Years ago, I started reading about the power of a positive mindset as I searched for help with handling my then nine-year-old daughter’s deep disappointment in ski racing competitions. (Ski racing has only one true “winner” and hundredths of a second can be the difference between 1st place and 10th place.) One of the eye-opening books I read was Mindset by Carol S. Dweck, Ph. D. According to Dweck, “the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value.”
Dweck explains that people fall into one of two categories: they either have a fixed or a growth mindset. Simply put, fixed mindset people believe that they are born with a set of natural skills and talents and there isn’t much you can do to change those traits.
Growth mindset people on the other hand, believe that their “basic qualities” are things that can be learned and cultivated through application, experience and effort. People who have experienced success in their careers, sports, education or relationships all have something in common: a growth mindset. They don’t perceive setbacks or obstacles in life as negative, but rather look at these situations with openness and as learning opportunities. More importantly, when they do fail at something, they understand that mistakes are a natural part of learning and critically important to the process of acquiring skills. With each setback or failure, they are determined to work harder at what they are trying to achieve.
When I help my clients try to improve their health through diet and lifestyle changes, I spend a lot of time focusing on their ability to see all situations from a growth mindset point of view. Statements like “eating more vegetables is easier said than done” or “yoga is only for flexible people” or “I am a lousy cook” are all examples of fixed mindset behaviors. These beliefs often extend to other parts of our lives, too. Do you blame others for failed relationships or say you would do something if you only had more (fill in the blank: time, money, help around the house, etc.)? Do you give up easily when trying certain activities or avoid them altogether?
Children, especially when it comes to academics or sports, are often quick to make fixed mindset statements like “I’m just not good at math,” or “I stink at baseball.” Teaching them from a young age that ability comes as a result of hard work, effort and persistence is an invaluable lifelong lesson.
There are many ways a fixed mindset can prevent you from living the life of your dreams. And after all, true health is about living the best, most exciting life you can lead. Next time you find yourself feeling even the slightest bit negative or apprehensive about a situation, ask yourself these questions:
- What can I learn from this setback?
- How can I use this situation to help myself grow and achieve my goals and dreams?
- What is the worst thing that can happen to me if I fail? Is that fear realistic?
- Why do I care what other people might say?
- What’s wrong with being a novice?
- Who am I trying to impress? Why?
- What’s more important-being perfect or being human?
And then like anything else, practice your growth mindset attitude until it becomes your natural response. You’ll be amazed at how much more resilient you’ll become in the face of setbacks and challenges and how much easier it will be to fulfill your potential and accomplish your goals.