The eternal poverty of a limited mindset

Blog Images_4-01If you were ever a child you’ll no doubt remember the excitement of a world full of possibility and hope. There were no limits to your dreams and anything was possible. You could do anything and you firmly believed that the world should and probably would make some special rules for you.

When I was little I wanted to design cars and had designed a few on pieces of graph paper. They were carefully drawn with rulers and properly proportioned tyres (which is tough if you’re 9). I even sent one off to BMW dreaming that they’d see my potential. I firmly believed that if I was able to work for them and show that I was responsible they’d let me drive before the age of 17. Only an automatic of course. And why wouldn’t I believe that? I ‘knew’ that if I was responsible good things can happen.

The terribly sad fact is that by the time we get into the workplace we ‘know’ that good things don’t happen, that we can’t or won’t achieve our dreams and that we should settle for something less. We persuade ourselves that this is ok and that some people are just better at things because they’re talented.

The word “talent” is the one of the most limiting words that exist in the English language. That’s because it tells us we have something or we don’t. It tells us that our abilities can’t be changed, that we’re not good enough, that some ‘lucky’ people are born with more. We look at sports stars, business leaders, public speakers, *anyone else who’s better at something than us* and say they’ve got talent. They were born with it. Can’t change it.
We then speak of discovering latent talents, things you didn’t know you were good at.  But it’s all a lie. Someone who can do something well (often meaning “better than me”) isn’t more talented than you. They’re just better at it than you. Why? Because they’ve been doing it longer and they’ve practiced more. Take a look at the Polgar story.

What this means

Let’s think about what that means for a moment. If the concept of talent is a lie then the shackles are taken off. There are many fewer limits to what you can achieve. (Note that there are limits.  I’m nearly 40 with dodgy knees so there is no way I’ll become a professional footballer or a fighter pilot.) Given resources, time and effort you can do *anything*.

  • Want to paint? You can.
  • Want to play a musical instrument? You can.
  • Want to be a great public speaker? You can.
  • Want to salsa dance? You can.
  • Want to build models? Houses? Fly planes? Knit? Cook? Play chess? Do magic tricks? You can.
  • Want to be better at your job? YOU CAN!

How inspiring is that? The only thing holding you back is the belief you have that you can’t, and the willingness to put in time, effort and resources. Let’s dig into those.


It’s a common complaint that we don’t have enough time to do the things we want to do. We’re too tired, too stressed or there’s too much going on. For a few people this is true, but for the vast majority it’s about priorities. How much TV do you watch? Ofcom reckons the average adult watches 4 hours of TV a day and even if we’re charitable and say that’s too high, 2 hours a day is 14 hours a week. How much time on facebook, or mindless surfing? Do you think you could ‘give up’ 2 hours a week to learn something new? That’s 104 hours a year. What could you learn if you dedicated 104 hours to it over a year. Do you think you’d get better at something? I do. In spades.


By Effort I mean the meaningful practice time put in to get better. The effort does need to be directed. I’m not going to become a good painter if I just think hard about painting for 2 hours a week. Effort is also hard and requires perseverance and patience. There’s a wonderful video aimed at ‘creatives’ but valuable for everyone. It’s called taste and you should watch it.
Of course, modern society is full of messages that effort is a waste. We’ve come to expect that we are instantly good at something or we stop trying. The concept of the value of self has become so important that we won’t do anything that might harm our self image. Doing something badly is laughable now. If you don’t believe me take a look at all the ‘fail’ videos on youtube or how bad performances are laughed at on X-Factor type shows.


People often cite money as the chief reason they can’t achieve their dreams. I would challenge this. If they had the money to do it, it’s likely there’ll be something else stopping them. I’m not saying money isn’t a barrier, or lack of money, but if we are willing to put in the time and effort, the money will stop being an issue. For example, if you want to do something expensive like learn to fly a plane you could look at it and say: “I can’t afford flying lessons so I can’t do it.” Or you could say: “I can’t afford flying lessons at the moment, but if I cut down x, or cut out y then in a year I’ll have saved up enough to fly. In the meantime I’m going to use the free resources on the internet to make sure I can pass the exams etc.” It depends on how much you want to do something. It comes back to the expectation of instant success that we’re often fed. But remember that the media is stacked with stories of people who have given things up to achieve their dreams. We read them and are impressed, but often say “I could never give things up like that”. What we’re really saying is “I don’t want it enough to sacrifice for it”.

The unlimited mindset

Isn’t it sad that a simple belief limits our mindset so much. The simple concept is that people are born with abilities and they can’t really be changed so there’s no point trying. I hope I’ve shown you that this viewpoint is wrong and that there is another way. You were made amazing and there’s nothing to stop you richly fulfilling your potential and becoming better at anything.

The alternative is to live in poverty of a limited mindset.