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Growth: It's All in Your Mind

How we unwittingly tell ourselves "no"


Who wants to set themselves up for failure? Show of hands? No one? Well that's exactly what Carol Dweck claims we do simply by the way we think of our abilities. In her groundbreaking book Mindset, Dweck, a professor at Stanford, put into words her years of studies into who fails and who succeeds at school, sports, work and even marriage. Dweck's theory has since shaken up approaches in fields from education to corporate management.


In short, growth mindset is belief in the brain's capacity to learn anything through effort, while fixed mindset maintains that traits are innate and predetermined. Dweck says we limit our lifelong potential when we practice fixed mindset, and we often do so, perhaps unwittingly with our own children.


Traditionally we praise kids when they get an A, when they win a race, when they "succeed". But Dweck says when children are praised for success and begin to figure out what they are "good at", they quickly begin avoiding things they are "bad at".


Instead, Dweck says we should praise kids for effort and for open-mindedness to the plasticity of their brains. In exhaustive experiments, Dweck gave kids short lessons on either "growth mindset" or "fixed mindset". Kids who studied growth mindset chose harder tests and relished increasingly difficult tasks. Meanwhile, the fixed mindset kids chose to limit themselves to easy tests and floundered on tasks which required perseverance.


"Parents think they can hand children permanent confidence, like a gift, by praising their brains and talent," says Dweck. "It doesn't work and in fact has the opposite effect. It makes children doubt themselves as soon as anything is hard or goes wrong."


Beyond school or work, growth mindset can apply to all aspects of learning, including emotional and spiritual. In my own life, I try to remember to "turn on" growth mindset whenever I'm challenged or criticized and ask myself: Can I see this not as a personal insult or failure but as an opportunity to grow? Can I "parent myself" anew, using growth mindset?


"If parents want to give their children a gift," says Dweck, "the best thing they can do is teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort and keep on learning. That way their children don't have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence."


Mindful & Moving Coach R.J. Lang, an American working in Shanghai, defines growth mindset as  "a dynamic, fresh, beginner's mindset that wakes up every morning and says I don't know anything, world, teach me!"


Lang, who applies growth mindset in his own life, as well as his work with clients, says, "the fixed mindset person tends to see a problem as a destructive thing which can only hurt oneself. While a growth mindset person can see a problem as something which can make one stronger and more powerful."


Lang, who once served in a combat platoon on reconnaissance missions, says, "coming back from Iraq. I had seen a lot of things people might call traumatic. Blood and guts and tough things. There are different ideas about what happens to people when they experience these things. There's PTSD. And there's another way to see it, which is post-traumatic growth [PTG]."


"PTSD is when someone becomes negatively affected by the way they processed the things they participated in. PTG is when people actually have positive outcomes from the way they process the traumatic situations. Turning PTSD into PTG has been an ongoing project in my own life and the lives of many of my friends who went to Iraq."


We should regard hard-won failures—or even traumatic losses—as experiences that truly challenged us to grow. "We must disabuse ourselves of the belief that performance is a reflection of character," says Dweck in Mindset.


Do you believe you have innate gifts in some areas, and deficiencies in others? Is that belief hindering you from trying new things or even viewing your past with a more equitable open mind? Growth mindset is faith in our power to learn. It's enthusiastic curiosity toward challenge. It's joy in the process. It's the simple phrase, which Dweck says it took her a long time to embrace: "This is hard. This is fun!"


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Crystyl Mo
Bulletproof life coach, professional food writer, partner at Bon App. www.crystylized.com


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