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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Is Success High Concept?

Well, yes and no. After all, in some respects, success is simple to define: achievement of aims, whether they be material or intellectual, monetary or hallucinatory. What's the big deal? Why even bother to examine it? When you do examine it, however, you find the word can open up into a real umbrella concept.  Therein lies the fun.
So, after that brief pause to justify myself to you, my scores (possibly that is a misleading descriptor, but let's stick with it for now) of readers, let me move onward under my umbrella!

Carol Dweck's book Mindset is high concept. That means you can sum up her idea in a sentence or two. I am very proud of myself for learning this term, lo these two decades ago, and finally being able to use it. So, as I mentioned in a previous post,  her idea is that achieving and sustaining success and feeling successful depends on whether you have a fixed or a growth mindset. People with fixed mindsets feel that intelligence and personality are established genetically and are pretty stable throughout life, while people with growth mindsets believe that these traits are improvable, influenced by effort.

I liked her book. It was easy to digest. Growth is better. You can change your mindset from fixed to growth. She tells you how. Bam. Done.

Then there's her former student, now her colleague, Heidi Grant Halvorsen, and her book Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals. 

Ah-ha, I said when I saw it, because not only is it another book by a woman (thanks be I found another one after that disastrous side-expedition into Florence Scovel Shinn), but also, yes, Goals. In all my researching, goal-reaching has become a very theoretical prospect. You know, establishing values and principals (S. Covey, et. al.) and it might just be time to get back down to some practicalities. Also, ah-ha, because a protege of Carol Dweck ought to be nice and high-concept herself. Perfect for a blog post. Perfect for a boggled mind. Perfect for we of the short attention spans.

Alas, Heidi Grant Halvorsen's book is a wee more involved than I'd hoped. Indeed, I'm only part of the way through it. Granted, I've been to a reunion, had that thing published in that paper, and read several other books, including Fat Men From Space by Daniel Pinkwater for my mother-daughter book club. It, too, was high-concept: don't eat too much sugar. Then again, if the main character hadn't had that cavity, that invasion from outer space wouldn't have happened. So maybe that's not so high concept after all. And I've been digging into Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman, which uses the word I hate most in the English language (heuristic) so many times in the first section that I had to hyperventilate and recover with a novel by Heidi Julavitz. I also had to administer David Copperfield, not possible to swallow at once.

So I've digressed. However, I'm here to say that Halvorsen's book has some interesting tidbits to ponder. So far, she points out that having thoughts or wishes or general goals for the future is not the same as having goals. Goals are concrete things you can work towards. Furthermore, contrary to what many of the self-help books say, all the confidence in the world won't assure you'll reach your goal. You need self-control. Furthermore, self-control is affected by use: if you expend a lot of it avoiding eating a marshmallow sitting in front of you, then you might not have a lot left to apply to your dissertation. Luckily, you, and by you I mean we, can develop more self-control, and figure out how to use it wisely. We can learn how to set appropriate goals, and in general, learn how to succeed.

That was just the introduction, my scores of readers. In the very first part of chapter one she says we must set goals that are specific, and difficult. Not impossible, but difficult.

So you can see that this is going to be a multi-step investigation. Not at all high-concept. But I will help you through it. My first goal is to finish the book. No, wait, that is not a difficult goal. How about: finish the book and explain it wittily without eating several handfuls of chocolate covered almonds every time I sit down to it.

Now that's a goal I can work towards. Crunch.


  1. I wish I could read as speedily as you while still comprehending enough to blog about it. That's not a goal, that's just a wish. So my goal is to eat chocolate-covered almonds as speedily as you do.

    1. I wouldn't wish that on anyone. Oy, my waistline!

  2. I enjoyed this one Hope. Looking forward to hearing what you have to say as you get through Halvorsen's book. I might have to supply you some chocolate-covered almonds to make sure you get through it :)

    1. You are so right. I might need a little help getting through it. Setting goals isn't my strongest suit. So reading about setting goals has been a little challenging. But I shall persevere!