Change your mindset, and here’s how your world will transform.
“To become a different kind of person is to experience the world differently. When your mind changes, the world changes. And when we respond differently to the world, the world responds differently to us.” — David Loy, in “Rethinking Karma”
When I think I know who I am, does that somehow shape or, more importantly, limit who I might be, or how I might transform with time? We hold on to lots of “I am’s” that may be doing us a disservice.
I am kind — except when I’m not. I am scared — sometimes. I am pretty good at engaging with people — except when I’m feeling insecure. I am bad at math, but is that because I haven’t spent time understanding it? I am tall — except that I’m shrinking, so how long will that last? I am thin — but as I get older, it can relate more to looking haggard than fit.
Researcher and author Carolyn Dweck, in “Mindset,” explores the difference between a fixed or a growth mindset. Someone with a fixed mindset believes that their basic qualities are carved in stone. A growth mindset is based on the belief that qualities are things we can cultivate through effort.
Although human beings differ in many ways — talents, aptitudes, interests, and temperaments — Dweck’s research suggests that everyone can change and grow through application and experience.
Years ago I realized I was sick of hearing myself concretize who I was with my languaging. I’m not seeing any practical or compelling reason to keep reinforcing my “I am’s” by replaying these ideas about myself in my head or sharing them with others. I suspect that when I’m in a fixed mindset, it gives me a false sense of security. If I have little or no control of the world around me, believing that I know myself, that I know exactly who I am, can make me feel like I have some degree of control. But Dweck says:
“Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, or are not, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them?”
If I hold on to the idea that “I am kind,” it is possible I won’t notice when I’m acting like a rotter, because I’m attached to an unrealistic belief that I am always kind. If I drop the idea that I’m “always” kind, I suspect I might be more open to the possibility that although yes, I am often kind, sometimes I’m not. When I allow myself to see that growth opportunity, I can choose to be more thoughtful or considerate. If I don’t see it, I’ll likely, unknowingly, continue acting like a rotter.
If I challenge the idea that I am bad at math, I can go to the library and get a basic primer on algebra. Because I passed basic algebra by the skin of my teeth when I was fourteen doesn’t mean that I suck at math, then or today.
It can be crazy exciting to think about who we might be when we drop the “I am’s” and allow ourselves to be whoever we are in each new moment.
Dweck also says:
“When you enter a mindset, you enter a new world. In one world — the world of fixed traits — success is about proving you’re smart or talented — validating yourself. In the other — the world of changing qualities — it’s about stretching yourself to learn something new. It’s about developing yourself.”
If you’ve read this far, I’ve accomplished my main goal — to get you interested in exploring a growth mindset.
Here are eight ideas I’ve been playing with for years. I hope they whet your appetite to keep learning about what can happen when we shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset:
1. Acknowledge and make friends with imperfections.
When we hide from our limitations, we will likely act them out rather than grow through them. Whatever we repress or suppress gets bigger. The idea of making friends with our limitations may seem crazy; but believe me, it’s not. It’s the only way to fully take advantage of our potential.
2. Explore the research on brain plasticity.
Challenge the belief that “this is just who I am.” Because of the research on neuroplasticity, we recognize that all we know about ourselves is who we are today. Tomorrow we can be just a little bit different. As Shunryu Suzuki famously said, “We are all perfect, and everybody can use a little improvement.”
3. Learn about learning strategies.
Read “The Seven Principles of Accelerated Learning”. It explains good learning involves the whole mind and body with all its emotions, senses, and receptors. We need to stop thinking of learning as a left-brain activity when, in reality, it is a whole-brain activity. We need all our parts working together.
4. Accept that growth involves effort, discomfort, and at times, failure.
Replace “I failed,” with “I learned.” And then elaborate on and capture what you learned. Learn from others’ mistakes. Not to feel superior, but to avoid making the same ones.
5. Reframe criticism as constructive feedback.
None of us seeks harsh criticism, but we do ourselves a service when we seek constructive feedback. We can’t know what we don’t know before we know it, so we need to give ourselves a break and allow others to help us learn and grow.
6. Be realistic about time.
It takes time to learn, change, and grow. Our brains develop new neural pathways when we feed information in small bites, with repetition and practice. Be patient.
7. Adopt the mantra “not yet.”
When you become impatient, remind yourself that you haven’t mastered it yet, but you will. Take a cue from mindfulness. To develop our attention muscle, we repeatedly catch our wandering mind and bring it back to our focus of attention, which might be the breath. With each return to the breath, we are building the attention “muscle” in our mind, for the same reason we do repetitions at the gym — any lasting change will involve repetition and practice.
8. Own your attitude.
From this moment on, take 100% responsibility for how you handle what life has handed you. Make learning, not winning, your goal. Surround yourself with like-minded people and celebrate every small victory along the way.
I’m with Shunryu Suzuki: “We are all perfect, and everybody can use a little improvement.”
I hope you’ll play with these ideas. Not with the attitude of doing a serious overhaul of your flawed self, but to add to the quality of your life by stretching beyond what you thought was possible and surprising yourself by how far you can go.