Script the Critical Moves


“For days I had worried that I’d be unable to get through the final lines of the lecture without choking up. So I had a contingency plan. I placed the last four sentences of the talk on four slides. If in that moment I couldn’t bring myself to say the words, my plan was to click silently through the slides and then simply say, ‘Thank you for coming today.’”

~ p 204 The Last Lecture, Randy Pausch

John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success

Click here for a printable copy of John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success.

Go to the Pyramid of Success section of his website and click on each of the pyramid bricks to read a description of each of the 15 success values.

How can I be successful?

Answer: Watch Richard St John tell you 8 things you have to do to be successful in this 3-minute TED video:

How can I be more effective?

Answer: Adopt the growth mindset.

What we believe determines how we behave.

From Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success:

My work is part of a tradition in psychology that shows the power of people’s beliefs. These may be beliefs we’re aware of or unaware of, but they strongly affect what we want and whether we succeed in getting it. This tradition also shows how changing people’s beliefs–even the simplest beliefs–can have profound effects.

In this book, you’ll learn how a simple belief about yourself–a belief we discovered in our research–guides a large part of your life. In fact, it permeates every part of your life. Much of what you think of as your personality actually grows out of this “mindset”. Much of what may be preventing you from fulfilling your potential grows out of it.

Who is Carol Dweck and what has she discovered?

If You’re Open to Growth, You Tend to Grow


WHY do some people reach their creative potential in business while other equally talented peers don’t?

After three decades of painstaking research, the Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck believes that the answer to the puzzle lies in how people think about intelligence and talent. Those who believe they were born with all the smarts and gifts they’re ever going to have approach life with what she calls a “fixed mind-set.” Those who believe that their own abilities can expand over time, however, live with a “growth mind-set.”

Click here to read the whole 2008 New York times article.

What does the growth mindset look like in action?

From the opening paragraph in Dweck’s book:

“When I was a young researcher, just starting out, something happened that changed my life. I was obsessed with understanding how people cope with failures, and I decided to study it by watching how students grapple with hard problems. So I brought children one at a time to a room in their school, made them comfortable, and then gave them a series of puzzles to solve. The first ones were fairly easy, but the next ones were hard. As the students grunted, perspired, and toiled, I watched their strategies and probed what they were thinking and feeling. I expected differences among children in how they coped with the difficulty, but I saw something I never expected.

Confronted with the hard puzzles, one ten-year-old boy pulled up his chair, rubbed his hands together, smacked his lips, and cried out, “I love a challenge!” Another, sweating away on these puzzles, looked up with a pleased expression and said with authority, “You know, I was hoping this would be informative!”

What’s wrong with them? I wondered. I always thought you coped with failure or you didn’t cope with failure. I never thought  anyone loved failure. Were these alien children or were they on to something?

Everyone has a role model, someone who pointed the way at a critical moment in their lives. These children were my role models. They obviously knew something I didn’t and I was determined to figure it out–to understand the kind of mindset that could turn a failure into a gift.

What did they know? They knew that human qualities, such as intellectual skills, could be cultivated through effort. And that’s what they were doing–getting smarter. Not only weren’t they discouraged by failure, they didn’t even think they were failing. They thought they were learning.

I, on the other hand, thought human qualities were carved in stone. You were smart or you weren’t, and failure meant you weren’t. It was that simple. If you could arrange successes and avoid failures (at all costs), you  could stay smart. Struggles, mistakes, perseverance were just not part of this picture. (p 3-4)

That’s how Dweck opened her book. This is how she closed it:

Change can be tough, but I’ve never heard anyone say it wasn’t worth it. Maybe they’re just rationalizing, the way people who’ve gone through a painful initiation say it was worth it. But people who’ve changed can tell you how their lives have been enhanced. They can tell you about things they have now that they wouldn’t have had, and ways they feel now that they wouldn’t have felt.

Did changing to a growth mindset solve all my problems? No. But I know that I have a different life because of it–a richer one.  And that I’m a more alive, courageous, and open person because of it.

It’s for you to decide whether change is right for you now. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. But either way, keep the growth mindset in your thoughts. Then, when you bump up against obstacles, you can turn to it. It will always be there for you, showing you a path into the future. (p 246)

What are the essential ingredients to a happy, effective, flourishing life?

Answer: Everyone will come up with their own answer to this question, but it’s definitely worth wrestling with.

As incredible as it sounds, ballet is made up of just 13 basic moves! Our English language is made up of just 26 letters. Our mathematical system is made up of just 10 numbers.

So what is a happy, effective, flourishing life made up of?

Here’s my answer — for  today, anyway:

22 basic building blocks of a happy, effective, flourishing life

  1. Look after my body — if I look after it, it will look after me!
  2. Whatever I am doing, be there! Be alive. Be mindful. Pay attention.
  3. Embrace the growth mindset. Believe I  can learn most things, given enough time and effort.
  4. Keep learning and growing myself.
  5. Learn how to think–rationally and creatively. Learn how to learn and remember things. Learn how to solve problems and make decisions.
  6. Be aware of the unconscious forces that  determine my behavior if I’m not awake to what’s happening.
  7. Embrace change. Embrace progress. Stay current.
  8. Participate. Have a go. Be proactive. I am what I do.
  9. Finish what I start (if it deserves to be finished).
  10. Choose to be optimistic and positive about life. Learn to spot the good and to savor it.
  11. Learn to tip myself out of negative emotions.
  12. Find meaning and purpose in life and pursue these things wholeheartedly. Aim to make a difference and add value to the world.
  13. Be brave. Believe I can handle whatever life throws at me. That way I don’t let fear hold me back.
  14. Practice the golden rule: Don’t do to others what I don’t want them to do to me.” Keep my promises. Tell the truth. Be fair. Forgive, etc.
  15. Learn to love–to give to others for the sheer joy of helping others flourish.
  16. Prioritize. Make time for the things that matter.
  17. Learn how to make beautiful conversation–how to listen and really “feel” the other person, and to be interesting and open-minded and to disagree without being disagreeable, etc.
  18. Help others flourish.
  19. Respect myself. Like myself. Be gentle and forgiving towards myself. Don’t feed myself toxic nonsense. Let my “wise self” look out for my best interests.
  20. Dare to dream big, and then to come up with an intelligent strategy to achieve the dream, and then throw myself wholeheartedly into achieving it, while all the time improving my strategy to make it better.
  21. Develop this strong inner core of principles to guide my actions and to protect me when bad things happen or others behave badly towards me.
  22. Practice reflection often to check my progress and thinking up ways to do things better.

There– they are my 22 essential building blocks for a happy, effective, flourishing life!

You know what? That kinda sounds doable–especially if I devote the rest of my life to mastering it!

What does your list look like? What have I left out? What shouldn’t be there?

What is the single, underlying secret of successful people?

Answer: Successful people have “formed the habit of doing things that failures don’t like to do,” according to Albert E.N. Gray.

Albert Gray wrote up his “discovery” in 1940 in this six-page essay The Common Denominator of Success.

Here is how Gray’s essay opens:

The Common Denominator of Success

by Albert E.N. Gray

Several years ago I was brought face to face with the very disturbing realization that I
was trying to supervise and direct the efforts of a large number of men who were trying
to achieve success, without knowing myself what the secret of success really was. And
that, naturally, brought me face to face with the further realization that regardless of what
other knowledge I might have brought to my job, I was definitely lacking in the most
important knowledge of all.

Of course, like most of us, I had been brought up on the popular belief that the secret of
success is hard work, but I had seen so many men work hard without succeeding and so
many men succeed without working hard that I had become convinced that hard work
was not the real secret even though in most cases it might be one of the requirements.

And so I set out on a voyage of discovery which carried me through biographies and
autobiographies and all sorts of dissertations on success and the lives of successful men
until I finally reached a point at which I realized that the secret I was trying to discover
lay not only in what men did, but also in what made them do it.

I realized further that the secret for which I was searching must not only apply to every
definition of success, but since it must apply to everyone to whom it was offered, it must
also apply to everyone who had ever been successful. In short, I was looking for the
common denominator of success.

And because that is exactly what I was looking for, that is exactly what I found.

But this common denominator of success is so big, so powerful, and so vitally important
to your future and mine that I’m not going to make a speech about it. I’m just going to
“lay it on the line” in words of one syllable, so simple that everyone can understand them.

The common denominator of success — the secret of success of every man who has ever
been successful — lies in the fact that he formed the habit of doing things that failures
don’t like to do.

It’s just as true as it sounds and it’s just as simple as it seems. You can hold it up to the
light, you can put it to the acid test, and you can kick it around until it’s worn out, but
when you are all through with it, it will still be the common denominator of success,
whether you like it or not.

It will still explain why men have come into this business of ours with every apparent
qualification for success and given us our most disappointing failures, while others have
come in and achieved outstanding success in spite of many obvious and discouraging
handicaps. And since it will also explain your future, it would seem to be a mighty good
idea for you to use it in determining just what sort of a future you are going to have. In
other words, let’s take this big, all-embracing secret and boil it down to fit the individual

If the secret of success lies in forming the habit of doing things that failures don’t like to
do, let’s start the boiling-down process by determining what are the things that failures
don’t like to do. The things that failures don’t like to do are the very things that you and I
and other human beings, including successful men, naturally don’t like to do. In other
words, we’ve got to realize right from the start that success is something which is
achieved by the minority of men, and is therefore unnatural and not to be achieved by
following our natural likes and dislikes nor by being guided by our natural preferences
and prejudices.

Click here to read the whole article.

Of course, whether Gray’s answer is the definitive answer can’t be proven, but his idea sure gets a lot of support from other great thinkers:

Men’s natures are alike. It is their habits that carry them far apart. (Confucius)

Success is the sum of small habits, repeated day in and day out. (Robert Collier)

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit. (Aristotle)

Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny. (Lao-Tzu)

What are the most important skills I should master above everything else?

Answer:  I don’t know! The answer is different for everyone–and our answer will be different at different times in our lives.

The best answer is the answer that best sums up how you feel today. What are the skills you wish you could master today more than anything else? 

Here is my best answer. Today,  I wish I could learn how to:

  1. finish what I start more often;
  2. focus like a laser on whatever I’m doing;
  3. be “fully present” when listening to people;
  4. find more people who are a good fit with me and to  form close, loving connections with those people;
  5. learn and remember things better;
  6. live my life free from irrational self-doubt;
  7. be more effective in helping others I care about.

Your wish-list, of course, will be entirely different. For instance, you might want to learn how to:

  1. better care for your body;
  2. help your child be less shy;
  3. tip yourself out of negative emotions more easily;
  4. handle receiving criticism better;
  5. be more persuasive;
  6. break bad habits;
  7. conquer procrastination.

Once we’ve identified our wish-list of skills we’d dearly love to master, we then just have to:

(1) find out how to master those skills;
(2) draw up a campaign of skill-mastering strategies that best appeal to us;
(3) implement our skill-mastering campaign, where we try all the various strategies on our list, retaining those that work and dropping those that don’t.

That sounds a simple-enough plan!

The two key goals of this website are to provide lots of strategies (and hopefully mostly proven strategies) to help you put together good skill-building campaigns and to help you monitor your progress as you build those skills. As you can imagine, this is an ambitious project. It’s not surprising that I am plagued by lots of self-doubt! It will take me ages to collect all the information I have in mind and to set things up. In the meantime, you can research your wish-list topics yourself and compile your own skill-mastery campaigns to implement.

I hope to do follow-up posts to demonstrate how I put together skill-masterycampaigns to address the skill deficiencies on my wish-list. This way, I can show you what I’m talking about here. (Of course, since I struggle to finish everything I start (see No.1 item  on my wish-list!), I can’t guarantee I’ll write these follow-up posts!  Sigh!!!)