Changing Chapters

Below is some advice related to a common phase in life which I have dubbed “Changing Chapters”. This phase is characterized by any major change; change in status, a big move, or a career change. The phase that follows any of these changes is a time of growth, development, and maturity; if you let it. 

“Changing Chapters” is my way of shifting your mentality and perspective regarding the changes in your life (which may or may not be up to you). This shift puts you in the driver’s seat and ultimately allows you to be intentional with your decisions. 

Psychologically we are speaking about changing our locus of control; external to internal, when we are discussing intentionality and focusing on growth. This shift is paramount to taking personal responsibility for your life. Maybe that does not get you to where you want to be or does not line up with what you first intended but people who feel like they are the primary actors in their own lives and are not being acted upon by life, see life differently. They enjoy life when they see that their actions have consequences. Life can be a grand adventure.

Inevitably, due to hedonic adaptation, after any change, you quickly settle into a new normal and the uniqueness or novelty of the new environment or circumstances fades away, however, seeing these changes as “Changing Chapters” can make each chapter meaningful and provide a backdrop with which to reference and frame the lessons you learn and experiences you have, good or bad. I mention hedonic adaptation because even if you do not see your changes (the new job, new house, or new school) as a platform for growth and meaningful change or seeing these changes with this mindset shift, you will quickly become used to any change. It’s a normal process built into our bodies. Why not seize the opportunity and take responsibility for your growth?


Ideal Apprenticeship

I have always admired the writing of Robert Greene. In each of his books he presents powerful lessons tied in with interesting historical anecdotes about famous people from history. These anecdotes serve to provide a human outline around each lesson, humanizing the advice and grounding it for me. 

In Mastery, Greene provides a framework for what he calls “The Ideal Apprenticeship”. This ties in nicely with our “Changing Chapters” mindset. The Ideal Apprenticeship characterizes the time that follows your “formal education”. It is a time of transformation, where you develop real experience and skills. One can see how this may allude to the “twenty-something” population but this mindset can apply to anyone.

“The goal of an apprenticeship is not money, a good position, a title, or a diploma, but rather the transformation of your mind and character – the first transformation on the way to Mastery”

Now, contrasting with formal apprenticeships, where your schedule is set and at the end of an allotted time and certain commitment to work you receive a position, I think it is important to ascribe your own chapter to your phase and ultimately create your own syllabus, your own apprenticeship.

Greene illustrates a great example of this idea of seizing the opportunity and crafting your own chapter with his example of the notable explorer and naturalist Charles Darwin.

Charles Darwin is known for his theories and explorations of the Galapagos islands aboard the infamous HMS Beagle. His theory of natural selection and book “On the Origin of Species” is commonplace. What I find most remarkable about his story is his time aboard the Beagle and I believe it is a great example for “Chapter Change” and embracing growth and development.

Charles Darwin, Image Source: National Geographic

At the age of 22, Darwin was unclear as to what he wanted to do with his life. He had recently graduated college but was listless and unfulfilled. “Green” and observant but lacking discipline, this reflects most young people without a single purpose. Shortly after college, Darwin was offered a position as a naturalist aboard the HMS Beagle per a recommendation from a previous professor. After some initial doubts, Darwin accepted the position, writing to the captain, “My second life will then commence, and it shall be as a birthday for the rest of my life”. 

HMS Beagle, Image Source: Brittanica

Embracing his time on the Beagle and this new chapter before him, Darwin grew tremendously after the five year voyage but not without initial hurdles. As a template for our thinking, I’ve broken down the stages of Darwin’s development and how that translates to “Chapter Change” and Greene’s “Ideal Apprenticeship”.

Shift in Strategy:

Early in the voyage, Greene describes Darwin as a man out of place. He was depressed, doubtful with his decision, and lonely. Darwin had felt foolish for signing on to this ship. Greene describes his loneliness as crushing, where the crew eyed him “strangely”, and he began to regret his decision.

Feeling helpless, Darwin decides to do on the ship what he would do when he experienced “turmoil” at home, return to nature and observe the life around him. This shift in strategy illustrates Darwin’s shift in thinking. He asked himself, How can I make the most of the time before me? 

Darwin began to start taking meticulous notes about the world he was observing; the mannerisms of the sailors, the tendencies of the captain, and the prevalent attitudes that characterized life at sea. 

This shift in strategy propelled him into this “Chapter Change”. Seeing opportunity with the time before him and taking responsibility for his own actions. 

Popular contemporary philosophers allude to this shift in strategy and mindset as: Alive time vs Dead time. 

Develop a system:

As Darwin learned to embrace his new chapter before him, his loneliness dissipated and he immersed himself in his new world. After several months aboard the Beagle he arrived in Brazil and his wait was rewarded with a world overflowing with life; “a naturalist’s paradise”.

Early into his voyage, Darwin recognized that the wealth of variety of vegetation and wildlife he was observing was too broad. How could he decide what to collect and what to send back to England?

“He would have to expand his knowledge. Not only would he have to spend endless hours studying everything in his sight on his walks, and take copious notes, but he would have to find a way to organize all of this information, catalog all of these specimens, bring some order to his observations.”

Darwin recognized the task before him as not only one of a shift in strategy but rather, to reach his goals, he needed to improve his skills and create a system of order in his life. He recognized what skills and qualities he was lacking and created a syllabus for himself in order to reach his goals.

I allude to syllabus as the education system is a great way to put a framework to this thinking. As formal universities and college systems weigh on curriculum with classes building upon one another, when designing my goals I approach them in this sequential fashion; identifying the qualities and skills necessary for growth specific to my goal and then building a curriculum or syllabus from there. 

An example from history that gives me inspiration in regards to designing my own syllabus is from a letter from Thomas Jefferson to Peter Carr written in 1785. In this letter, Jefferson provides a classical framework for his young nephew to follow with the goal of developing a strong base of knowledge revolving around history and thinking in order to introduce him into society with a Well Educated Mind.

Growth:

Upon his return, Greene remarks on Darwin’s growth through the eyes of his father, “His whole manner was different – a seriousness of purpose and sharpness could be read in his eyes, almost the opposite look of the lost young man who had gone to sea years before”.

Embracing his time aboard the Beagle and seizing the opportunity that his new chapter presented him led Darwin on a path of growth and development that he may not have achieved if he stayed in his comfortable original position back in England.


One can see how “Changing Chapters” is a relevant mindset for any stage change in life, however, there is a certain significance held for those on the cusp of adulthood. Entering the adult world and leaving the comfort and security of childhood can be a daunting task. I would like to conclude with some advice I have gathered (and benefited from) for those people who are emerging into adulthood and wish to apply this mindset of “Changing Chapters”.

Leave Home:

You may emerge from your adolescent years with a lifeline behind you. This is an attractive yet potentially growth limiting path. The struggle and discomfort that comes from making your own decisions and bearing those consequences is essential to your formation. 

Get Real Jobs:

Use this time to gain real work experience. I recommend working in a manual labor job or food service; jobs with little consequence except they teach you the height of the hourly wage and reinforces the need to develop real skills. Real jobs recalibrate your perspective on skilled labor and unskilled labor with the consequence of orienting yourself towards the need to develop the former as well as learn how to work with another part of society (what some term “the middle”). You will emerge with an improved perspective, improved ability to navigate social dynamics, as well as a humbling affect on your ego (experiencing the service industry as a server will change your appreciation and perspective when you are served in a restaurant in the future).

Identity Capital:

This is a complement to the previous point. “Identity Capital” is a term coined by psychologist Dr. Meg Jay. Identity capital is described as a collection of personal assets or experiences and is useful in identifying the possible weight of a job or decision and its consequences. She describes “Identity Capital” as, “the currency we use to metaphorically purchase jobs and relationships and other things we want…These are the investments we make in ourselves, the things we do well enough, or long enough, that they become a part of who we are…Identity capital is how we build ourselves – bit by bit, over time”. It is important to highlight that when choosing work, whether it is a “real job” that we described before or something else, it is important not to choose a placeholder position or what Dr. Jay would describe as “underemployed”. You should be seeking jobs that give you real experience (ideally experience  that cumulatively is aiming towards a goal) and not get jobs where it just appears like you are working.

Keep Learning:

Finally, upon emerging from school or university into the real world, it is very attractive to dispel with the textbooks and “turn off” the brain. Your learning is done. You’ve learned everything already. This is an empty notion. I have found that following school has been my greatest time for learning. In fact, I emerged from school with a profound sense of inadequacy in terms of knowledge, a consequential urgency to create a curriculum for myself and follow it, and finally a newfound love for learning that I did not have when the lessons were prescribed to me. Leaving the structure of school and being forced to create my own structure gave me a profound feeling of responsibility for my own learning. This path of responsibility has left me challenged and ultimately satisfied. It has also led me to a career path that offers the same opportunities for growth and learning in the future. (A career I identified following time in “Real Jobs” and developing “Identity Capital”).


Recommended Reading:

Mastery by Robert Greene

Well Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer

The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead by Charles Murray

The Defining Decade by Dr. Meg Jay

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin


I hope this mindset of “Changing Chapters” can be helpful to you. Taking responsibility for your learning and trajectory in life is a powerful thing. Even if the path is not what you expected, having the power and perspective to embrace the chapter before you, learn what you can from it, and consequently grow, is transformative. I hope this mindset serves you in some small way. It has for me. 

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Being Wrong – Schulz

Google Images: Being Wrong by Schulz, Kathryn

Title: Being Wrong

Author: Schulz, Kathryn

Genre: Psychology

Category: Critical Thinking, Mindset, Psychology, Error, Practical Psychology

Summary:

Have you ever persisted with a decision even when you find out you are wrong? If the decision meant something personal to you, you may find yourself, blindly or not, adhering to the decision in the face of evidence after evidence pointing to your error or decision-making fault. Sometimes, depending on how invested you are in the decision, you may become even more entrenched in your decision. At extremes, your adherence to your decision could be akin to zealotry or dogmatism, you cling to it so tightly. Why are we so resistant to change our minds? Why do we fear and avoid Being Wrong?

In Being Wrong, Schulz presents a new perspective on error; illustrating why we are so resistant to it and conversely so attached to “Being Right”. She also describes what is on the other side of error, a space where, as humans, we are conditioned to remove ourselves from as soon as possible. Schulz explores this space and explains how the ingredients for a rich life; growth, perspective, and change, all exist beyond error. 


Important Points

The Idea of Error:

Schulz presents two types of error, which she titles Two Models of Wrongness. These are Error as Pessimism and Error as Optimism. One, the Pessimistic Model of Error, colors error as “…irritating or humiliating or harmful, to ourselves as well as to others”. With these initial revulsions to error, it is difficult to move towards any sort of understanding of your wrong let alone seeing any future error with a different lens. The Optimistic Model of Error on the other hand, characterized by “Surprise, bafflement, fascination, excitement, hilarity, delight”, presents a view of error with far less severe consequences. Schulz reveals her allegiance by describing error as vital to “any process of invention and creation” though lessons gleaned from the Optimistic Model are drowned by the louder and more “noisier” Pessimistic Model, revealing, perhaps, which model the majority aligns with.

The Origin of Error

There are numerous origins or opportunities for error ranging from internal and external. Internally, Schulz presents the faults of our senses as well as how far our minds will go to avoid error and “conspire to make us feel right”. Externally, Schulz sheds light on the impact our society can have on our thinking. Our thinking is naturally influenced by social and peer pressure, a result of our origin as social creatures. At times we forsake the evidence of our own senses sometimes unconsciously. Reinforcing this thought, as humans we create communities that naturally set us up for failure, or what Shulz calls the “disagreement deficit”. Ultimately the communities we create “…either form around or foster shared beliefs, they leave us overexposed to people who second our opinions.” One can see that we as humans are unconsciously driven to protect our beliefs by surrounding ourselves with others who mirror agreement back to us or at the very least protect our beliefs from conflict leaving us, inevitably, open to error.

On Being Wrong 

Schulz presents the feeling of “wrongness” as a transient experience. She quips that when you recognize that you are wrong, you are no longer wrong; however, this fleeting moment of recognition of being wrong is sufficient to reinforce the unconscious forces that exist to prevent us from being wrong in the first place. She describes fully experiencing wrongness as an experience that “…leaves us feeling flayed, laid bare to the bone and the world.” A feeling that is magnified depending on the weight and investment in your belief. Schulz highlights that this feeling, despite our repulsion, of moving from belief to disbelief, is where change occurs.

One thing that prevents us from achieving this change is denial. Though Schulz cites denial in regards to defense against anxiety or distress, denial is still a defense mechanism and ultimately a hindrance to the experience of being wrong. Why do we despise being wrong? What are we protecting ourselves from? Though there is merit to change as change inherently implies a need to reject a previously held belief, an implicit error; change and embracing error is difficult. 

Error as Optimism or Embracing Error

One can see that in illustrating the difficulty of change, moving beyond error, or accepting error in the first place, Schulz highlights the inherent prevalence of the Error as Pessimism Model. Returning to Error as Optimism, Schulz appeals for the necessity of error because what follows is growth. Error is inherently what makes us human as well individuals and in a functional sense it is necessary. Schulz highlights that error is bound in beneficial self-deceptions that we accept for their existential merit, whether knowing it or not, “…as when we ignore or deny the fact that we have only limited control over the course of our lives, and none at all over the inevitability of death.” This example presents a contrasting view on error’s opposite, truth. Schulz concludes with a final appeal for a new perspective on error, that we are destined to err as the stories and theories we live by are inherently human creations and thus “wrong”. 

“The great advantage of realizing that we have told a story about the world is realizing that we can tell a better one: rich with better ideas, better possibilities-even, perhaps, better people.”

Quotations

To err is to wander, and wandering is the way we discover the world; and, lost in thought, it is also the way we discover ourselves. Being right might be gratifying, but in the end it is static, a mere statement. Being wrong is hard and humbling, and sometimes even dangerous, but in the end it is a journey, and a story…”

“This is the thing about fully experiencing wrongness. It strips us of all our theories, including our theories about ourselves. This isn’t fun while it’s happening – it leaves us feeling flayed, laid bare to the bone and the world – but it does make possible that rarest of occurrences: real change”. 

“The moment in which we can logically say “I am wrong” simply doesn’t exist; in becoming aware that a belief is false, we simultaneously cease to believe it.” 

“…It is, in essence, a psychological construction site, all pits and wrecking balls and cranes: the place where we destroy and rebuild ourselves, where all the ground gives way, and all the ladders start.”

“Denial is not, after all, a response to the facts. It is a response to the feelings those facts evoke-and sometimes, those feelings are simply too much to bear.”

“Whatever the other virtues of our communities, they are dangerously effective at bolstering our conviction that we are right and shielding us from the possibility that we are wrong.”

Similar Books/Further reading

Why We Make Mistakes by Hallinan, Joseph

Thinking Fast and Slow by Kahneman, Daniel

Previous Commonplace Book Entries

Mindset by Dweck

Mastermind by Konnikova

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Mindset – Dweck

https://www.amazon.com/Mindset-Psychology-Carol-S-Dweck/dp/0345472322/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3225GRBXWOPNN&keywords=mindset+carol+s.+dweck&qid=1581471131&sprefix=mindset%2Caps%2C172&sr=8-1

Title: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Author: Dweck, Carol

Genre: Psychology

Category: Mindset, Psychology, Growth Mindset, Practical Psychology

Summary:

I’ve been stuck before. A deadline is approaching and I feel like I should give up or I received a bad test grade on that Neuro exam and I feel completely defeated. It is times like these where a small voice in my head whispers, “You don’t belong here”, “You are not as smart as everyone else”. Why do I give such weight to this voice? How convenient it is that when I hear this voice, I forget all of the hard work and success I have had in the past. When that voice looms it’s head, however, it’s easy to forget, and now I know I am not alone. In Dweck’s Mindset, she posits that there are two reigning camps, those in the Fixed Mindset and those in the Growth Mindset. Where the Growth Mindset revolves around qualities that can be developed and cultivated, the Fixed Mindset is just that, Fixed; unchangeable qualities that when tested you either have it or you don’t. Dweck illustrates the difference between the two Mindset’s with case studies and examples and goes on to describe how the two Mindset’s can impact how we teach, coach, lead and even impact our relationships.


Important Points

Mindsets: 

Mindsets are the way you view everything that happens to you. It is the prism through which you form judgements about your actions and the results of your actions. One can see then that a Mindset could profoundly change the meaning of a lesson or experience. Failure is a commonly cited experience and one can imagine that without an appropriate Mindset, like a forking path in the woods, the message received could lead you to a completely different destination.

Fixed Vs. Growth Mindset: 

A Fixed Mindset revolves around unchangeable qualities and with this prism your actions are constantly scrutinized. With a certain and finite amount of any characteristic whether it be skill, intelligence, or ability, one can see that with every event you are being graded and evaluated. You either have it or you don’t. 

A Growth Mindset on the other hand emphasizes plastic or changeable qualities. It revolves around the idea that your abilities can be developed through effort and hard work. You are not simply born with a certain amount of intelligence or skill. Your qualities can be developed.

Learning about the Mindset:

We live on a Fixed vs. Growth continuum and we are all likely more Growth Mindset oriented in a certain category as well as more Fixed Mindset oriented in another. For instance, you may believe that your skills in your profession can be developed, with more practice you will get better at x, y or z (Growth Mindset), but you are always angry when driving and you don’t think that will ever change (Fixed Mindset). Of course, nothing will change without awareness or the desire to change but knowledge about the Mindsets is where to start. Simply labeling or framing your thoughts when you encounter a setback or failure is enough of a pause to allow you to start implementing change. 

When encountering a challenge, ask: Am I reacting with a Fixed Mindset or a Growth Mindset? How can I respond positively to this situation in order to grow and develop? 

When encountering failure or a setback, ask: What can I learn from this? What will I do next time when I’m in this situation? 

Mindset in Action:

Along with simply labeling your thoughts in order to change your mindset, Dweck lists a few different steps in order to implement a “True Growth Mindset”. 

Step 1: Embrace your Fixed Mindset

It starts by accepting that we all have both mindsets

Step 2: Become aware of your Fixed Mindset triggers

Then we learn to recognize what triggers our Fixed Mindset. Failures? Criticism? Deadlines? Disagreements?

Step 3: Give your Fixed Mindset persona a name

And we come to understand what happens to us when our Fixed-Mindset “persona” is triggered. Who is this persona? What’s its name? What does it make us think, feel, and do? How does it affect those around us?

Step 4: Educate your Mindset

…We can gradually learn to remain in a Growth-Mindset place despite the triggers, as we educate our persona and invite it to join us on our Growth-Mindset Journey

Quotations

“…In one world – the world of fixed traits – success is about proving you’re smart or talented. Validating yourself. In the other – the world of changing qualities – it’s about stretching yourself to learn something new. Developing yourself.” 

“…they start to catch themselves when they are in the throes of the Fixed Mindset – passing up a chance for learning, feeling labeled by failure, or getting discouraged when something requires a lot of effort. And then they switch themselves into the Growth Mindset – making sure they take the challenge, learn from the failure, or continue their effort.”

“…What I mean is that even when you think you’re not good at something, you can still plunge into it wholeheartedly and stick to it. Actually, sometimes you plunge into something because you’re not good at it.”

“Next time you feel low, put yourself in a Growth Mindset – think about learning, challenge, confronting obstacles. Think about effort as a positive, constructive force, not as a big drag”

Similar Books/Further reading

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Czikszentmihalyi, Mihaly

Nothing is Impossible: Reflections on a New Life by Reeve, Christopher

The Creative Habit by Tharp, Twyla

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