Ana Melikian was born in Portugal and almost had to repeat the fourth grade due to bad spelling. Despite being diagnosed with dyslexia, she earned two master’s degrees and a PhD in psychology. She taught at universities in Portugal and Spain. Now living in the U.S., Ana combines her expertise in psychology with her trademark optimism to help audiences explore and embrace possibilities beyond their comfort zone. As a keynote speaker and the host of the Mindset Zone podcast, Ana helps audiences break through their mindset limitations, upgrade their minds’ operating systems, and achieve better results than ever.
How Ana is Successful
Ana lives the life she has created for herself. She says that is her best definition of being successful. There are challenges, but that’s part of the beauty of it. She has the freedom of having control of her time to spend with her family, to travel, to visit her family in Portugal. Her business aligns with her purpose as she serves her clients.
How has dyslexia helped Ana find her success?
Originally, Ana thought her dyslexia was a handicap. She struggles mainly with spelling. She was a good student in general, but her spelling almost kept her from moving up through the grades.
Luckily, her teachers realized that spelling was her only problem, and so they let Ana progress. She kept improving as a student, but people around her saw there was something different about her. Portuguese is a phonetic language, and Ana could not differentiate certain sounds, even in high school. The psychologists in the school worked with her, but there was no specific program for dyslexics. Nowadays, she would have gone to a speech therapist.
Ana went to college and learned to speak English and Spanish. She studied and worked in Spain. She always believed she could overcome this challenge and still do what she wanted to do. It was relatively recently when she started to learn more about dyslexia, and understand the superpowers of it. One of the things that she didn’t realize before is that most dyslexics have problems with left and right, but at the same time, they have the tendency to see patterns, so math was easy for Ana. She didn’t know that that was one of the characteristics of many dyslexics. Because details are challenging, dyslexics have to see the overall picture to make sense of things. That always gave her an advantage that she absolutely leveraged even before she realized that was a superpower in her academic and professional life.
Accommodation and Inclusion
Growing up in Portugal, there was no accommodation for Ana’s dyslexia. They already knew about it, but there was no special kind of assistance. Ana wonders if she had had help, where she would be now. On the other hand, she learned from the challenges that she overcame.
When Ana looks back, she sees that she learned and made the best out of it, but she thinks that maybe we can change how the system works to make life a little bit easier for everybody. Even people that are neurotypical have their own set of challenges.
Ana wants to create inclusive education that everyone will gain from because everyone will be allowed to be more creative, to bring more voices to the table, to see things from different perspectives, to face the challenges of the world.
Ana’s story is similar to others with neurodiversities. School is very fixated on how you spell, how you do math, show your work, do it the way we do it. And the further you get from that, once you can start doing things your way, you can thrive. With modern spell checkers, dyslexia doesn’t have to be as debilitating as it used to be.
Part of the concept of this show is that young people will listen and won’t have to wander the wilderness, thinking they are disabled and can’t succeed. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t taken the time to figure it out. I wouldn’t give up what I have, but I wouldn’t want everyone else to suffer for 20 years.
People hear the word “accommodation” and they think “special treatment.” My daughter probably has ADHD, but I haven’t heard anything from teachers that indicates any kind of problems with it. And then I look at how they’re running the classrooms now. They’re not sitting in rows of desks for six hours doing worksheets. They change things every 45 minutes. They have different stations around the room. There’s physical movement. There’s hands-on activities, they teach the way kids learn.
Suddenly all of these ADHD problems aren’t problems. Because as I say, ADHD is the inability to focus on boring things. So you make people less bored, it’s gonna work better. And the same thing with dyslexia, if you accommodate by allowing them to use spell checkers, they have the opportunity to succeed.
Ana sees the influence of devices and social media in the uptick of ADHD cases. We’re living in a faster-paced world than ever before and it is almost tailor-made to distract the easily distractible.
Upgrading your Mental Operating System
The basis of Ana’s work is that we come into this world with a vast capacity to understand and make sense of the world. Each one of us will have a different upbringing, different family lives, different challenges to face, and we absolutely make the best of it. Kids, by nature, are resilient. We make the best of the circumstances, but let’s be honest. We create bad habits along the way.
Imagine that we are the computer. We start by having to manually code everything. As we get older, we upgrade our operating system. But if you keep delaying the updates, things get slower and start presenting us with other challenges. We don’t make time to do the update until the computer crashes. We decide to upgrade the operating system and everything gets better. There is a learning curve, but things are much smoother after that.
Ana thinks that as we get into adulthood, we come with the operating system that we put together during our growing up years. But we have the option of working on that operating system.
We know so much nowadays about neuropsychology, about high performance science, about positive psychology. Why are we not leveraging that to upgrade the basic structure of our psychology?
Any kind of real change requires attention and focus. When you update your phone, it already knows what to do. But if there are 12 operating system options, how do you choose? There’s so much confusing information. So where do you start to figure out what you should be doing?
Shiny Object Syndrome (S.O.S.) is when a person is always chasing the next pretty thing. When we do that, we never leverage the potential available to us if we dig in and focus. On the other hand, we can’t afford to refuse to change with the times, to accept new information. If we reach either extreme, we need to press the pause button, and dedicate some time to personal growth. And there are great systems out there.
If you want an easy, solid, research based system, Ana recommends the work of Shirzad Chamine, author of Positive Intelligence, a New York Times bestselling book. He also has a program and trains coaches. His program utilizes what people are already doing: interacting with their phones. He developed an app that allows people to train in his system and gives them prompts to keep going.
Training your Mind
Ana likens training your mind to sports: The quarterback is a very important player, but nobody expects that he is going to give his best performance if he doesn’t train off the field. That is something that we can admire of all athletes. How much do Olympians train? Nobody earns a medal in the Olympics without a lot of work.
If we go to the gym to get more physically fit, what are we doing in our day to be mentally fit? If you are not psychologically fit, when you have a big challenge, you don’t have resilience to do anything about it. There are things that we can do to become more resilient and more psychologically fit. Yes, we have to put some work into it, but it really pays off in our professional life and in our personal life.
I think exercise is a good metaphor. I think a lot of people are looking for that easy solution. Maybe they try something a little while and they don’t get the results. They try something else, and don’t get the results. So they never get really good at anything. They’re not committed enough to actually do the exercise.
You can’t read a book on exercise and then go climb stairs. You need to actually do it. And it’s better to be fully engaged in the fourth best strategy than to be disengaged into four different strategies, you know, think about the wheel.
Maybe you don’t have an exercise routine, but you walk today and the tomorrow you run up and down the stairs 20 times, and the next day you carry some mulch around the yard, and the next day you take the dog for a long walk, and the next day you play baseball. It’s not a routine, but at least you’re doing something, you’re taking action and moving forward. Obviously the best routine is gonna be better, but no routine is gonna be worse.
That’s part of the implementation point. Insights are not enough. Sitting in front of our computer and watching TEDx or Ted talks will not be enough to change us in a lasting way. Yes, it can spark the motivation to get us going to change things. But we need to have a plan. We need to have the implementation to make things really happen and change can be messy and we have to be ready for that messiness.
Change is definitely gonna be messy, but you have to embrace that. You’re gonna get the results from it and that’s why you do it.
Ana encourages everyone to ask for help and look for resources. There are websites and podcasts out there that can help. She says to listen to other people’s stories and other people’s experiences and see what they did to get ideas of what to do next. The web can be a good resource and there are people that really specialize in helping us to take our super powers to the next level.