What would you do if you knew you couldn't fail?

I've heard this quote before, but it took on a different meaning this morning. 

What would you do if you knew you wouldn't fail? Tough Mudder? Spartan Race? Learning the Violin?

What would you do if you knew you wouldn't fail? Tough Mudder? Spartan Race? Learning the Violin?

I have about an hour commute to the facility each day, and while I sometimes fill the drive singing Cher songs until my voice cracks, I also listen to books on Audible. This week I’m working my way through the book “Mindset” by Carol Dweck where she explores the idea of a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset. 

From the book:

“In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them.

"In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work - brains and talent are just the starting point.”

My favorite story from the book is that of George Danzig, a student from California Berkeley who, according Dweck, went in for a class one day and copied down the math problems he thought were homework. It took him a few days to solve them, and when he finally did, he was surprised to learn that these were math equations that no one had been able to solve. 


I love this story. 

Danzig was working under the assumption that those math problems were homework. He was working under the assumption that all of his classmates were doing the same problems -  so he likely never doubted that he would figure them out.

Granted, Danzig went on to be one of the greatest mathematicians of all time, and I'm not suggesting that just anyone could have walked into that room and solved those problems. But I wonder how many of his classmates didn't solve them because they assumed they couldn't. 

Are there things that you just assume that you can't do? 

One of my greatest thrills in my job is watching people do something they didn't think they could. 

"I can't deadlift 200lbs."

Not today. Not tomorrow. But with the right preparation and technique? Sure you could. And I've watched it happen over and over again. 

"I'm not a runner. I can't run a 5K or a half-marathon." 

Sure you could. 

What would you do if you never doubted yourself?

Do you have a fixed mindset? About nutrition? About exercise? About art?

I had a conversation in college once with a professor who wanted to play the guitar. She thought it was neat that I could play and asked how I learned. 

"I sat down and taught myself," I said. (With a Roy Clark book I might add, so I'm really good at playing "The Green, Green, Grass of Home). 

"I'd love to learn," she said. "But I have fat fingers and no sense of timing."

"You could if you tried," I offered. 

She laughed at the suggestion. "Some people just aren't born to be musicians." 

I'm not a musician. But I play the guitar. Do you have to be great at something to do it? Some people do. Or are you just afraid you'll fail if you even try?

She had a fixed mindset, so she wasn't going to try.

So I ask again, what would you do if you knew you wouldn't fail?