30 days growth mindset: Day 1


Day 1 of challenge 2 arrived (yesterday). I wasn’t really sure what 30 days of growth mindset would look like, so I went back to Carol Dweck’s book Mindset and her website, where there’s a quiz you can take to determine whether you have a mostly fixed or mostly growth mindset. I already knew the answer, but I decided to formalise it.

The questions in the online quiz are pretty much variations on these two questions:

1. Can you change your basic level of intelligence?

2. Can you change how talented you are?

The book has another question, about whether you can change your basic nature – the type of person you are.

Not surprisingly, I ended up demonstrating quite a fixed mindset in response to these questions. However, having read Dr Dweck’s book, I think this is a very blunt assessment. I think it might be fair to say that your basic intelligence, personality and talents might have limits, but that you can achieve better results than you might have otherwise achieved by putting in more effort, learning new skills, making mistakes and committing yourself to improving. I don’t know if this is the same thing as increasing your talent or your intelligence. I’m not even really sure how to define “intelligence”.  

Perhaps I’m splitting hairs here, and it really doesn’t matter whether your “talent” or “intelligence” has actually increased as a result of what you do, but that what really matters is that your results have improved. Fixed mindset is “I’m stupid and I can’t do this and I’m not even going to try” or “I’m smart and I can do this and I’m not going to try any harder than I have to”. Growth mindset is “I can’t do this right now, but I can learn and I’m going to sit down and figure out how to do it”.

The point of this challenge  for me is to explore ways of convincing myself I can do things that I don’t believe I can. I can’t draw/do calculus/put a flat pack together for example.

I’m also being very cautious about adopting Dr Dweck’s position that we can change basic things about the kind of people we are. Having recently decided that I’m going to accept some of the basic traits of my personality as part of who I am, I’m not prepared to challenge what I see as my very core. I accept that some traits we can change. We can learn to become more empathetic, we can become kinder, more reflective, more organised (I know because I’ve done it to some degree or another).

But I think there are some other, even more fundamental, traits that trying to change would be an attempt alter who I am at my core. I’m not entirely sure which ones these are, and I suspect that part of my journey over the next 12 months will be to find out. I’m pretty sure one of them is being introverted. I’m sure there are others. And even if I could learn to be more outgoing (superficially), my core essence isn’t this – I get my energy from within, and being around people drains my energy. I can’t imagine this ever changing, no matter what I do, and I believe that I will always return to who I am in respect of the fundamental aspects of my personality. I’ll always feel much more comfortable working in harmony with my ingrained traits. I don’t want or need to fight them.

I was questioning all of this when something Gretchen Rubin wrote in her book Happier at Home (my current reading project) came to mind. She writes:

Current research shows . . .that some people are temperamentally more cheerful or gloomy than others, and people’s ideas and behaviour affect their happiness. About 30 to 50 per cent of happiness is genetically determined; about 10 to 20 per cent reflects life circumstances; and the rest is very much influenced by the way we think and act. We posses considerable power to push ourselves to the top or bottom of our natural range through our conscious actions and thoughts.

This idea of a natural range of temperaments makes more sense to me than thinking I could change my entire personality. I suspect this is also true of intelligence and talents. If I don’t have the right combination of fast and slow twitch muscles I’m not going to make the Olympic sprint race, no matter how much work I put in. But that needen’t stop me improving my sprint times and competing in athletics events if I wanted to. 

I don’t think it matters though and I’m not going to argue this point, because I do want to make changes. I want to learn and I want to grow. I want to seek opportunities to learn from mistakes and from being wrong, rather than feeling like I’ve failed and that people are judging me as a result, and then quitting. That’s how I interpret the growth mindset. I want to push my boundaries a bit further than I think I can, step on a few cracks and even maybe colour outside the lines once in a while.

What I want to do over the next 30 days for challenge #1 is three things.

First to use the process to develop a growth mindset that Dr Dweck sets out on her website. It has four steps, which are:

  1. Learn to hear your fixed mindset “voice” – the one that says “Are you sure you can do it? Maybe you don’t have the talent.” “I told you it was a risk. Now you’ve gone and shown the world what a failure you are.” It’s not my fault. It was something or someone else’s fault.”
  2. Recognise that you have a choice of how to interpret challenges, setbacks, and criticism. You can interpret them in a fixed mindset as signs that your fixed talents or abilities are lacking. Or you can interpret them in a growth mindset as signs that you need to ramp up your strategies and effort, stretch yourself, and expand your abilities.
  3. Talk back to that voice with a growth mindset voice – one that says “I’m not sure I can do it now, but I think I can learn to with time and effort.” “Most successful people have had failures.” “If I don’t try, I automatically fail. Where’s the dignity in that?” “If I don’t take responsibility, I can’t fix it. Let me listen—however painful it is– and learn whatever I can.”
  4. Take growth mindset action – hear both voices, and practice acting on the growth mindset. See how you can make it work for you.

Second, I want to start each day by identifying opportunities for learning and growth in the activities I have planned for that day, and how I will take up these opportunities. At the end of the day, I will expand on my journalling practice of asking myself to identify one thing I’ve learned today by asking what I have to do to maintain and continue this growth.

And my final activity for the 30 days is to learn to do something that I can’t do yet. I expect to make a lot of mistakes.

I’ll post on my progress maybe two or three times a week – it depends what actually happens. I might have to ease into it, because I’ll have to make a few changes to things I do as part of my morning and evening routines to include these new tasks.

And that’s the plan. Deep breath . . .

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