Where success is concerned, being the last person to give up -- especially on yourself -- matters. Grit matters. Staying the course matters.

As long as you're willing, when necessary, to change that course.

According to a 2020 study published in Proceedings of the National Academic of Sciences, the degree to which you possess a strategic mindset can "uniquely" predict how effective you will be at achieving your goals. 

A strategic mindset is not just the ability to but the regular practice of questioning and refining your current processes, routines, and habits in order to overcome setbacks and further improve the odds of success. 

"This means that a strategic mindset does not simply reflect people's overall knowledge of strategies or how much people use any one particular strategy," the researchers write. "Instead, it is a general tendency toward self-priming metacognitive strategy use more broadly."

Or in non researcher-speak, consistently asking yourself the right questions so you can find an even better way.

A Strategic Mindset

Say you're in sales. (If you're an entrepreneur, you're definitely in sales.) You're good. You win more sales than you lose.

But you aren't satisfied with those results. After all, sometimes you get an immediate no. Sometimes you get all the way to the signature stage, only to have a seemingly sure-thing customer suddenly disengage. 

If you're like most people, you move on. Maybe the lead was bad. Maybe the customer was just looking for information and never intended to buy. Besides, no one wins them all.

But if you possess a strategic mindset, you know you may never win them all -- but you'll never stop trying to win them all. You assess what went well and what didn't. You refine your lead assessment tools. You think about how you could better read the room next time.

You have the skills to improve your skills -- and you have the desire to constantly apply those skills to improving your results. sufficient self-discipline to keep going, and sufficient self-discipline to keep working to optimize your approach.

That's a strategic mindset.

How to Develop a Strategic Mindset

Researchers asked students the following questions and asked them to rate themselves on a 1 (never) to 5 (always) scale.

  • When I am stuck on something, how often do I ask myself, "What are things I can do to help myself?"
  • Whenever I feel like I am not making progress, how often do I ask myself, "Is there a better way of doing this?"
  • Whenever I feel frustrated with something, how often do I ask myself, "How can I do this better?"
  • In moments when I feel challenged, how often do I ask myself, "What are things I can do to make myself better at this?"
  • When I am struggling with something, how often do I ask myself, "What can I do to help myself?"
  • Whenever something feels difficult, how often do I ask myself, "What can I do to get better at this?"

As you can probably guess, higher scores predicted higher grades -- and in subsequent studies, higher scores predicted greater success both in a professional challenge and in a health and fitness goal.

Yep: Regardless of the goal, embracing a strategic mindset -- asking yourself the six questions -- increases the likelihood of success.

That's true even if you remind yourself of the importance of a strategic mindset before you start. In another study, participants who read an overview of the strategic mindset concept, and thus were reminded of the importance of working to overcome obstacles and setbacks and constantly seek to find a better way, significantly outperformed participants who did not read that overview.

They didn't just settle on a problem-solving approach that seemed to work. They were much quicker to experiment, explore, tweak, and seek to optimize their approach.

Call if priming the strategic mindset pump.

According to the researchers:

In the midst of challenges many people simply adopt and stick with suboptimal strategies which may seem good enough to get by.

We found that a strategic mindset indirectly predicted progress toward challenging goals that were long-term, important, and unfamiliar. These are goals that may require the repeated accessing or invention of new strategies -- precisely the kinds of goals that are increasingly stressed in many modern jobs.

As well as the kinds of goals every entrepreneur needs to accomplish.

The next time you embark on a new goal, take a moment to prime your strategic mindset pump.

Then, consistently ask yourself the six questions as you work your way toward accomplishing your goal. 

Because, as with many things, having a very particular set of skills certainly matters.

Being willing to constantly tweak, and adapt, and revise, and find an even better way matters even more.