Steve Jobs believed in grit.
"I'm convinced that about half of what separates successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance," Jobs said. "There are such rough moments ... that most people give up."
Makes sense: Mental toughness builds the foundation for long-term success. Successful people delay gratification. Successful people withstand temptation. Successful people consistently do what they have decided is most important.
But they don't blindly stick to the same path.
According to the authors (one of whom is Carol Dweck, the pioneer of growth mindset research) of a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academic of Sciences, possessing a strategic mindset "uniquely" predicts how effective people are at pursuing goals.
"The findings suggest that being strategic entails more than just having specific strategic skills," they write. "It appears to also entail an orientation toward accessing and employing them."
In short, simply thinking about thinking about how to achieve a goal can pay real dividends.
Researchers call it metacognition.
But you can call it ...
The art of thinking about thinking.
Success is often the result of constant, consistent repetition. Generally speaking, the more reps you put in, the better you tend to get. Grit matters.
But only to a point.
The next step is to embrace a "strategic mindset," regularly questioning and refining your current process, routine, habits, etc. in order to overcome setbacks and further improve on successes.
Say you're working on an investor pitch. You might just rehearse the whole thing, over and over again. You'll definitely improve.
But you might decide that you learn best in bite-size portions, so you rehearse sections in chunks. And that you learn best from mistakes, so you purposely go faster in order to replace "old" knowledge with new knowledge. And that adapting to unusual conditions will be important, so you purposely practice with different remotes, different microphones, and in different rooms.
In short, you constantly evaluate your progress and tweak your approach. You have sufficient self-discipline to keep going, and sufficient self-discipline to keep working to optimize your approach.
So how do you embrace a strategic mindset?
Ask yourself six questions.
To test the theory, the researchers asked student participants six questions and asked them to rate themselves on a 1 (never) to 5 (always) scale.
- When you are stuck on something, how often do you ask yourself, "What are things I can do to help myself?"
- Whenever you feel like you are not making progress, how often do you ask yourself, "Is there a better way of doing this?"
- Whenever you feel frustrated with something, how often do you ask yourself, "How can I do this better?"
- In moments when you feel challenged, how often do you ask yourself, "What are things I can do to make myself better at this?"
- When you are struggling with something, how often do you ask yourself, "What can I do to help myself?"
- Whenever something feels difficult, how often do you ask yourself, "What can I do to get better at this?"
What happened? Higher scores predicted higher grades.
And in subsequent studies, higher scores predicted greater success in a professional challenge and in a health and fitness goal.
In short, embracing a strategic mindset increased the likelihood of success, regardless of the goal.
And here's the best part: Priming yourself before you start something challenging will pay real dividends.
In another experiment, the researchers set up two groups. One group read an overview of the strategic mindset concept, the other did not. Both groups were then given a task to complete, one with objective performance metrics that could be accomplished in a variety of different ways.
What happened? The strategic mindset group outperformed the control group by a wide margin.
They were much quicker to explore, experiment, and tweak, and constantly worked to optimize their methods.
They didn't just settle on something that appeared to work.
They kept analyzing what worked, what didn't work, and didn't stop looking for a better way.
According to the researchers:
... many jobs in the modern world, as well as challenging goals more generally, require people to actively think through and figure out how to best navigate the tasks at hand. In the midst of such 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.
Which are exactly the kinds of goals every entrepreneur needs to accomplish.
The next time you embark on a new goal, or the next time you feel stuck, take a moment to ask yourself the six questions.
That will prime your metacognition pump -- and help you embrace the strategic mindset you need to achieve the success you deserve.