December 1


Don’t be fooled by the tip of the iceberg

By Harry Heijligers

December 1, 2017

Growth Mindset

This article is one in a series of Growth Mindset Hacks. Today the sixth growth mindset hack: Don’t be fooled by the tip of the iceberg.

As said in this article, having a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset, has numerous benefits for you. And the good news is that you too can develop a growth mindset. Read on, for today's growth mindset hack:


If you look at successful people, you only see the times when they had success. That’s the tip of the iceberg. But what you don’t see is the thousands of hours that they have put in like an endless effort to improve their skills. You also don’t see the endless obstacles they had to overcome to finally achieve success. If you only look at the tip of the iceberg, then you have a Fixed Mindset. If you realize that the iceberg is much bigger than that and that it takes a huge amount of effort to get results, then you have a Growth Mindset. So, don’t be intimidated by the success of others, because they too have put in the hard work. And if you only look at that success, you are limiting yourself. You too are able to put in the hard work as long as you focus on it so that you too can achieve success.

Only focusing on the tip of the iceberg, or on the shiny objects you want to get, is what I call Results-thinking. You focus for 100% on the possible results you can get by achieving a particular goal.

Why you must not let yourself being deceived by the tip of the iceberg

You have probably done your bookkeeping or administration before. Or if you have to lose weight or exercise, you probably have done that before as well. But there are also goals you want to achieve, which you have not done before. For example, you see someone singing on TV, and you think "Hey I want that too!" Or you see someone paragliding, and you think "Hey, that's what I want!" Or you see an author reading aloud from his own work, and you think “Hey, I also want to write a book! "

The only thing you see at that moment is the success. You see the tip of the iceberg. What you don't see, is all those years of training, practice and hard work that were needed to achieve the end-result that you see right now. The success is visible, but all underlying processes and complexities are not visible. But because you've never done paragliding in your life before, you obviously have no idea what's involved. You just don't know that. Just like you also don’t know what it takes to write a book. You don't know that it because you've never done it before.

You can't see all of that from ignorance. The only thing you know is what you see, namely the end-result. And that looks very nice and promising. As a result of your short-sighted thinking, you can easily draw the wrong conclusion. That's why you only think "Hey, I want that too! I also want to be a chess grandmaster. Or I want to be good in X. "
But as soon as you start your new adventure, you soon discover that it is not all that simple. Things require a lot more time and are much more complex than you initially thought. That is the largest piece of the iceberg which is invisible. And the then chances are that you get disappointed because it is not all that easy. And you are frustrated and want to give up. And that’s something you don’t want, so don’t let yourself fooled by the tip of the iceberg.

Be aware of  the Stockdale Paradox

During the Vietnam War, Admiral James Stockdale was shot down. He spent almost eight years in a brutal prison camp.

Naive optimism got you killed in those camps, according to Stockdale.
Some guys thought they'd be out by Christmas. But when Christmas came and went, they still were kept in prison. So, they thought they would be out by Easter. Easter came and went, and they still were in prison. And then they lost hope and died. The guys who survived were thinking in a totally different way. They knew that they would eventually be free and they knew it was not going to happen anytime soon.
Stockdale himself knew that he would be at least five years kept in prison, but he knew the day would come that he would be free again. This is called The Stockdale Paradox.

  • On the one hand, you need to have utter confidence that you will inevitably succeed.
  • On the other hand, you need to accept whatever brutal reality you are facing. Your path to success will not be easy, and it will not be short.

So, you need to find the right balance between focusing on your end goal and focusing on the process goals for today. Sure, you also need to focus on your big end goal. That’s the one hand in the Stockdale Paradox. But this should only be 5% of your focus at the max. The other 95% of your focus should go to the other hand of the Stockdale Paradox which is to focus on your daily process goals.

Luckily, I have never been in prison, like James Stockdale. But when I was eight years old, I had a similar situation. I suffered from a severe brain tumor. The hospitals in my city couldn’t treat me for that, so I came in a hospital in another city than where I lived. After three months and a couple of surgeries, I was released. But for the eight-year-old version of me, this seemed like ages. And in this strange big hospital in another city, I was very homesick. The only thing I was thinking every hour I was awake, was “I want to go home!” So, every doctor who came to my bed, and they were countless, I asked “When may I go home?” Most of the time, they said something like “Maybe next week”. But when next week came, I still had to stay in the hospital. You can imagine that this drove me crazy and that I had lost all hope in the future. Now, 44 years later, I still have troubles thinking about my future. So, I thought the opposite of how Stockdale thought. I was so concerned with the end-result of getting out of the hospital that I couldn’t stand the harsh reality of every day, every surgery, every medical examination, all those blood samples they wanted to have from me, and so on. In hindsight, my life in the hospital would have been so much better if I had accepted it from day one. But hey, I’m only human!

How do you ensure that you are not blinded by the tip of the iceberg, by the success of others?

Realize that there is a law of nature that says that behind every success an incredibly large and complex world is hidden that you don’t see.

The pitfall may be that you let yourself be put off. So you have to find the balance.

Be realistic and realize that everything always costs more work and is more difficult than you think right now. So always keep in mind that things take twice as much time and money than you think beforehand. Then it can only get better.

Someone has just built their own house. Instead of immediately thinking "Hey, that's what I want!”, realize how much work, time and money will be involved in such a project. Is that something you are prepared to pay? Check that first.

What does it actually mean when you are guided by the tip of the iceberg?

That means that you are always obsessed with all kinds of shiny objects you see and you start a new project every week, without finishing anything. If you are like that, you will never develop yourself further in one direction. So after a month or a year, it appears that you have been very busy, but you have not achieved anything. You have not added any value to your life, your skills, and so on. You probably have not learned anything from it either.
To prevent this, you need to improve your decision-making process. Before you choose a new goal, you have to check whether you really want it or not. What is involved? Will you succeed?
Every new opportunity seems beautiful from the outside, but is this what you really want?
Sleep a few nights over. Then the first shine is already gone, and you look at it a bit more down to earth.
Make a checklist for yourself. Before you pursue a new goal, you must have completed at least some steps. For example, step 1 is that you first create an overall picture of what the consequences are regarding time, money, effort, and so on. If after that, your goal is still attractive enough, you might consider pursuing it. The chance that you will actually realize your goal will be much larger.

So you have to install a safety net for yourself, so you will not be blinded by the tip of the iceberg. This is where Mental Contrasting can help you.

Let Results-thinking help you get motivated

If you can balance Results-thinking with Process-thinking, then you can use Results-thinking to your advantage by letting it motivate you. Results-thinking is not only negative.
To let yourself be blinded by the tip of the iceberg, can also be positive. It provides you a huge strong drive and motivation that you can use to cover the heavy route to your goal. Because you don't know yet what it takes to reach your goal and which obstacles you will encounter along the way, you can use that strong motivation very well to decide to do it and to keep going until you have achieved your goal. This is why many people have done things which were otherwise never done. Many projects would never have been started if you had known in advance what you would have encountered along the way to the achievement of your project.
Results-thinking is therefore also a strong motivator for you because otherwise, you would do nothing at all. And as always, it is about finding the right balance between Results-thinking and Process-thinking. So, limit your Results-thinking so that you will not be too optimistically. That will only get you disappointed and tempt you to give up. On the other hand, limit your Process-thinking because otherwise, you will not start in the first place.

To reap the benefit of Results-thinking, create a visual anchor. Often people use a Vision Board for that. Whatever your goal is, try to visualize the end-result into a colorful Vision Board. Place that Vision Board where you can see it daily so that you have a continuous conscious and subconscious reminder of your goals. This will help you motivate to persevere when the going gets tough.
Especially when you procrastinate because you are too obsessed with all the obstacles on your way, a Vision Board can help you to see through to the end.


Develop your Growth Mindset by balancing Results-thinking and Process-thinking the right way.
Both have advantages and disadvantages. With the wrong balance, you either procrastinate or give-up. With the right balance, everything is possible for you.

And until you begin to see the change in your life, let me know in the comment box below, what is your view on this Growth Mindset Hack, and I'll try to support you with that.

And until we meet …

Live fully, be awesome,

Harry Heijligers

P.S. Please take a moment to share this article. Everyone should have the chance to change his mindset for the better, don’t you think?

Thank you!

Harry Heijligers

About the author

Harry Heijligers has more than 25 years of experience as a Project Manager and more than 17 years of experience as an NLP Trainer. He has a Dutch blog about NLP here:
If you'd like to know about the Smart Leadership Hut, please check this: Smart Leadership Hut.

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