This is for all the storytelling/science fiction/organization behavior nerds. Warning – if you aren’t caught up on Game Of Thrones and the Battle of Winterfell, the following contains spoilers.

You won’t be warned again.

Studying organizational psychology, you see a lot of patterns repeat, in books, in stories and life. It makes sense, we’re all human and our programming is pretty similar.

The ending of the Battle of Winterfell got me thinking about a current pattern I’ve been seeing a lot in the research on growth mindset and characteristics of flow. Before we get into that, let’s back up and look at everything that brought us to last night’s conclusion. There are several characteristics of Arya’s journey that align with the research on flow and success.

1. She has Grit. I don’t think even Angela Duckworth would deny that Arya demonstrates exceptional grit. She spent roughly the first six seasons, learning how to fight and become an assassin.

2. She engages in Deliberate Practice. More important than putting in her 10K hours, she has coaches to train her. First Syrio Forel, a master swordsman and later Jaqen H’ghar, a master assassin are on hand to give her immediate feedback and help her improve.

3. She has clarity of purpose. Arya has a “north star.” While we all know that she was under prophecy, really Arya was focused and committed to getting back to her family, and avenging those she loved. (Sidenote: repeating your goals and/or kill list every day is straight from Napoleon Hill’s classic, “Think and Grow Rich.”)

4. She knows when to strategicly follow (and then forget) the “rules.” When she was ready, Arya took control of her destiny. She refused to accept rules that were no longer serving her. According to Dawn Graham, author of Switchers, we have to learn how to “fit in and belong before we can stand out.” Arya learns to fit in at Braavos, in part to survive and also to learn the secrets of the many-faced god, so that she can get the skills she needs to protect her family.

A girl has a name.

5. She moves beyond fear and into flow. In Braavos she learned the skills to match the challenges ahead. During the Battle of Winterfell, you see her battle with almost balletic grace. At first, it is clear that killing wights is not much of a challenge, however, their sheer numbers overwhelm her, since she is still human. In the corporate world, we’d call this kind of overwhelm “burnout“. Stressed by volume, if not by challenge, we see her lose flow becoming anxious, rolling off roofs and fighting for her life — until at last, she has a brief respite. Surrounded by corpses in her family’s great hall she understandably might have stayed in survival mode, but the Lord of Light sent her one last coach in the form of the Red Woman. Melisandre reminds Arya of her destiny, beyond mere survival to thrive, she reminds Arya to think beyond herself (i.e. let go of the ego) and reframe Dani and Jon’s plan, and focus on what she can control inspiring Arya to act.

What do we say to the god of death?
Not today.

And the rest is legend. #NotToday

Those are just some rough thoughts from last night’s episode.

How does thinking about life as a story help you?

What else did you see, perhaps we can discuss the role of prophecy and the perception of time in achieving flow? (If we do, you know we’re going to need to get real about Endgame.)

Books Referenced: 

  • Grit – Angela Duckworth
  • Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell
  • Flow – Mike C.
  • Think and Grow Rich – Napoleon Hill
  • Switchers – Dawn Graham
  • Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin