Have you ever been introduced to an idea that radically changed your life? Did this idea not only explain your past frustrations but offer direction for a better future? Recently I have. In essence, the idea says that how we see ourselves profoundly affects how we lead our lives.
Let me explain…
My journey began when I read a book entitled Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. Based on science, interviews with high achievers from multiple fields, and her own personal history, Duckworth explores what creates outstanding achievement. Duckworth found that what she calls “grit” predicts success more reliably than talent or IQ, and that anyone, at any age, can learn to cultivate grit.
Duckworth describes grit as a “distinct combination of passion, resilience, determination, and focus that allows a person to maintain the discipline and optimism to persevere in their goals even in the face of discomfort, rejection, and a lack of visible progress for years, or even decades.” In short, it is the “perseverance and passion for long-term goals” according to Duckworth.
One key idea in the book is the interplay between grit and a particular mindset. Duckworth describes two mindsets, one that fosters grit and one that does not, one that is optimistic and the other pessimistic. These mindsets are called “growth mindset” and “fixed mindset” respectively. The growth mindset is tied directly to both grit and accomplishment, the other is not.
How we see ourselves profoundly affects how we lead our lives.
Here are the definitions of those mindsets:
A fixed mindset assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens which we can’t change in any meaningful way. This mindset constantly tries to prove self and is highly sensitive to being wrong or making a mistake. Failure brings doubt and demeans confidence.
A growth mindset is about achieving mastery and competence. The person believes that superb personal qualities can be learned, developed, or cultivated. Failure is viewed as feedback about performance, and not as a judgment of personality, potential, or value.
Duckworth cites the work of Carol Dweck, a leading motivation researcher and Stanford psychologist. Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, demonstrates how success in almost every area of human endeavor can be dramatically influenced by how we think about our talents and abilities. According to Dweck’s research, people with a fixed mindset are less likely to flourish than those with a growth mindset. The following illustration of the two mindsets demonstrates how they work.
Numerous factors can contribute to the development and enforcement of one or the other.
Both mindsets manifest at a very early age and influence our behavior, our interaction with success and failure in both professional and personal situations, and ultimately our happiness and sense of fulfillment.
My family of origin created an extremely unhealthy environment where various forms of abuse occurred and were often encouraged. One of those was shaming. Failure and mistakes were seen not as a natural part of growth and learning, but instead were objects of ridicule. This taught me that failures and mistakes were fundamentally bad and to avoid them. As a natural extension of this mindset, I was less apt to attempt anything especially difficult which might lead to failure. When anything I did attempt required more effort than what seemed “natural” it meant that I wasn’t smart enough or talented enough. Mine was a fixed mindset.
“Grit” predicts success more reliably than talent or IQ.
Once out of that environment, some things did change. I put myself through school and earned an Associate and then Bachelor degree, graduating with honors. I’ve been gainfully employed throughout my adult life. I’ve won awards at work. I’ve had some success as a writer. But I’ve also endured seasons of crippling insecurity. I’ve struggled with perfectionism, fear, procrastination, depression. Failures and mistakes filled me with despair. I was once convinced that my writing aspirations were so ridiculous that I destroyed all of my work on a novel. I remained haunted by the idea that my family system had been right about me all along. This is not what I call “flourishing.”
As I write this, my thoughts go to that famous Pogo quotation: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” The works of Duckworth and Dweck have demonstrated to me that the “enemy” is most certainly myself, more specifically, what I think about myself and my abilities. Sure, I grieve over what an unhealthy mindset has cost me. On the other hand, I’m also liberated knowing that I can do something about it. I am awake now. There is no external force dictating who and what I am. I am the force. Understanding mindsets and the power of my thoughts has given me the tools to craft a new future for myself.
If you’ve identified yourself as someone with a growth mindset, consider yourself very fortunate.
You share a common trait with all highly successful people. Most of us have a combination of both mindsets, depending on the situation, so individuals with a growth mindset may still benefit from this information. It can also equip you to mentor other women in whom you recognize a fixed mindset. If you have children, you’ll be more cognizant of what you communicate to them about failure. In a video easily found on the internet, Spanx CEO Sara Blakely shares her thoughts on failure and success and how her father helped shape her ideals.
So, how do you begin cultivating that growth mindset which leads to more grit? Both Dweck and Duckworth have short Ted Talk videos available. They are a good place to start. Reading their books is another way. Both also have websites. A Google search will get you a plethora of information on grit and mindsets drawn from their work. I also recommend checking The Grit and Grace Project’s online magazine daily for more articles on living a grit and grace life.
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