“Whether you think you can, or you think you can't--you're right.” - HENRY FORD
I am the type of girl who was not meant to exercise. I like to read, cook, chat with my friends, work hard, read some more, take long (leisurely) walks, and lay in the grass watching the sky roll by. This is the story I have been repeating to myself and others as long as I can remember. In high school, I wrote a column for the school paper about how much I didn’t understand team sports – athletic cluelessness was part of my brand. Post-babies, when all my girlfriends and I would talk about how to get back in shape, I demurred at the idea of jogging: “I only run when I am chased,” I would say.
I’m an intellectual, and intellectuals don’t sweat.
Then, three years ago, facing recurrent ankle and hamstring injuries, I found my way into a functional movement gym, facing the weights and kettlebells. “You want to stop getting hurt,” my trainer said, “you have to start getting strong.” I looked at myself in the mirror and said to my reflection, “I’m not the kind of girl who lifts heavy objects.”
But…I wanted to be injury-free, and I knew I had to change my mindset.
By now, maybe you’ve heard of the Growth Mindset, a framework created by researcher Carol Dweck that differentiates between a state of mind where we believe that our talents and capabilities are destined (a ‘Fixed Mindset’) and a state of mind where we believe we are capable of experimenting, learning and growing our skills and talents in any domain (‘Growth Mindset’). The research originated through the study of children’s outcomes in classrooms, but is now widely used to influence adult and organizational learning. In short, moving our way towards a growth mindset allows us to see things that seem out of reach as opportunities to grow and to value setbacks as learning experiences.
In a fixed mindset, we spend a lot of time trying to prove that everything is fine just the way it is, justifying the status quo, and missing out on the chance to adapt, change or grow. When we’re in a growth mindset, we’re more willing to innovate, experiment and take informed chances on the pathway to accomplishing goals. We all toggle between the fixed and growth mindset; chances are that there are domains in your life where you’re working firmly in growth mindset, and others where you’re a little stuck in the fixed mindset.
What to do?
Become better at noticing when you’re in a fixed mindset. If you ever hear your inside voice making declarative statements about what you are or aren’t capable of: “I’m not the type to take on quantitative work” or “I could never sell anything”, you may be in a fixed mindset.
Learn to love the word ‘yet’. Dweck tells the story of a school in Chicago that awarded grades of “not yet” when kids hadn’t met the mark to pass a class. Think of how powerful it is to have the space and runway that word offers. Consider the difference between “I’m not comfortable speaking in front of a large group” and “I’m not comfortable speaking in front of a large group, yet.”
Reflect on times when you’ve progressed from Fixed to Growth Mindset before. Each of us has accomplished something we thought was outside of our innate skill set. Maybe we cooked a Thanksgiving dinner, passed a statistics course, or negotiated vacation time. We had shifted from fixed (“I don’t do that!) to growth (“I can get there with a plan and some effort”) mindset. Remembering what made that possible (the right goal, incremental progress, support) can support you through what you’re taking on next.
Setting a bold goal for yourself? Relentlessly curious about something you think is beyond what you can do? Let’s talk about how to build your growth mindset muscle.