The political theorist and author, Benjamin R. Barber said “I don’t divide the world into the weak and the strong, or the successes and the failures, those who make it or those who don’t. I divide the world into learners and non-learners.”
Think about facing a new challenge – maybe you’re trying to hone your skill at woodworking. Imagine you’ve you hit that point where you just don’t seem to be able to get those edges to meet properly. Now, do you sit back, sigh and say “Well, I guess I’m just not good at THAT.”?
How about a situation where someone is complimenting you on something you do well, say you’ve just prepared a meal or you’ve shown them the garden you’ve planted and nurtured along. Do you respond with “Well, that’s not really an accomplishment; I just do it, you know, no big deal”?
Either of those situations are a good example of what Carol Dweck refers to as a “fixed mindset” in one of my favorite books, entitled “Mindset, The New Psychology of Success”. Dr. Dweck differentiates between a “fixed mindset” and a “growth mindset”, and I have to admit that I was surprised to see ways in which my own thinking had been holding me back.
Just the other day I was feeling down because I just couldn’t seem to find an answer to a problem and I became mired in that place of doubt and anxiety. The “Mindset” book was literally at my elbow and I picked it up with a foolish grin. My first impulse – no, my first act – was to smack the book against my forehead a couple of times. My second and far more productive act, was to open the book and read (for the umpteenth time) some of the gems that this book offers. Eventually I settled on facing pages which read “What is Success?” and “What is Failure?”.
In short (please do read the book and get all the details), Dr. Dweck equates success with simply doing your best in learning and improving. That’s a fairly easy one to relate to, I think. But the real treasure for me was how someone with a growth mindset looks at failure. Dr. Dweck sees what we might call failures as setbacks, true enough, but goes on to say that they can be motivating, informative. She sees them as potential wake up calls.
So there I sat and answered my wake-up call. I checked in with myself to see if I had done my best in the situation I faced and I was pleased to know that I had. Did the solution then drop from the sky, trumpets blaring, confetti flying? Um, no. I still had the same issue to resolve but I knew that I had an opportunity to behave as a learner, to be open to possibilities and approaches I might not have tried. My anxiety levels decreased as I thanked Dr. Dweck for her assistance one more time.
I believe that life – that precious, precious gift – is meant to be lived fully, and without growth that is simply not possible. I also believe that to grow we need to put ourselves into situations that will allow that to happen as often as possible.
So, stepping squarely outside my comfort zone, I will continue to learn and I will continue to grow, because then my possibilities are limitless.