Other Valuable Mindsets

Growth mindset isn’t magic. Dang. Well, if it can’t solve all our problems, then what else do we need?

A Mindset of Optimism

Boon:

Believing that things will work out insulates you from The Nag. You know The Nag. It’s that voice inside you that tells you to stop, give up and watch television. Optimism trains you to see success as possible – the perfect antidote to a voice that says it’s impossible. Plus, it feels great to know that you are awesome now and will be better later.

Curse:

Of course, optimism makes you stupid. Too much will make you leap from buildings or attempt surgery. A realistic appraisal is valuable, even if it doesn’t feel as nice. How do you know whether optimism is pushing you to grow, or driving you to disaster?

Strategy:

Here’s a trick I picked up. It involves cycling through optimism and pessimism to get the benefits of each:

  • Unleash your optimism. Think of something awesome you want to do. Don’t let reality get in the way – if you could do anything, what would you pick?
  • Inject some pessimism. What are five things that could go wrong with this idea?
  • Bring back the optimism. What are two or three strategies to offset each risk above?

That leaves you with a pretty good idea on if this idea is feasible. Not only that, it gives you a plan on how to proceed.

A Mindset of Gratitude

Boon:

Again, it feels great. And it kills The Nag dead. The Nag likes to moan and complain. Being grateful boosts your mind and body by focusing on resources, not threats.

Curse:

If optimism makes you stupid, gratitude makes you lazy. Hate your job? Well, maybe you should be grateful instead. After all, there are people with no job at all, ever think of that? So, no, there’s no need to look for a new one. Or change in any way. Be happy with what you have.

Strategy:

Gratitude is about celebrating abundance. If something is robbing you, don’t celebrate it. Every moment and everything has something small to be grateful about, but that doesn’t mean that every aspect of it is good. A job brings money and dignity, and you can appreciate that. But if a job leaves you stressed and miserable, seek to change that. And be grateful that you have the ability to notice when things suck and to change some of them.

A Mindset of Service

Boon:

The idea that you live to serve others is a strong one. This is not the mindset of a slave, as you choose who you serve and how. What it does is it trains you to notice opportunities to help others. Helping others feels good and can be financially rewarding.

Curse:

Take this too far and you will burn out. Not to mention that people may take advantage of you.

Strategy:

  • You can only serve when you also serve yourself. Keep yourself fresh and healthy. Wrecking your physical and mental health helps no one.
  • The world is a crowded place. More people would appreciate your help than you can get to in a lifetime. Anyone who doesn’t appreciate your efforts or tries to take advantage should be cut away. Be ruthless, as you are working towards a higher cause.

A Mindset of Mindfulness

Boon:

Being mindful has enormous benefits, from reducing stress to slowing down time. (Also: it feels great).

Curse:

Some Buddhists complain about the way the West treats mindfulness. In Buddhism, it is a core part of your existence. In the West, it is a commodity. You pay for a class or vacation, do some mindful thinking, and then go back to your daily grind.

Strategy:

Mindfulness is a mindset, not a hobby. It is something you do several times a day, until you start doing it most of the time.

  • Set a reminder. You could use a post-it note, a timed popup on your computer or a scribble on the back of your hand.
  • When you notice your reminder, pay attention to your next breath. Keep a gentle focus as you breathe in, then breathe out. At first, one breath is enough, though you can build that up in time.

I’m curious – what have I missed? Got any good mindsets you like to keep in your back pocket?


This post is part of Mindset Month at Mindwalker Training.

The Ins and Outs of Growth Mindset

So, here’s a thing that happens:

Something becomes trendy, for better or worse. People start saying it’s the best thing since sliced whatever. It gathers attention. Some of that attention turns critical.

This is natural and good, of course. Popular ideas are worth exploring. Sometimes we get it wrong. Sometimes the trendy stuff is bad. Thank goodness that there are people that investigate what others blindly accept.

But not all Devil’s advocates are virtuous. You can usually spot the pretenders. Their writing reeks of insincerity. They write ‘Trendy Thing is Bad’ on a scrap of paper, then start wracking their brains for reasons why. It’s a cry for attention (or clickviews) and it shows. Nothing is clumsier than a forced opinion.

Which of course brings me to Salon. Why am I about to link to a two-year-old article? Well, because people still use these arguments. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, read this article where Carol Dweck, champion of the growth mindset movement, talks about a false growth mindset. It’s safe to assume that Dweck thinks growth mindsets are great. Even so, she has seen it misused:

  • Praising effort alone. Results still matter; pointless effort is still pointless.
  • Telling students ‘You Can Do Anything’ if and only if you try more. A growth mindset supports success – it is not the sole cause of it.
  • Blaming the student’s mindset. Ditto.

So, like all tools, encouraging a growth mindset only works if you aren’t an idiot about it. Believing that you can grow is not a substitute for hard work, luck and talent – if you think that it is, you are wrong. It is not something that Dweck, or any other serious advocate for the growth mindset, has ever claimed.

Keep that in mind as you (re)read Salon’s article criticising growth mindset.

If growth mindset is misused, it’s bad. Great. If I drive a hammer into my eyeball, that’s pretty bad too. And you know what that says about the value of a hammer? Absolutely nothing. The article doesn’t say that growth mindsets don’t work, only that false ones are bad.

Well, duh. Hardly warrants the headline.

That’s not to say that the idea is beyond criticism. Like I said, some people investigate the trendy to expose truths and falsehoods. Here is one example of that. Notice that, despite strong biases, it is less biased than the Salon article. Anyway, there’s a lot to unpack about this post (read Part V if you’re short on time). The point is that there’s the right way and the wrong way to argue against something.

So, what’s my takeaway from this? Firstly, it’s always helpful to read the criticisms of any idea. It’s easy to get carried away. Popular ideas will attract quality criticism. Even clumsy criticisms, if read with a proper outlook, can temper the more extreme claims.

Secondly, a growth mindset helps. Believing that you can improve with effort is true and useful. But effort and outlook are not the only variables… and acting like they are is dangerous. This makes it hard – if people are holding themselves back because they have fixed beliefs, then a growth mindset is the best thing for them. If they already have this mindset or are putting in a lot of effort, then saying they need more growth mindset is the wrong approach.

I taught myself some basic chess strategies. To test myself, I’d play against my phone. I got better, then I plateaued. I believed that I could get better and I was putting in the effort. Even so, I was stuck. Smarter effort, like learning better strategies, would have lifted my game more than trying harder. This should not be surprising to anyone.

Life is complicated. Who would have thought? A better question: what can we do about it?

  • Record your results. Quantify them if possible; if not, be as specific as you can. It’s amazing how often I felt like I was plateauing while I was steadily improving.
  • Check your internal dialogue. If you find yourself using fixed descriptors, whether positive or negative, it might be worth readjusting.
  • Notice your reaction to failure. If you flinch away from your failures, I understand. But your failures are a bitter pill that’s worth swallowing. If you think your abilities are fixed, then failures expose your limits. If you can grow your abilities, then failures expose opportunities to do so.
  • Accept that, sometimes, more effort and a better attitude aren’t enough. Necessary, sure, but not sufficient.

There. A pretty balanced approach, don’t you think?


This post is part of Mindset Month at Mindwalker Training.

The Power of Mindset

If your brain is like a computer, then what’s its software?

Skills you learn could be like applications. Each skill – like each application – allows you to achieve a task, whether that’s designing something or playing a game. But applications don’t, and can’t, exist in isolation. They need something to draw them all together, to run under them, that gives them structure. What’s the brain’s version of an operating system?

Mindset is one answer to the question.

What is mindset? It’s a frame through which you view the world. A person with a negative mindset sees misery, threats and reasons to complain. A person with a positive mindset can look at the same things and see beauty, safety and opportunity.

It makes a difference. We all know people that struggle and stress their way through life. They always complain about the injustices of (their) life. Bad luck plagues them. We also know people that seem to sail through life, moving with grace from one success to another. These people are rarely stressed and often happy.

You can learn skills to reduce stress. And they help, absolutely. But the best applications can only do so much with a corrupted operating system. Things run smoother when both your skills and mindset are strong and healthy.

There are many mindsets, good and bad. The most famous is a growth mindset. This is the opposite of the fixed mindset, which is still so common. Fixed mindsets assume that your attributes are ingrained. You have a natural level of ability with, say, music, and training brings you to these limits. Your strength and intelligence depends on inflexible factors like genetics.

I reject this view. The brain is plastic. It can change and it does change, all the time. Learning involves rewiring your neural networks… so how could your thinking have limits? Of course, some people find certain changes easier than others do. We’re not identical. But we are all able to grow and improve.

After all, did you know you can learn to be more creative? It’s true. The old idea that some people are creative and others aren’t is wrong. There’s no gene for it. Creative people practice their skills and think in certain ways… and who among us can’t do the same?

This is why I’m talking about mindset. It’s important. With good habits and a healthy brain, you can do a lot in life. With a bad mindset, though, you won’t. Whether you can or can’t, you will not. Trivial obstacles will defeat you, sooner or later.

But you can learn new mindsets. The best proof for the growth mindset is that anyone can learn it. If you can learn to see obstacles as opportunities, intelligence as learnable and your mind as flexible, then these things become true. A growth mindset enables a growth mindset, for it is something that you have to develop for yourself.


This post is part of Mindset Month at Mindwalker Training.