Why was a 19 year old lottery-winner so keen to spend his entire winnings as fast as possible?

Michael Carroll wasn’t the first lottery-winner to come to the attention of the press for blowing his winnings…

In 1961 Viv Nicholson, a factory worker from Castleford, won £152,000 on the pools (equivalent to over £3 million today). She promised to ‘spend, spend spend’, and within four years she’d done just that. Viv later admitted she found it difficult to cope with suddenly finding herself so rich. Being rich was totally at odds with her and Micheal’s self-image, so they went about getting rid of the money – all of it and as quickly as possible!  In fact, such self-destructive behaviour is not uncommon with celebrities who find it hard to come to terms with their sudden rise to fame and fortune, which even has it’s own name: the Paradise Syndrome. 

These are examples of how people (fail to) cope with wealth and the same applies to success, happiness and contentment: if we don’t believed we deserve something then we’ll consciously or unconsciously self-sabotage any effort or plans to succeed or when opportunities to be someone else are handed to us. We’ll hide behind the familiar and seek the cozy arena of our known universe and conform to who we think we should and deserve to be. But to conform to all we know and all that has been programmed into us from through our childhood, this is the easy path.

The fear of making a mistake, of not fitting in, looking stupid, losing control, of being alone and of losing wealth are common, paralysing of fears. These negative thoughts and beliefs – these limiting beliefs – feed a host of crippling handicaps, of gremlins. The strength of your fear dictates the shape and size of these little monsters. We’ve all come across them, and some people have managed to grow such big, scary ones that they’ve allowed themselves to be chained up by them, stopping them doing things and tell them how to behave. But just imagine: if other people did this to us we’d call the police and have them locked up – so why do we do it to ourselves!  

The belief you hold in your potential will largely determine your behaviour and the results you seek. In coaching we use the term ‘limiting belief’ to describe a belief we may hold that stop us from achieving a personal goal. Indeed, we never outperform our beliefs – and we never outperform the way we see ourselves.  We all hold a vast swathe of beliefs, some of which will be limiting beliefs. While we cannot simply list out all of our beliefs, we can become savvier at recognising which to change for a more empowering belief. We need to pinpoint the limiting beliefs that stop us reaching our authentic self. Our beliefs are not set in stone. They are more a soft metal, lead or gold, with the right know-how and tools, limiting beliefs can be reshaped and moulded into empowering beliefs. 

Growth v fixed mindsets

There is one belief that can influence how we go about changing our destiny more than any other. And in essence it is this: if you believe you can you can, if you believe you weren’t born to then you can’t.

In 1954 Rotter termed the phrase ‘Locus of control’ to describe how we perceive the amount of control we have over our own destiny.  People with a strong internal locus of control believe that they can control events through their own actions. Carol Dweck’s recent work support this attribution theory, suggesting some of us believe success is based on innate ability; these people are said to have a “fixed mindset”, while those who believe their success is based on hard work and continual personal development are said to have a “growth mindset”. 

These mindsets create self-fulfilling prophecies creating a powerful influence on how you approach life. A manager at a well-known global bank, his shoulders slumped, once said to me: “I can’t see my career going any further. Hard work and determination has got me this far but I simply don’t have the talent others have.” When we’re faced with a problem that requires a perceived approach and that approach requires a certain skill or personal characteristic that we feel we’re not good at fixed mindset people avoid even trying. So a fixed mindset person might avoid pushing for a pay rise because their lack of self belief stops them from the risk of rocking the boat, of becoming unpopular with their boss and of potential conflict. If we don’t believe we can control our environment then there is little point trying or taking risks for all is in the lap of the gods. 

Yet recent research in the field of neuroscience is challenging how we see our ability to learn. The evidence for brain plasticity, of its malleability, is suggesting that our brain does not stop developing after early adulthood but continues to develop new neural pathways and alter existing one, posing the question that our intellect is not fixed, our numerical and language reasoning cannot improve as we age. 

While fixed-mindset individuals see failure as a reinforcement of their limited abilities – a statement about their intelligent or physical or emotional abilities, growth-mindset people see setbacks and failures as opportunities to learn from mistakes and improve their performance. Dweck argues that people with growth-mindsets lead less stressful lives. Because a growth-mindset is simply a set of beliefs about whether we can learn to improve or not, then through belief change and reframing we can all develop the growth-mindset. The same applies about who we are. Our identity is not fixed. We should not ask ‘who I am right now?’, but ‘who I might become?’ With a growth-mindset this question opens up many more possibilities to us than the self-limiting, self-destructive fixed-mindset. A growth-mindset opens up your potential and allows you to generate empowering beliefs about what you’re capable of and a belief system that will help you work beyond the map of the world you have so far allowed yourself to be concerned by.

Learning from failure – growth mindset in action

In the world of sport it’s often said that you learn more from a loss than from a win. This is certainly the case for the amateur sports I’ve been involved with over the years. When we won a game, many of us would pat ourselves on the back glowing in self-admiration for our fine skills, superior teamwork and cunning tactics. It was only when we lost, and took personal responsibility for the loss rather than blaming the referee, underhand tactics of the opposition or the weather, did we start to unpick what went wrong. It is often our self-reflection in defeat, not just our successes, which help us to improve. When winning becomes too easy it is simply a massage for the ego and the endeavours that make winning worthwhile are forgotten. Yet if we learn more from losing and from the acts of competing, why is it that many of us won’t face our fears and use them to improve our lives? Most of us have extrinsic goals, so our sense of self and ego are closely intertwined with the task of winning to prove and reaffirm out self-worth. By developing intrinsic goals where the task and process are geared towards self development and obtaining flow then set backs, such as a defeat on the sports field, are seen as tools for learning not a stain on an individual or team’s reputation.   

Exercise: How to replace limiting beliefs with empowering ones

  1. Think of an limiting belief you hold about yourself
  2. What evidence do you have to support this belief?
  3. Now ask yourself: 
      1. Who did I learn this from
      2. Is this somebody you would want to be?
      3. In what way is this belief you hold about yourself ridiculous? 
      4. What will it cost you emotionally, spiritually, financially to hold onto this belief? 
  4. Now think if you didn’t believe the limiting belief what would be more useful to believe? 
  5. Ask yourself: What resources do I already have, including past successes, which I can draw on?
  6. Finally, how would you know that this new belief is starting to become true for you?

For more on how you can further develop your own self belief and develop more empowering beliefs, take a look at our How to Build Unbreakable Confidence workshop.

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