This past week, I was re-reading some of Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. It’s a fascinating look at how our mindset, or how we perceive ourselves, impacts our achievement.
Basically, she argues that there are two mindsets: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.
If you believe that you can improve and grow or learn through hard work, you have a growth mindset. If you know that you can become smarter and better at something, that your brain will grow and change with practice and perseverance, then you have a growth mindset.
But, if you believe that no matter how hard you try at something, you won’t ever get better, then you have a fixed mindset. If you avoid challenging yourself because you’re afraid of failing, then you have a fixed mindset.
You might have a growth mindset in one area of your life and a fixed mindset in another area. For example, you might have a growth mindset mail order wellbutrin when it comes to dancing or athletics, but a fixed mindset when it comes to math – have you ever said or heard someone say, “I just can’t do math. I don’t get it”?
If so, you’ve witnessed a fixed mindset in action.
When it comes to creative writing, I have a growth mindset, but I admit it took awhile to get there due to a TERRIBLE experience in my first (and last) college creative writing class. I’d written a story, and I knew it wasn’t great, but it was based on a true story.
I’d been backpacking for the weekend on the eastern side of the Sierra mountains. We’d hiked to a high lake, about eight miles in, and were looking forward to fishing, but the lake had no fish. None.
On the way out, we met a ranger who explained that they’d had to poison the entire lake and kill all the fish due to an infestation of some other kind of fish. The thought of the government poisoning a crystal clear beautiful blue lake shocked me. So I wrote a story about it.
During the workshop session of my creative writing class, my classmates and the teacher destroyed my story because they felt it was unrealistic.
“That would never happen,” they said.
“But, it did happen,” I tried to explain.
They shook their heads, and I slowly shrank into my seat, vowing never to share my writing with anyone, ever again.
It took me just under twenty years to get over the sting of that one workshop session on my story. During that time, I completed my college degree and even a Master’s degree. I could write academic papers.
But fiction? NO WAY!
I had a Fixed mindset when it came to writing fiction. Until I started writing again. I’d written lots of stories as a kid. I loved it, but I’d completely lost my confidence and rather than have somebody tell me my writing was terrible, I didn’t write at all.
Sometimes, I wonder where my writing would be now had I ignored that professor and those kids in my college class and continued to write fiction.
One of the scariest moments of my most recent writing “career” came when I hit publish on my first ever blog post. But I moved from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset in that moment.
Publishing the post took over an hour, and I about had a full-blown anxiety attack. I kept having to pace the room. I almost cried. My hands shook. I was that afraid of people judging me poorly because I truly believed that I didn’t have the “fiction writing gene” – whatever that is. I thought that people were inherently creative or “great” writers, and who was I to tell people that I’d been writing a novel.
The response I got was nothing but positive and loving.
In other areas of my life, I knew that I could get better through practice and hard work, but when it came to writing, I had a strong fixed mindset which made me keep a passion for stories and writing to myself.
Maybe you can relate?
Carol Dweck writes in her book that “in a poll of 143 creativity researchers, there was wide agreement about the number one ingredient in creative achievement. And it was exactly the kind of perseverance and resilience produced by a growth mindset” (12).
Having a growth mindset means that we’re willing to fail, willing to make mistakes, and most of all, willing to learn from our mistakes. We get up and keep going. We open up another blank document on our computers and start that next story.
If you work hard, you can. I believe that with every cell of my body. I can do anything, and I might start off doing whatever it is (playing the flute, ballet dancing, or acting in a play) horribly. But every time I do it, I can get better.
Brain research proves it. With practice, study, and perseverance, our brains will grow and learn. There are no genes for “writing” or “dancing.”
If you want to get better at something, you just have to shift your mindset. Below is a brief (3 minute) video with Sal Kahn of the Kahn Academy interviewing Carol Dweck.
Does your mindset keep you from writing or following whatever passions you might have because you don’t think you can do it?