Recently my two-year-old son started to learn the alphabet. Part of his learning process has been due to his playing — he loves to play with two toys in particular that help children learn their letters (one toy from each grandmother, respectively!). He has been playing with the apple the past few days, the one featured in the picture. With this particular toy, he is not only learning his letters but also the associated phonics. It’s a lot of fun to watch and listen to him; the letter “y” seems to be his favorite (we have been hearing “YAH!” a lot more lately 🙂 ).
Watching Gabriel learn reminds me of what Carol Dweck, Ph.D. says in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. I finally listened to the audio version of her book through a service I use (Scribd.com); in all seriousness, this was one of the most important books I have ever read. It has fundamentally changed the way I view my life and how I function in the world.
Pretty strong statement, right? Allow me explain.
In her book, Dr. Dweck explains the differences between the “growth mindset” and the “fixed mindset” (previous posts that explain these concepts are here: Your Mindset is Important and Mindset and the Art of Learning.) Very quickly, a “fixed mindset” means that we believe we have a finite amount of intelligence or ability (and wind up defending or proving that in our endeavors), whereas “growth minded” individuals go through life thinking that they can always improve and learn more. Essentially, growth minded individuals focus on the process of learning and essentially don’t pressure themselves into thinking they only have so much ability or intelligence — that ability and intelligence are not necessarily innate.
In her book, Carol Dweck explains how we do not expect a child to know how to speak or read yet; however, we do expect a lot of ourselves as adults in terms of what we think we should know. Interesting, right?
I know that I have berated myself over the years if I had difficulty mastering a subject immediately (ie tough subjects like organic chemistry!). I would condemn myself and get so angry (at myself) that it did not come to me as easily as it did for others in my classes. I had this fear that I must not really be that smart if the Pre-Med students seemed to so easily consume the material.
For a number of years, I was always working to improve myself, or master a new skill, but there were times I feared I wasn’t really that smart during the learning process, as if I had a limited amount of intelligence and that I had to “prove” that I had intelligence. I have always worked very hard, and I wondered if working hard meant I wasn’t smart if I didn’t know or understand a concept immediately.
Perhaps I had a bit of “fake growth mindset” for some time, which Carol Dweck speaks of in this outstanding video). With “fake growth mindset,” I believed that others could learn and improve (hence the coaching and mentoring I did through my various job roles), yet I did not apply that belief consistently to myself. As discussed in the video, many people are a mix of “growth mindset” and “fixed mindset;” sometimes we operate where we believe we can improve, whereas in other areas we think we either “have it” or we don’t.
So why am I bringing all this up? Because I know so many of us (including me for most of my life) operate predominantly with the fixed mindset. I believe I actually impaired my learning because I spent so much energy and time being upset that I didn’t know something the way I thought I should. What is so interesting about Carol Dweck’s book (and the video link above), however, is that her words are quite freeing. She explains that we should think “I have not learned or mastered this yet.”
It may sound overly simple, but such words are quite profound. I know that those words have changed the way I look at everything. For instance, I’m fairly new to blogging seriously, building up an author platform, online business, etc., and yet I’m trying those things. In fact, I signed up and am currently taking Jeff Goins’ Intentional Blog course, because I really felt I needed to learn and improve. Instead of looking at other people’s blogs and thinking “oh I’m a terrible writer and blogger…look at what they can do” I took a different approach. I thought “I’m new to this and I can learn. If they can do it, so can I. I just haven’t mastered it yet.”
There is also the caveat that sometimes we don’t necessarily have to or want to be the best, but maybe good enough is enough. That’s an incredibly hard viewpoint for a perfectionist. I was able to grow out of my perfectionism as I improved my prioritization skills; it came down to deciding how I want to spend my time, particularly only spending time on things that matter the most to me and things that I want to get better at.
Change is not easy, however. Though my “growth mindset” has been increasing the past few years, I am definitely not where I’d like to be as far as how I regard my progress and learning. But, I am trying to embed the words “Not yet” in my brain so that I can immediately acknowledge and address those self-deprecating thoughts when they pop-up!
And the last issue to address is dealing and managing with other peoples’ expectations (that can be a whole book, actually!) The past year has been very enlightening for me. I have had to cope with significant amounts of criticism for the new things I have been trying and learning, particularly when my book came out earlier this year. People felt that since I did not have an English degree, I wasn’t suited to writing/publishing. Or they wondered why I was spending my time that way instead of only working on chemical engineering. But, I wanted to start somewhere and see what the public thought, the true test (which so far, the reception by people I don’t know has been fantastic actually! I have found the self-publishing and entrepreneurship circles to be extremely supportive and welcoming; I was even invited to several private facebook groups).
Maybe one day I will address managing others’ expectations more deeply than I did in my book or here. The bottom line, though, is that it is a red flag when someone has an expectation about your abilities. If someone thinks you can’t do something, it’s because they have a fixed mindset in general. They don’t feel you can improve or get ahead or they are fixed on the idea that you need a degree. But as I’ve been studying success a lot more the past few months, I have noticed that some of the most successful people are college dropouts! Look at Elizabeth Holmes, the number one self-made female billionaire; she dropped out of Stanford University or Chandler Bolt, a 21-year-old college dropout who started a self-publishing school and is on his way to 7 figures this year. It goes to show you that dedication and hard work, while having a growth mindset at your core, are really critical traits. They figured out what they needed to learn to get ahead.
If you are very hard on yourself, or if you did not realize that your potential really is limitless, that it’s just a matter of “not yet,” then I highly encourage you to check out the following links. If you don’t have time to read the book, try checking out some of these videos where Mindset was at the center of them:
Video: Carol Dweck on Inside Quest
Book: Mindset: The New Pyschology of Success
I wish you all the best, and I sincerely thank Dr. Dweck for her life-changing work! 🙂