only dawned on me during the past few months, that in fact it can have the opposite effect. And what a realisation this has been.

For the past few weeks, I’ve listened to music instead of podcasts. I’ve read fiction instead of self-help. I’ve not opened my Headspace app once. I’ve taken things as they come and simply enjoyed tasks for what they are.

And you know what?

It feels bloody good!

So, as we near the end of the year and our thoughts turn to a far more positive and optimistic 2021, I’m planning to take a step back, to relax, and to simply do things for the sheer joy and fun of doing them without any formalised goals or targets. Now I’m not saying that this approach is right for everyone, and if you’ve been somewhat rudderless this year and lacking direction, perhaps setting some goals and targets is actually the right thing for you.

I’ll write a follow up blog next year to let you know how it goes.

As always, keen to hear your own experience and thoughts.