Four Tips to Help You Embrace a Growth Mentality
Embracing The Journey and All It Has to Offer
“You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Over the last two years, my life has undergone what I don’t think would be an exaggeration to call a complete transformation. I imagine some of you out there will identify with just how terrifying and challenging that transformation has sometimes been. As a recovering perfectionist, every new role I take on is one I hope to do, not just my best at, but the best possible job any human is capable of. To say I hold myself to a high standard would be an understatement. But over the years, one of the lessons I have learned is that perfect is an end state that no one gets to, or at least no one stays at. And frankly, as long as we inhabit a role, say new wife, stepmother, or soon to be new mother, we never really reach an end state. We are constantly growing and transforming, evolving and developing. The nature of being human, after all, is to be constantly changing. So, in that truth, we have to accept that perfection is incompatible with a true and authentic human existence (a hard one for any perfectionist to accept).
In trying to embrace this truth, however, I’ve found that we also have the opportunity to embrace what is often referred to as a growth mindset. Dr. Carol Dweck, Ph.D., a researcher in the field of motivation, defined growth mindset as the belief that “our most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” In other words, having a growth mindset, embraces the idea that skills are able to be grown. We are not smart or dumb, we are learning. We are not good or bad at something, but rather we are novice or in training. In Dr. Dweck’s work, she specifically demonstrates how this growth mindset can encourage students in learning environments to be resilient, enduring setbacks in the name of growth. As I face yet another new (and might I add frightening) role as a new mom, I find comfort in the idea that no single action, mistake or success, will define me in this role. Rather, I can grow my skills just by being dedicated to doing so. I hope that sharing some strategies for embracing this mentality will provide you with the same comfort and, dare I say, boldness to try new things, take on new roles, and invest in the life you want to build as it is doing for me each day.
Tip #1: The Benefit of Being Terrible- How Novel Activities Expand and Protect Our Brains
Earlier this year we spent a few months with you talking about how to make 2023 your year of the brain. If you haven’t had the opportunity, check out those posts here and here. One of the habits that research has shown to truly protect and expand our brains is regular engagement in novel activity. In other words, being bad at things, pushes our brains to form new connections, improve blood flow, and find new paths to efficiency. Being terrible is great for your brain! So why am I telling you this here? Because I, for one, know how the self-talk associated with being terrible at something we are trying for the first (or the tenth) time, can rapidly become negative, degrading, discouraging and disempowering. But my hope for all of us, is that by keeping in mind how good it actually is for us to stink at something, we can flip the narrative in our heads and remember that we are making the brave choice to challenge ourselves and to grow ourselves into something bigger, stronger, more efficient and more resilient. There is beauty in the failures that are mandatory on the road to growth.
Tip #2: Focus on Actions over Traits- It’s not talent, but hard work that creates growth
One of the most important aspects of a growth mindset is its focus on actions over traits. To put this another way, growth mindset rewards effort over talent. It embraces the idea that all skills can be grown through effort and action, so these are the things that should be rewarded. Now I for one, definitely realize how difficult it can be to avoid frustration when a new skill isn’t one I’m naturally good at, so over time I have come to settle on a sort of mantra to remind myself that, no matter how good I am at something, it’s the continued focus on progress and growth that matters. I hope that it will serve you too:
I am a work in progress. Yesterday is gone, I can only change tomorrow. When I know better, I do better.
It may be corny, but it helps me to remember that I don’t have to be perfect, I just have to keep trying to be better, each and every day.
Tip #3: Failure is a Steppingstone – It’s where learning happens
On the verge of one of the biggest challenges I’ve taken on in my life, I recently expressed to a very good friend that my greatest fear was that I would get overwhelmed and become… not the best version of myself with my husband and step kids. Now tip #5 should probably be to keep wise, genuine people around you, because at that moment, my friend gave me one of the most valuable pieces of advice I’ve gotten as I prepare for motherhood. She told me “The way you recover is just as important, if not more, than the fact that you mess up. Embrace the recovery.” In that moment I realized that I wouldn’t expect perfection from anyone I love, and I wouldn’t want them to expect it from themselves, so I definitely want to be an example of forgiving my short comings and leveraging them for growth. That is what this tip is really about. Who among us can honestly say that their greatest life lessons came from things that went exactly according to plan and ended in pure success? My guess is not many of us would say that. Most of us would say that our greatest life lessons, our greatest strengths today, came from facing and working through our failures, shortcomings and challenges in the past. These experiences give us perspective and teach us that, with perseverance, we can grow beyond the things we previously thought possible. They help us to keep going in the face of hard times, because we know that the mountaintops are so much sweeter after walking up from the valleys. Self-compassion can be so incredibly difficult, especially for those of us struggling with perfectionism, so my advice is to ask yourself what lesson you want to teach those you love, to never make a mistake? Or to take every misstep and make it a steppingstone to the amazing person you are growing to be? After all, a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor right?
Tip #4: The Power of ‘Yet’ – A concrete way to shift your self-talk from fixed to growth mindset.
As I was first learning about growth mindset a few years ago, I came across a TED Talk that really spoke to exactly why growth mindset is so powerful, especially in kids. I’ve included the link below in the hopes that you too will enjoy and benefit from the ideas expressed, but I wanted to summarize this powerful tool that has become something my coworkers associate so closely to me that I have 3 coffee mugs branded with the phrase “The power of yet.”
The word yet has a beautiful ability to transform any finite statement into one of growth and hope. What do I mean by this? What if instead of telling yourself you weren’t good at that new skill, you thought “I’m not good at this, YET.” What if instead of thinking “I’ll never get there,” you thought “I haven’t, gotten there YET.” How does this transform the next action you take or the emotional state that comes with your inner dialogue? Each of these statements is rapidly transformed from a statement with finality, a statement that discourages continued planning or growth, to a statement that implies that success is inevitable, it’s just a matter of finding the right path. How empowering would it be to shape this type of conversation in our own heads, or even better yet, in the heads of our children? To me, the word yet is the purest embodiment of a growth mindset that exists in the English language. When we find ourselves feeling discouraged or disempowered, the power of ‘yet’ is to bring hope, renew energy, and push us to look for the previously unseen route. So, the next time you find yourself knocked down, give yourself some love and then add the ‘yet’ to the end of your story to change that period into a semi-colon and keep moving forward. You’ve got this.
Check that TED Talk out here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hiiEeMN7vbQ
If there is one thing that we can be sure of, it’s that the roads we walk in life will be filled with peaks and valleys, highs and lows, successes and well, falling short. But how we deal with the lows on our road, can change our mood and health, our ability to keep growing through difficult times, and our overall experience of life. Many of us struggle with our own shortcomings, constantly demanding perfection from ourselves and sometimes others too, but I hope that after reading this post, we can all begin to see how limiting that mindset can be. And, in the process, can choose a kinder, gentler and growth focused view of ourselves and our missteps that empowers us to keep moving forward. As my friend said, there’s power in the recovery, so we don’t have to fear the mis step, but rather figure out how to grow from it.
As always, if you want an ally in your journey to and through growth, we at Tailored Brain health would be happy to walk with you on your path. Reach out to us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or call 336-542-1800.
Check out our social media channels for some inspiration to keep you in a growth mindset this month and in the future.