1: “Early-stage passion doesn’t look like late-stage passion,” Steven Kotler writes in The Art of Impossible: A Peak Performance Primer.

Imagine LeBron James as “a little kid standing in front of a big hoop, trying to get his shots to drop,” Steven writes. “On the front end, passion is nothing more than the overlap of multiple curiosities coupled to a few wins.”

Sure, to be passionate, we want to “get obsessed, stay obsessed,” he tells us, but our journey begins with “get curious, stay curious.”

2: Passion is one of three psychological traits associated with persistence—a key trait of grit. The other two traits are willpower and mindset. “There are no shortcuts, Steven notes. We “need all three for sustained high performance.”

If we are going to persevere for years on end, passion is critical: “Working until three in the morning for three months straight gets old quickly,” he notes.

When we tease apart what it means to be passionate, it becomes clear passion isn’t always pleasant.  

“Quite often, passion feels like frustration on the inside and looks like obsession from the outside,” Steven observes. “Peak performers must learn to tolerate enormous amounts of anxiety and overwhelm, which is what passion feels like much of the time.  

“Passion doesn’t make us gritty. Passion makes us able to tolerate all the negative emotions produced by grit.”

Are there actions we can take to help ourselves access our passion?  

Indeed. One tactic is to have a daily list with clear goals.

“Every time we ignore the frustration, delay the gratification, and cross an item off that list, that’s a little win,” Steven notes. “That small rush of pleasure you feel when you cross off an item is the reward chemical dopamine.

“Passion produces little wins, little wins produce dopamine, and dopamine, repeatedly, over time, cements a growth mindset into place.”

3: Mindset is the third element psychological trait associated with persistence.

“Mindset is what [Steven’s] friend Peter Diamandis means by: ‘If you think you can, or you think you can’t, well, you’re right.'”

Technically speaking, mindset refers to our attitude about learning. We can approach life with what Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck calls a “fixed mindset” or a “growth mindset.”  

A fixed mindset is associated with believing that talent is innate: No matter how hard we try or how much practice and effort we put forth, we will not improve.  

“When faced with a hard problem, the brains of fixed mindsetters show a total lack of activity,” Steven writes. “Since fixed mindsetters believe talent is innate, they didn’t believe they could solve the problem. As a result, their brains didn’t bother expending the energy to try. The problem, quite literally, didn’t register.”

In contrast, when we adopt a growth mindset, we understand “talent is merely a starting point and practice makes all the difference,” he notes.  

When faced with a difficult challenge, “the brains of growth mindsetters showed a lot of fireworks. Their whole brain lit up and stayed that way. And with significant results,” Steven writes. “Growth mindsetters work harder, longer, and smarter, deploying a much wider range of problem-solving strategies when facing complicated challenges.”

The research shows that a growth mindset is essential for sustained perseverance.

So, can we learn to cultivate a growth mindset? Yes!

“Curiosity is the first step,” he writes. “If we’re asking questions and learning, it’s hard to tell ourselves that learning itself is not possible.”

Steven also suggests we reflect on our personal history. We begin by making a list of our skills. “Be very specific,” he recommends. “Unearth invisible skills. What’s an invisible skill? Know how to defuse an argument? It’s a talent that doesn’t show up on an aptitude test but one that’s fantastically useful in the real world.”

Once we have our list, we deconstruct each skill: “How did we learn this skill? What did we learn first, second, third, and so on?”  

Doing so forces us “to realize that we can learn, often in difficult circumstances, often without noticing.  

“This is the key shift,” Steven writes. “Once we believe we can learn, we can become curious about what else we can learn, and suddenly we’re deploying our growth mindset on a regular basis and for maximum benefit.”

More tomorrow!


Reflection: Do I tend to approach life with a fixed mindset or a growth mindset?

Action: Be intentional about cultivating a growth mindset. Write down things about which I’m curious. Deconstruct my skills to gain an understanding of how I developed these skills.

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