Mindset and the 4 Quadrants

Coach Dan John writes often about the 4 quadrants of training.  Above is my interpretation of what those are.  Recently I read the book “Mindset” by Carol Dweck.  In it she describes two approaches to parenting, business, school, relationships and life, really. For our purposes we’ll look at how that applies to training as well.  Dweck argues that your mindset can fall under either that of fixed or growth.  In the fixed mindset things tend to be seen as success or failure, others (or yourself) may be seen as either smart or dumb, and with talent, you either have it or you don’t.  The growth mindset is one of more improvement, exploration and practice.  With the growth mindset, regardless of things like your IQ, current athletic ability, or how others perceive you, it can all be changed.  In this mindset people are less likely to blame others in anger when they fail or something goes wrong and more likely to assess the situation, learn from it and make a change to improve it.

So how exactly are the 4 quadrants and mindset related?  Well, in the book Dweck tells several stories about John McEnroe, a classic fixed mindset athlete.  In one of those stories McEnroe bought a gorgeous Les Paul guitar, went to see a Buddy Guy concert, realized the skill of one of the guitar greats compared to his own, went home and proceeded to smash his guitar.  Now, in the four quadrants Dan John points out that the majority of us are in Quadrant 3.  Those at the highest levels of skill, like a Buddy Guy, live in Quadrants 2 or 4. The truth is those people are rare and special.  Some have been gifted things like a body that is 7 feet tall or some above average genes.  However, even they have worked extremely hard to make it there.  Steph Curry hasn’t been become arguably one of the best shooters in NBA history simply by being born to an NBA father. He’s worked at his craft a time or two (*note sarcasm). Point being you shouldn’t smash your guitar or deflate your basketball simply because someone else is a lot better than you.

Dan John points out that the majority of us grown ups are in Quadrant 3. There, a lower number of overall qualities is needed and the skill level is on the lower or left side of the graph.  Sounds almost degrading but read the description again and let me give you an example. The most weight I have ever pulled off the floor in the deadlift is 560 lbs.  To some that might sound like an impressive number except when you consider the current world record is over 1,000 lbs.  All my years of hard work and training and I’m still just half a man.  In other lifts like the snatch and clean and jerk my strength rivals that of a 105 lb Chinese woman! (that is not an exaggeration when you look at current world record lifts)  Does that mean I should give up? No.  Rather, in the growth mindset I should enjoy the process and also understand which quadrant I am in based on my current goals and how that relates to some of the top performers in the world.  If I were a younger man, perhaps in quadrant 1 or 2, I could strive to some day keep moving to the right of the graph and hopefully those supporting me such as parents, coaches and teachers would help to support those goals.

What I have come to realize is that regardless of the appropriate quadrant for you, a growth mindset is required.  Whether it means acquiring many skills as a young person in Q1 or trying to balance the many rigors and skills required to be a Q2 athlete.  If you’re in Q3 as most of us are, it may just be taking baby steps toward strength and movement skill acquisition or possibly just getting better at compliance, as in getting to the gym with consistency or keeping a food journal.  Even in Q4 the same mentality is needed as it may take literally years of hard work and commitment to make incremental improvements in a given sport.

– Mike Baltren