Today's Reading

Foundational Mindset #1: The Achievement Mindset

Success begins in the mind. Studies have discovered that people rarely achieve great things if they don't believe they can. So if you believe you won't accomplish a certain goal, you're probably right. When the social scientist Peter Schulman studied how heightened levels of sales performance are attained, he identified that "expectations of success or failure are often self-fulfilling prophecies. The belief that one will succeed is the engine that inspires the efforts needed to overcome obstacles and achieve goals. Research has shown that the belief that one will succeed produces over-achievement and the belief that one will fail produces under- achievement."

What Schulman's research speaks to is the power of an achievement mindset, which is your belief in your ability to produce a desired outcome. There is more than forty years' worth of scholarly research on the achievement mindset (which researchers commonly call self-efficacy) demonstrating that trusting that you can do something is a precursor to actually doing it. One meta-analysis on the connection between an achievement mindset and business performance even found that an achievement mindset does more than influence how much success you will experience; it 'predicts' it.

One of the best examples of the achievement mindset's dramatic effect is the story of Victor Serebriakoff. For the first three decades of his life, he struggled, first in school (dropping out at age fifteen) and then to stay employed, even in menial jobs.

By age thirty-one, when Victor joined the British army, his life had been marked by disappointment and a deep-set conviction he would never amount to anything worthwhile.

However, soon after entering the army, he was given an intelligence test, and the results came back that he had an IQ of 161. Victor Serebriakoff, it turns out, was a genius! Finding out those results drastically changed Serebriakoff's belief in himself. His achievement mindset grew so significantly that he took on challenges he'd never even considered before, such as training new military recruits. After leaving the army, he turned his life around, going from being unable to keep the simplest of jobs to becoming an acclaimed author, inventor, and businessman. Victor is perhaps best known for being the international president of Mensa, an organization that requires its members to have an IQ in the top 2 percent of the population, and he is widely credited with growing Mensa into the influential international organization that it is today.

Everyone has an achievement mindset; what matters is how strong it is.

Behavioral scientists have found that the reason an achievement mindset either enables or limits success is because it creates a strong confirmation bias, which makes us alter our actions in ways that reinforce our beliefs about what we can do. For instance, even though Serebriakoff had a high IQ his entire life, in his early years he thought he was a failure and acted in ways that verified that belief. His weak achievement mindset became a self-fulfilling prophecy. After the intelligence test, his achievement mindset grew, and his newfound trust in himself gave him the confidence to embrace new behaviors and take risks that would make him successful. In a similar way, the power that this bias has on performance is perhaps best illustrated by one of the most celebrated sports achievements of the twentieth century: breaking the four-minute mile. On May 6, 1954, a twenty-four-year-old medical student named Roger Bannister did what everyone thought was impossible: He ran one mile in three minutes and fifty-nine seconds. Prior to Bannister's record-breaking run, most believed it wasn't humanly possible to run a mile in under four minutes; doctors had even publicly stated that if someone were to do so, the stress would cause that person's heart to explode.

Bannister proved them wrong. But as impressive as his record breaking run was, what's more important is what happened in response to it. A mere forty-six days later, another runner 'beat' Bannister's time. The next year, three other runners did too—in the same race! Within three years, sixteen additional runners had also beaten the record. Today, well over a thousand runners have beaten the "impossible" four-minute mile.

Runners had been trying to conquer the four-minute mile for decades. It was only after Bannister's run that dozens began breaking that speed barrier with seeming ease. What caused this incredible change? The answer, of course, is their achievement mindset. As Wharton professor Yoram "Jerry" Wind and Colin Crook explain in their analysis of the mental effect of Bannister's accomplishment on the running community, "The runners of the past had been held back by a mindset that said they could not surpass the four-minute mile. When that limit was broken, the others saw that they could do something they had previously thought impossible."

From a selling standpoint, think of an achievement mindset as a mental thermostat that sets the level of success you'll attain. Those with a strong belief in their abilities are more likely to choose larger goals, take more action to reach them, have more resilience when faced with obstacles, and endure until they succeed. As social scientist Albert Bandura says: "People's beliefs about their abilities have a profound effect on those abilities. Ability is not a fixed property; there is huge variability in how you perform. People who have a sense of self-efficacy [the achievement mindset] bounce back from failure; they approach things in terms of how to handle them rather than worrying about what can go wrong." In short, your achievement mindset determines how you perform in every sales or business situation you're in.

This excerpt is from the hardcover edition.

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