Do you have a fixed or a growth mindset?
Let me ask it this way: do you avoid challenges, give up easily, anticipate effort will prove fruitless, ignore criticism, or see others’ success as a threat to your own? If so, you might have a bad case of a fixed mindset.
Don’t worry, though. You’re not alone.
Fixed vs. Growth
We could all use healthy reminders that this life is not about proving ourselves. It’s about improving ourselves.
Carol S. Dweck lays it all out in her book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.” She introduced the terms fixed and growth mindsets.
Here’s how an article on BrainPickings summarized the opposing mentalities:
“One of the most basic beliefs we carry about ourselves, Dweck found in her research, has to do with how we view and inhabit what we consider to be our personality. A ‘fixed mindset’ assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens which we can’t change in any meaningful way, and success is the affirmation of that inherent intelligence, an assessment of how those givens measure up against an equally fixed standard; striving for success and avoiding failure at all costs become a way of maintaining the sense of being smart or skilled. A ‘growth mindset,’ on the other hand, thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities. Out of these two mindsets, which we manifest from a very early age, springs a great deal of our behavior, our relationship with success and failure in both professional and personal contexts, and ultimately our capacity for happiness.”
“This life is not about proving ourselves. It’s about improving ourselves.”
Failing Is Not A Character Fault
My nephews have this toy. It’s a tiny figurine with proportionally giant feet, weighted so it stands upright no matter what. Toss it across the room, drop it on the floor, even run over it with a car, the toy will always bobble it’s way back to a standing posture, smiling smugly as if to say, “Can’t get me down today, Uncle Doug.”
The toy reminds me of my son in his early days of walking. His massive baby head must have been weighted because I swear, it was always falling on the floor. The poor kid wanted to walk but his bobblehead denied him the pleasure again and again. I even wondered if he was actually trying to smack his head on every surface of the home like it’s some sort of pledge week initiation.
Kitchen hardwood? Check. Living room carpet? Check. Rocking chair? Check. TV stand? Check, check, and check. But somehow he still kept getting back up to try again.
Imagine if babies had the same amount of resiliency as you do.
Don’t flatter yourself.
They’d probably never walk, talk, feed themselves or master a toilet. What would they do? Maybe mope defeated and broken, half-heartedly giving excuses for why they gave up. If my son had my resiliency, he certainly wouldn’t get up after every fall. He’d retreat into himself and try forgetting all about his failures by the mastered art of avoidance.
The thing is, failing is not a character fault. It’s a natural and normal part of living, inherent to humanity. We can see this truth represented within our children.
Lessons From The Falls Of Babes
Inspirational writer Israelmore Ayivor encourages, “When you fall down, rise up. When you fall again, rise up again. This is just a developmental process that makes a healthy baby become a successful man.”
It will serve us well to imagine ourselves as babies when taking on any a new task. My eight-month-old son was not aware of the shame, embarrassment, or timidity that can so often keep adults from learning and growing. His understanding of building a new skillset went as far as thinking I’m going to try.
It’s an innocent and beautiful approach.
He didn’t get lost in daunting if-then scenarios, doomsday predictions, or fears of what other people might think. He wasn’t counting failures and he wasn’t even counting successes, he was simply trying to walk. If we could only learn from the falls of babes, we could liberate ourselves from much anxiety and maybe even enjoy growing ourselves for the better.
A fixed mindset discourages attempts in the first place, but if we manage to try and fail, a fixed mindset will say, “You inherently suck. There is something unchangeably wrong with you. Your life is basically over.”
On the other hand, a growth mindset will offer freedom in the truth that failure is merely a sign of having tried. A growth mindset will ask, “How can I learn from my failure? How can I overcome this?”
My best bud e-mailed me some thoughts on this.
“When the temptation to criticize yourself kicks in, you can practice remembering that your skills and knowledge are grow-able. That there is no shame in being a novice because everybody is at some point in their lives. That the mindset isn’t ‘I can’t do this,’ but instead ‘I am learning how to do this.'”
Let’s bobble our way back to standing posture. Let’s practice a growth mindset, and have patience with ourselves, embracing our nature to try and fail and fail and try. Let’s smile and say, “Can’t get me down today.”