Upgrade Like Usain Bolt

Before we begin, for those who haven’t read about Upgrade Think Learn it probably makes sense to check it out to discover about us… or just read ahead and come back to it later – you’re in charge!

Imagine a future not too far from now: you the need to improve or upgrade your ability or knowledge. You head down to the local Google, Apple or Elon Musk Upgrading Station and select your upgrade for your brain (picture the scene from the Matrix where Keanu Reeves learns kung-fu).

Whilst I would love to tell you that an upgrade in your mind is that simple…there is a little bit more to it.

It all begins with you simply switching one thing.

Enter stage left The Mindset.

The Mindset is actually You. It is your beliefs, values, attitudes, comfort zones and understanding of yourself as a learner/thinker/doer.

The Mindset (You), comes in two special flavours: Fixed and Growth.

Fixed You and Growth You.

Fixed You

Ah, Fixed You, you old devil. I remember you. You were there when I was sitting in Art Class and I tried to paint a tree with a yellow trunk,

“Trees can’t have yellow bark – start again and make it brown”

Fixed Mental note: don’t try something different.

Better yet, after spending days and weeks (and specific targeted seconds during one to one time in class) building up a child’s image of themselves as a mathematician, you hear at a Parent-Teacher Interview,

“I was never good at maths, (stares at child) that’s probably why you aren’t good”

Fixed Mental note: I can’t do this, so don’t try.

The Fixed You has a smart and switched on approach to life. Fixed You picks up patterns, makes quick judgements and ultimately knows the lay of the land around it. Things that are new, different or beyond the horizon are dismissed as unimportant or unattainable.

Learning how to kick a football with your left foot? Nice try. Stick with what you know.

Can’t recall if it was Trotsky or Picadilly that murdered Cleopatra? Never admit you don’t know – find a way to distract others, or better yet, never enter a room where this conversation may happen. (It’s neither for those playing at home).

The Fixed You would rather be The Class Fool than actually admit they don’t know something. Or, they may simply become The Perfectionist and never finish things because every part needs to be exactly “right”. The Fixed You sees its brain as a bucket that is there to be filled up – once you reach maximum capacity, good luck to you. Everything you are and can be was decided when you were first conceived/born.

Fixed You truly believes that your intelligence, capabilities, aptitude, creativity, reasoning and “other” features were all fixed from the beginning.

Shifting to a classroom context for a second, I can’t help but think of this explaining why we start to get certain drop offs around high school. The numbers of girls doing maths, science or technology subjects, or people who drop out of (or simple do not try) Visual Arts, Literature or certain sports*.

What about those kids in Year 7 who already have a rough outline of the subjects they will complete in Year 12…if they make it that far.


Growth You


Everything in the section above can be prevented and changed if you reframe and adapt your thinking.

Consider this:

Simply by changing the way you view making mistakes (and practising and learning) you can increase the performance of your brain**

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome Growth You.

Now, I do have to be straight up with this. I am not a neuroscientist or medical practitioner. Everything I am sharing is from lectures listened to, articles or books I have read (and spent much time scratching my head over), the black hole spiral of TEDtalks we all often get caught up in, and classroom experience over the last 12 years. What is so amazing about this mindset concept is the absolute simplicity of it all.

We control how we use and increase our brain power…If we take the time to stop watching Netflix.

And now Usain Bolt makes his appearance right on time.

This video was one I had recently used with my class to get an understanding of growth mindsets and what they thought “hard work” and “effort” were. Hearing the number of students that couldn’t quite work out why he would keep running if he was literally sick and tired was interesting and unexpected. Their views were that once it got that difficult wouldn’t it make sense to stop?

I became more interested when I caught up with some close friends. A few of them shared similar views to my students. I began to think about the wide amount of statements made by both groups. I also reflected on observations I had made about both of these groups and came up the following:

  1. This group were the ones who hated their jobs, but didn’t feel they could progress to another one
  2. Both groups were less likely, based on my subective views, to take risks (read “Put themselves out there”)
  3. These students loved worksheets and hated open-ended questions (not sure about the friends as I didn’t feel comfortable surprising them with some fractions or multiplication worksheets during a dinner or a drink)
  4. All of these people were quicker to give up on solving a problem once it went beyond five minutes
  5. Worryingly, all of them had mentioned at one point that they were either too stupid or not good enough to improve in areas (they had reached maximum capacity in their buckets)


What makes Growth You so amazing is that it contrasts all of the things listed above. The brain bucket cannot be filled to capacity. The students and friends of mine that have discovered Growth You seek out more challenges and appreciate that it will take time to improve and build up their skills and qualities.

Matter of fact, they seem to seek out ways to break down skills or challenges into specific parts they want to refine or master. Whilst my growth mindset students are slowly mastering and practising the art of efficiently adding multiple four-digit numbers together, Usain Bolt is considering the efficiency of his stride length and then refining it.

Growth You doesn’t see a bucket there waiting to be filled. Growth You sees a Mary Poppins bag of mystery just waiting to have more added to it.

mary poppins gif

Now, Growth You loves adding to your mystery bag of tricks. This addition to the mystery bag happens through finding skills, concepts or areas of learning waiting to be upgraded. Growth You understands that time, repeated practise and focus will drive this. During these times of focused practise more and more connections are created amongst the neurons in your brain as they try and establish the most efficient or effective ways to send messages.

This is why the repeated practise, focus and time is so important. In order for the brain to improve its performance and ability, it needs ample opportunities to develop these connections and pathways. This means you need to be aware of what it is you are practising, how you are doing it and making sure you do it consistently. Teachers, I am looking to us and thinking about how much specific guidance or quality time we provide to our students to create these connections in their brains (before we have to move onto to that next topic because it is in our term overview, or because the other class has already started it).

This is all extremely different to the Fixed You.  If there is an area of unknown, Fixed You will simply find a way to distract everyone else (and yourself) to limit that exposure to feelings of inadequacy or frustration when you “can’t bloody do this”.

Now, it’s easy to simply say, “Embrace the challenge!”, “Don’t give up!” or “There isn’t just one way to solve this!”. All that really does is cause more and more people to mentally beat themselves up (or possibly others if they are that friend who is just trying oh so hard to build you up).

So, what can you actually do to reframe your thinking and instigate this transformation to Growth You?

The reframing is so simple it is a three letter word:


I can’t find the solution to this trinomial problem…yet.

My podcast hasn’t reached number one on the indie charts…yet.

I can’t play Slayer’s “Raining Blood” on my guitar…yet.

The second stretch of 50 meters in my sprint is not improving…yet.


Just think about the potential you that is there simply waiting for an upgrade.

Upgraded golf swing? Book that lesson, find out what you need to upgrade in your form, make the change and practise.

Still stuck on that trinomial question? Get a great teacher who can connect it to your knowledge of the world (in an interesting and sensical way), but who is also able to work out what you don’t understand yet. Then, focus, practise, focus, practise and upgrade.

Can’t slam dunk? Even Spud Webb could do it – so get to it!

Decide what it is you want to improve, then invest the necessary time, focus and effort. Along the way you will get frustrated, but just remember, that’s a part of upgrading.

You just haven’t done it yet.

*I completely understand that there are also other things that can affect this too (such as wanting to impress girls/boys, peer pressure, terrible teachers, rebelling) but if we are being Big Picture, let’s consider how changing our culture could also change these things
**Moser, J. S., Schroder, H. S., Heeter, C., Moran, T. P., & Lee, Y. H. (2011). Mind Your Errors Evidence for a Neural Mechanism Linking Growth Mind-Set to Adaptive Posterror Adjustments. Psychological Science.

Further Upgrades

Articles or Posts





Mindset: The new psychology of success, Carol Dweck (2006)

The Brain that Changes Itself, Norman Doige (2007)

Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman (2011)


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