Cultivating a Growth Mindset
Do you suffer from perfectionism? Bitterness? Self-criticism? Low self-esteem? Anger? Anxiety? If you suffer from any of the above symptoms, you might be the perfect candidate for a new treatment called essential oils! Side effects may include: smelling delicious, craving green juices and homemade granola, and drinking craft beer in mason jars. Contact your doctor/naturopath to discuss your treatment options.
How’s that for an intro? Ha! I love essential oils as much as the next person, but I don’t believe they’re magic. I do however have a treatment option for all that other stuff. Or at least one that has worked for me. It’s called a growth mindset.
What exactly is a growth mindset? Does it have to do with imagining myself a few inches taller and manifesting that growth? Certainly not. I guess the best way I can define it is by using its antonym: a fixed mindset.
A fixed mindset tends to speak of things in finalities, as if they are always going to be that way. “I am talented.” “I am bad a math.” “I am old.” “I can’t exercise.” It’s claiming a certain quality of yourself and a certain quality of life that is immovable. It embraces statements and ideas that don’t change. It tells and retells a story about our abilities, our attributes, and our history and totally freaks us out if those things change, evolve, or grow. And I am really, really guilty of embracing it in my life without even thinking much about it.
A growth mindset takes what’s there: biologically, emotionally, historically, socially, etc. and transforms it into something to improve, cultivate, or embrace.
Let me start with an example. My whole life, I believed the idea that I just couldn’t swim. My parents don’t swim, despite owning a boat for a few years. Most of my cousins and my brother don’t swim. Up until my early 30s, whenever it would come up in conversation or on vacation, I would clearly and firmly say, “I can’t swim.” And then sit on the beach with a magazine. At some point, I started opening my mind up to the idea that things change, that I could change. My husband signed my best friend and I up for swimming lessons, and I finally learned to swim at 35 years old! I gulped down gallons of water, was super embarrassed at the pool for a long time, avoided practicing, and felt like an idiot a lot. But I learned to swim. I spit out the water, shook out my clogged ears, and did it. Something in me said, “screw this. I’m learning to swim. Come hell or high water.”
It’s one of the things in my life I’m most proud of. For those of you who could swim from early childhood, trust me, it’s hard as an adult to swallow your pride (and so much chlorinated water), admit you want to change, and then do it. I ignored the internal fixed belief that “I can’t swim” and embraced change. A fixed mindset kept me from enjoying so much of life and so many adventures. It gave me anxiety whenever swimming would come up. It made me feel embarrassed, and then angry at people who would tease me or push me into swimming. “Who do they think they are? I can’t swim. Don’t they get it?” I gave up on learning to swim because I thought it was something you either got or didn’t get.
It took a change in my thinking to open up my life to new adventures.
This is a tiny example of the difference between a fixed and growth mindset. It’s not even all that important in the world. But if you take that idea of, “I can’t swim” and apply to it a million different, stubborn, intransigent ideas you can probably see how it’s problematic. “Our country is doomed.” “I’m going to get cancer one of these days. Why try?” “We’ve always done things this way.” “People never change.”
I admit there are layers and layers and tons of history behind these ideas. One blog post or mind shift isn’t a magic wand (or an essential oil). But everything starts small, right? The more people embrace a growth mindset, the more change is possible. The more we are able to look at some pretty troubling things in our world and work toward change and love and compassion and solutions, the bigger the effects. I know in my own life when I start even just embracing the idea that things aren’t necessarily fixed in me, I am that much closer to making positive change and inspiring others to do the same.
We are not doomed by our past. Think about that for a second. Repeat this in your head: It’s not too late. It’s never too late for me.
I have so many women I admire who have embraced a growth mindset over some really challenging circumstances. I don’t mention these amazing women to make you feel guilty. I mention them to bring fresh joy and inspiration to your journey. To show you that no matter what the world hands you, you can gracefully accept change and a growth mindset and live a happier, healthier life. I really believe that.
Right now, I’m making my way through Misty Copeland’s biography, Life In Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina. She is a gorgeous, strong, inspiring ballet dancer with the American Ballet Theater in New York. Her story includes a chaotic family life, poverty, a troubling family history, a well-publicized custody battle, and the challenges inherent in being a biracial dancer in a traditionally, stubbornly white and affluent field. Every paragraph is full of triumph, overcoming, growth, honest self-assessment, and a determination to never give up. She was naturally very talented, so that gives her an edge on becoming a professional ballerina over someone else who might not have the raw talent. Copeland used her raw talent, though, to push her to work harder and strive more to perfect it.
That’s something that particularly inspired me. Sometimes these fixed mindsets don’t sound negative at all. They could be: “I’m talented.” “I’m a great dancer.” “I’m beautiful.” At some point, those things can be threatened or taken away. With a fixed mindset, that can cause distress, anxiety, sometimes anger or self-loathing. With a growth mindset, those things are developed, cultivated, cherished, and improved upon.
I was born pretty talented with words. If I have a fixed mindset and someone criticizes my work, I could fall apart and give up. “I must not be talented. I’m a fraud. I’ll never measure up.” It makes me overly sensitive to criticism, angry at those who suggest growth opportunities, insecure, and doubtful. If I have a growth mindset, I can improve and change and eventually get better. “I was blessed with brains. Now how do I make the most of it?”
I’ve been following the athlete and motivational speaker Misty Diaz on social media for awhile. She was born with spina bifida, a congenital condition where parts of the neural tube and spine grow outside of the spinal column. My oldest brother was born with this condition. It can be particularly scary for new parents and can cause severe physical challenges for sufferers. Misty Diaz has embraced a growth mindset with her condition in such an inspiring way. She never for a moment lets her disability tell the story of who she is. She is probably the most physically strong person I follow on social media! She does all kinds of crazy things like rope climbing, marathons, and iron man challenges. I can barely keep up! When I tell myself “I can’t do another push up. I’ll never be strong. I should give up” I check out even just a minute of Misty’s stories on Instagram and vow to keep pushing and keep going.
I don’t know though. Maybe success has less to do with a growth mindset and more to do with being named Misty…
Regardless of the reason, these two women have shown me that both physical and social challenges don’t tell your whole story. You get to write your own.
I also love the idea of a growth mindset because it puts God at the center of my life. I believe fully that only God is perfect. The only unchanging thing in the world is the love of God. I accept that as a statement of belief and a reality I’ve lived.
Malachi 3:6 has God saying, “For I am the Lord. I change not.”
He says a lot of things like that, to be honest. Over and over in scripture He tells us to trust Him, He holds us in the palm of His hands, He sets the stars in motion, He rebukes the storms, He’s got this. When I start declaring immutable things over my life, I start to walk away from my humanity a little bit and start to allow pride and hard-heartedness to take over. “For I am Stephanie. I change not.”
The idea that I don’t change leaves me in a position of onminscient power in my own life, instead of a position as a daughter of God. It puts me on the throne instead of God. I can’t speak for everyone, but I will say that putting myself on the throne is a bad idea. I don’t hold the stars in my hands. I’m pretty sure I’d drop them if I did. I don’t see myself being super effective at rebuking a tornado or hurricane headed my way. Instead of putting me on the throne, God granted me a little spot in the world to cultivate and tend. A tiny plot of land in my heart to plant and grow and harvest.
He believes in us. He created us to change, to have the ability to change. He gave us a little bit of jurisdiction in our own minds, our hearts, our bodies, and gifted us with the free will to choose a fixed vs. a growth mindset. When we ask for it, He blesses us with the strength to change, to inspire, to hope, to do better. We are moving from glory to glory.
2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
We are getting better. Truly. We are working toward the heart of God. If we stay in our hard-heartedness, we’re on the wrong side of the parted sea. We walk in slavery, not freedom. We walk in fear, not into the promised land. We bind ourselves to foreign rulers, the Pharaoh of our mind. We forget that God doesn’t fall off of His throne when we make mistakes, when we believe the lies, when we stay put just where we are. He leads us to see a different path, a happier, healthier life. He teaches us to hope, to love, to learn.
The next time you hear yourself making immutable statements about yourself, your abilities, your history, your circumstances, take a moment to examine the truth of those things. Take a moment to question them. Ask yourself, “Is this true? Is this really all there is? Is this final? Am I really doomed?”
And then listen. Listen with your heart and your spirit and your ears (because sometimes real people bring the messages of God). Listen until you get an answer. Start to believe that you are moving from glory to glory. Try new things. Keep going. Keep trying. Glory in the change and extend kindness to yourself when you fall down. Reach out. Don’t drown. No water (or pool) is too deep for the love and reach of God. Let Him give breath to your lungs and keep going.
“And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”