Vasily Alekseyev was tricked into lifting 500 pounds over his head.
Until 1970, many weightlifters had only come close to cracking that psychological barrier.
So when his trainers told him that the bar was loaded with slightly less than 500 pounds, a weight he’d lifted before, he threw it up like a matchstick.
Only they had lied—he’d actually lifted 500.5 pounds. Over the next seven years, he continued to smash records, topping out at 564 before retiring.
Because seeing is believing, many others started lifting 500+ soon after.
Remember Roger Bannister? Until 1954, everyone believed a human couldn't run a mile in under four minutes. Then Roger did it, and his record stood for only 46 days. In the next 50 years, more than a thousand runners beat the four-minute mile.
What changed? Only a belief in what’s possible.
Quick, name history’s most powerful ideas!
Democracy? Yeah, that’s a pretty good one. It’s held up well for 2,000+ years.
Compound interest? OK, less sexy, but it sure does work.
“Don’t let the door hit you on the way out?” Hmm, odd that you would mention that one, but it’s practical—I like it, I like it.
How about: “What you think, you become.”
I know, right? Let that wrinkle your brain for a minute.
Humans usually embrace good ideas; it’s why we all brush our teeth. But the idea that our thoughts become our reality? Well, that’s something we tend to forget, even if we know it’s true.
We prefer to tinker with our outside worlds—to switch our diets, change jobs, try a new life hack. Don’t get me wrong. These do help you move toward a better life.
But the most successful people in history know this: Your thoughts create your reality.
“Watch your thoughts, they become your words. Watch your words, they become your actions. Watch your actions, they become your habits. Watch your habits, they become your character. Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”
- Lao Tzu
In 600 B.C., a spiritual teacher named Lao Tzu walked the Earth.
His teachings became the Tao Te Ching, a book that heads of state and CEOs still keep in their carry-ons, and teaches that your thoughts become your reality.
Around the same time, an Indian prince, Siddhartha Gautama, left his palace to devote his life to discovering the truth. Today, half a billion Buddhists follow his Middle Way.
“Our thoughts shape us; we become what we think,” he taught.
What does the Christian Bible say? “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”
Islam? “Riches are not from an abundance of worldly good but a contented mind.”
The world’s major spiritual traditions agree: Mind creates matter.
Not religious? Neither am I, but I shun wisdom that’s stood the test of time at my own peril. How about a secular tradition, Stoicism?
Roman philosopher Seneca noted, “It is the power of the mind to be unconquerable.”
Emperor Marcus Aurelius agreed, saying, “The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts.”
When an idea develops independently in all corners of the globe AND persists for more than 2,000 years, it might just be worth paying attention.
“You are what you think all day long.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Then came that whole Dark Ages fiasco, but around the turn of the last century, the idea that thoughts equal power made a serious comeback.
The Law of Attraction faction was finding its legs when in 1903, James Allen wrote a best-seller called As a Man Thinketh, which argued that actions result from thought.
Napoleon Hill followed up in 1937 with his famous Think & Grow Rich, selling only 100 million copies. In it, he tells readers that, “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”
Six words in Hill’s book, “We become what we think about,” inspired Earl Nightingale to write The Strangest Secret in 1957 that sold a million copies. Nightingale then founded the Nightingale-Conant corporation that today produces most of the audiobooks you listen to on your ride to work.
It would be fair to say then that this idea—that thoughts have power—is the foundation for today’s $10 billion personal development industry.
“90% of success is mindset.”
- David Bayer
Not all ideas are good because they persist. I have grave concerns about astrology, which has somehow survived thousands of years. Then again, we Sagittarius are very skeptical people.
Let me take you scientists into a warm and loving embrace to share the good news: Science has finally joined the party and confirmed what our top minds have known for three millennia: Our minds create what shows up in our reality.
David Bayer’s article grabbed me; he’d clearly done serious thinking about mindset.
I signed up for his email list and 13 automated messages, and many Google rabbit holes later, I learned some fascinating science about the power of thought:
If we know that our thoughts create our reality…
And that a negative mindset is keeping us from what we want…
Then how do we create the life we desire?
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.”
- Henry Ford
Lee Iacocca got sick. The one-time head of Chrysler Motors initially turned the company around but then caught the dreaded CEO disease.
Under his leadership, the company released minor variations of last years’ car models that nobody bought. Japanese manufacturers clobbered them.
The right prescription for Iacocca was an innovation. Instead, he surrounded himself with sycophants and fired critics. He and Chrysler stopped growing.
This behavior is a textbook example of what Stanford University professor Carol Dweck calls a “fixed mindset.”
As a young researcher, Dr. Dweck was obsessed with knowing why some people cope with failure and others don’t. Like any good researcher, she experimented on 10-year-olds, giving them tough challenges to solve.
Most buckled, but some licked their chops, saying, “I love a good challenge.” What was up with those weirdos?
What did these outlier kids have that Lee Iacocca lacked?
The short version: They had adopted a “growth mindset.”
“I guess I’m just not cut out for this ‘walking’ thing.”
- Said no baby ever
You’ve met people with a fixed mindset. They fret, overlooking good and cover up their mistakes. They care about their position in the pecking order.
They believe we’re assigned a fixed amount of talent at birth and that this determines how far we go in life. They need to prove themselves and desperately seek approval from teachers, peers, bosses, and society. Their primary goal? Look smart!
Those with a growth mindset believe that talent is only part of the recipe for success and that with hard work and study, there are no limits.
They crave challenge and don’t mind failure, seeing it as a necessary stop on the way to Victory Town, and could care less how they’re judged. Their No. 1 goal is to improve.
We’re born with a growth mindset. You’ll never see a baby that’s afraid to try and fail. But social convention and an antiquated education system teach us to fear “doing it wrong.”
We know our mindset literally creates our reality. Now you know you have a choice between a fixed and growth mindset. I think our choice is clear.
But how can you develop a growth mindset? If only there were some tools we could use…
“I have not failed 10,000 times. I have successfully found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
- Thomas Edison
Mad Men’s Don Draper died in Silicon Valley sometime around 2010; 20-year-old programmers in hoodies killed him.
What I mean is that most startups can’t afford traditional advertising, so they devised a smart, free way to market their services and find customers: growth hacking.
If you’re familiar with lean startup methodology, this tune will sound familiar: to rapidly experiment with marketing tactics, measure results closely, identify what works, then modify your experiment repeatedly, all in the pursuit of relentless growth.
For example, in its infancy, Airbnb tried out tactics to sign up new users. But when it added a simple “share to Craigslist” button to its listings, growth exploded.