How I reached the end of my intelligence

How we view our capacity to grow greatly affects how we engage a challenge, be it a dream we aspire to achieve, or the next project we need to get done.

As a third-year physics student in college, I remember staying up late—very late—to complete some quantum mechanics homework due the next morning. As the night wore on, my frustration grew as it became clear I had severely underestimated the effort needed to complete the Schrödinger derivations I was assigned.

How I reached the end of my intelligence

At one point, in total exasperation, I dropped my head in my hands and said to myself, out loud, “I’ve reached the end of my intelligence.” I was like that guy in the old Comcast commercial surfing the Internet until he got a message that said: “You’ve reached the end of the Internet. You’ve seen all there is to see.”

It sounds comical now but at the time I was dead serious. I felt defective. And worse. I believed that I lacked the mental equipment to succeed. Ever.

Psychologists would tell you that I unwittingly subscribed to an “entity theory” of intelligence. I believed my intelligence was fixed; a genetic dispensation from my parents and their predecessors. And as far as quantum mechanics was concerned, I was doomed.

Dr. Carol Dweck, the world-renown Stanford psychologist, spent decades studying the effect our beliefs have on achievement. In study after study she discovered that those who believe, as I did, that they are born with a fixed degree of intelligence are more likely to give up on a challenge than those who hold to an “incremental theory” or have a growth mindset. The latter see challenges (and failure) as a way to develop new strategies for growth. They may not be successful now, but in time, with repeated effort, they will be.

Thomas Edison, with his famous attribution, “I didn’t have a thousand failures. I learned a thousand ways not to make a light bulb,” is the poster-child for incremental theorists.

I wouldn’t discover until years later that my hitting the mental eject button that night was a symptom of a mistaken view of myself. And since then I’ve often wondered what other mistaken views I might now hold that hinders me from learning from my present challenges and becoming all that God designed me to be.

But I have learned one thing: I still have a lot to learn. And I guess that’s a more intelligent response than the one I had during that late college night with Erwin Schrödinger.

What mistaken views have you discovered that’s kept you from engaging your challenges?

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