Let’s talk about growth mindset for a minute. This idea comes from a book called “Mindset,” by Carol Dweck, as far as I’m aware. A basic, made-up-by-me definition is this: Growth mindset is a way of thinking about the world in which your sense of self is not tied too closely to what you can do or how you act, in which changing those things is not scary, and therefore, in which you can improve. This is the opposite of a fixed mindset, which is the basic idea that we all have inborn sets of characteristics and talents that cannot be changed. (And here’s a TED talk by the author that explains it all much more eloquently than I have.)
Here are a few examples of damaging ideas that I think tap into fixed mindset:
- “Boys will be boys.” This is terrible, not only because it excuses bad behavior on the basis that people can’t be expected to change, but also presumes that men are generally pretty bad at being kind and caring, and pretty likely to do terrible things. None of which is true, but all of which can be like a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you expect people to act a certain way, and let them know that it’s ok to act that way, and that you don’t believe they can change anyway…No. Just no. People will be people. Let’s all be better humans. You can do it! Teach boys and girls and nonbinary beings about being kind and brave, about being smart and caring, about being strong and emotionally intelligent.
- “He’s a racist.” This is tough, because some people do so many racist things that you really, really, really want to call them names. But here’s a great video explaining how that ties in with growth mindset. To sum it up, calling someone a racist lets them know that those racist things they did or said are just part of their fun personality! They can internalize that to “I’m a racist,” instead of being called out for saying and doing racist things, and told that they really ought to stop it. It’s my job as a white person to call out racism when I see it (topic of another essay, I’m sure), but getting people to see that the things they do and say that are racist have to stop, while they themselves can continue to exist, is a good thing.
- “I can’t try, because I might fail!” Hello, my entire past life! It turns out that failure=lesson learned, if you have a growth mindset, because you have not hurt your sense of self by working to figure out ways to do something. But if you are stuck in a fixed mindset, you’re afraid to try, because if you try and fail, then you are constitutionally incapable of that thing. It’s part of who you are. I hope it’s clear how damaging this can be, how limiting. If you tell your fabulous child that they are very very smart, they might be afraid to learn about something new, because their identity as “smart” is at stake, because they don’t know all about it yet. But if you tell them you see how hard they work at trying that new thing–suddenly you’ve taken away the self-protecting perfectionism. Good for you!
- “I’m a forgetful person.” (Or you can insert any adjective to replace it.) If you forget things every day, you can choose to do something different every day. You can even say to yourself, “I’ve had trouble remembering things in the past, but I really want to do better in the future, so here’s what I’m going to do…” But if you’re just a forgetful person–then no matter what you do, you won’t succeed. It’s who you are. It’s in your blood. It’s unchangeable. See how one is better than the other, because it gives you more power to focus on the now and to take appropriate actions?
This way of thinking is something that I see and hear every day, and it is SO hard to get people who are stuck in a fixed mindset to even attempt to come up with solutions. Think of that one person at work who’s like, “But we’ve always done it this way!” Aren’t they a huge pain in the butt? Be honest. Don’t you just want to say to them that change is inevitable? Or poke them with a sharp pencil?
Maybe that’s just me. Perhaps I’ve had a problem being patient lately. I’m feeling frustrated that other people are not catching up. But you know what? I’m not violent, or impatient, or whatever. I’m dealing with a temporary feeling. I get to choose my own actions. I choose not to be stuck. I choose to do the best I can, every day, and to recognize that there is a core of my being (and, likewise, a core of YOUR being) that is pure love, and THAT is the only thing I hold on to. Everything else can change and go. And trust me, it will. So you might as well make it easier on yourself and believe that you can change right along with it.
Who’s ready for some ch-ch-ch-changes?