When my son Isaac got invited to attend a free Taekwondo class with his cousin, he was excited. I, on the other hand, knew exactly what Instructor Eric was up to with this free class and what a dent it might end up putting in my monthly budget. But my husband and I both agreed that despite hearing other parents refer to this sport by the nickname “take-my-dough,” it could be really good for Isaac, and so we took him to the free class and then signed him up like the suckers we are.
Knowing that Taekwondo is equally good for girls I suggested we blow the entire budget and sign Macy up too, but when I approached Macy about it, she said something that I can’t get out of my head. She said, “But what if I’m not good at?”
I reminded Macy that lessons could be awesome and who cares if she sucked at it? It’s just for fun! Jake explained that it wasn’t the Cobra Kai Dojo from the Karate Kid. It’s Robinson’s Taekwondo with Instructor Eric. Despite our compelling sales pitch, Macy wasn’t convinced. Now I know that this sounds like a reasonable concern for a child considering something new, but to me it was a huge red flag. It means that at least with regards to sports, Macy has a fixed mindset.
Let me back up and mention that all of my concern is the fault of the brilliant Carol Dweck who is the author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dweck teaches that there are two general mindsets when it comes to any area of our lives. There is the fixed mindset, which says, “Here I am. I sure hope I’m good enough,” and there is the growth mindset, which says, “I can figure it out and learn to do it if I really want to.”
Dweck explains the power of the growth mindset and the harm of the fixed mindset the way a brilliant PhD and Professor at Columbia would. I’m going to say it the way a tired mother who gets her news from Live with Kelly and Michael would. Try to keep up.
The fixed mindset comes from believing that our abilities and talents are a natural part of us. If this is true, then there is a good reason to compare yourself to others and when you aren’t as successful as you wanted to be or you fail at something, it means you are not enough. Ouch. This is a lie by the way. It’s your fixed mind trying to trick you like your mind sometimes does.
On the other hand, the growth mindset recognizes that we all have things that come more easily and things that are harder, but in the end everything takes some degree of practice to become proficient, and the outcome is a direct result of your amassed knowledge and mastery of a skill. This means that when you fail at something, it’s because you didn’t do enough or haven’t learned it yet. It’s not about you. It’s only about your effort or ability, which can be cultivated to ultimately get any result you want. Failure becomes much more benign with this mindset because now it’s not personal.
Why do some people have a fixed mindset and some have a growth mindset? Well of course it’s your parents’ fault.
A fixed mindset is common for smart, gifted, or talented kids because the child is often praised for his or her results and for how easily he or she achieved them. This can feel amazing and build a lot of confidence for the child at first, but it creates feelings of entitlement and when someone else outdoes them, then it shows up very ugly. It looks a lot like John McEnroe having a fit on the tennis court or Enron Execs taking the moral low-road in order to stay ahead.
A growth mindset is most commonly the result of being praised for your effort and encouraged to work hard, make mistakes, and not avoid failure. It looks like Michael Jordan practicing free-throws even after being named the most talented player in the NBA and Thomas Edison creating the light bulb after failing the first 100 times.
So, mama, you know I don’t normally give parenting advice because I’m no parenting expert, but I’ve seen over and over again how a growth mindset serves people in every area of their lives and according to Dweck, we can give our kids that advantage starting today.
Her advice is fairly simple but it will require some focused effort.
When we tell our kids:
You did awesome on that test! You’re so smart!
I can’t believe you drew that by yourself! I’ve never seen a 6-year-old who could draw like that!
You got an A without even studying? Nice going!
Here is what our kids hear:
If I don’t score well on my test, I’m not smart.
I shouldn’t try drawing anything hard or I’m not going to look as talented as the other kids my age.
If I have to study, then I’m not very smart.
Instead, let’s try some of these:
I know school used to come easily to you but the truth is it wasn’t challenging you and you weren’t using your brain to it’s fullest. I’m really excited about how you’re stretching yourself to learn more and doing harder things all the time!
That picture has so many beautiful colors! Tell me about them.
You put so much hard work and thought into this essay! It really makes me understand Shakespeare better.
The second part of the assignment I’m giving you today is to notice your own mindset because while I do credit your parents and teachers for helping create it, I’ve got good news; you are an adult now and you can choose to believe whatever you want.
Notice when you say things to yourself such as:
I really can’t cook.
I’m just not good at saying no.
I am not a runner.
I am not a person who yells.
Instead tell yourself:
Cooking is a skill I haven’t put the time and effort into mastering.
I am learning how to be more authentic even when it’s uncomfortable.
I choose not to run.
I’ve learned how to stay calm during an argument.
I know this sounds like nit picky semantics but I assure you it’s much more than that. It’s the difference between reaching your full potential and hiding behind status quo. It’s the difference between giving up in frustration and powering through or choosing a new path out of love. It affects relationships, every goal you will ever set, overall self esteem, and much more.
Macy is going to be a girl scout instead of a Taekwondo-er and I’m ok with that as long as she knows she could compete with the Cobra Kai one day if she really wanted to. I am going to practice having a growth mindset in my own life, because I could be the next Kelly Rippa of entertainment news. It would take a LOT of whatever the equivalent of free throw practice is in the TV talk show world, but I could totally do it if I wanted to. Just sayin’.
Do you see growth or fixed mindsets showing up for you or your kids? In the comments below tell us more about when and where you notice it! If you want help figuring it out or changing it, sign up for my membership program and let’s work it out together.
Have a fantastic week.
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