‘I’m just not creative’
‘I can’t sing’
‘I’m no good at that’
‘I can’t cook’
‘I’m not very smart’
‘I’m so disorganised’
‘I’m hopeless at being patient with my children’
‘I’m just not nurturing’
Have you ever heard people say things like that?
Have you said them yourself?
Most of us are excellent at focusing on what we aren’t good at.
Over many years of teaching adults, I’ve often asked people to draw something. Almost every time, I instantly see the dread come over their faces. As the drawing continues, I hear comments like ‘I’m terrible at drawing’, ‘I failed art’, ‘This is hopeless’, ‘This isn’t very good’, ‘I can’t draw’.
But you know what?
Their drawings are never as bad as they think they are. In fact, some of them are really good!
When our children are intently drawing squiggles on a page and we ask them what they’re drawing, they smile and say emphatically ‘It’s a plane mum!’, ‘This is you and me, mummy’, This is our house, it’s red!’.
Where does our confidence go as we age?
The power of mindset
Don’t let your mindset limit you. You’re intelligent and talented. You can learn to do whatever you want with effort and practice. And anyway, do you really need to be an expert in everything? What standard would really be enough?
We weren’t born with fixed intelligence. Advances in neuroscience have revealed that our brains continue to grow through life via our experiences.
When you do or remember something repeatedly, the brain strengthens the connections between the cells used for those activities. It’s like widening a freeway because there’s more traffic using the road. On the other hand, if you stop practising something, over time the brain reduces or eliminates those connections because the road is no longer used as much.
This means that practicing any activity or behaviour makes your brain stronger and more efficient in that area and over time you’ll find it easier and more automatic.
Fixed and growth mindset
Psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck introduced the terms fixed and growth mindset to describe the underlying beliefs people have about their intelligence and learning. She discovered that some people believe that they have only a fixed amount of intelligence and talent which cannot be changed. This is a fixed mindset.
Others believe that they can develop their intelligence and abilities with effort. This is a growth mindset. These people are more motivated, more persistent, more resilient and are focused on learning (as opposed to looking smart and proving themselves). As a result, they achieve more and feel like they have greater control over their lives and future.
When my husband and I started dating, we already loved to run. The difference was, I ran 5-10km (ok, mostly it was closer to 5km) at a time and he ran 42km at a time! We started to run together and he started hinting about how great it would be for me to run a half marathon. Initially, I dismissed and resisted it. My fixed mindset said ‘I can’t do that’, ‘I’m not that good a runner’, ‘I only run less than 10kms’.
Then I started to think that with a proper training plan I might be able to do it. The furthest I ran before my first half marathon was 16kms (only once). Someone told me that I wasn’t prepared enough.
But I proved them wrong! I ran without stopping and crossed the finish line with a time of 2 hours and 7 mins. Now I love it! I’ve run another 4 half marathons since (faster each time) and have a goal to run at least 10. (I still have a firm fixed mindset about running a full marathon!)
One simple word that creates a growth mindset
One little word proved powerful in reframing my thinking – yet. ‘I couldn’t run a half marathon YET’. All I needed was to believe that I could, and then put in the effort to follow a training plan. And now it doesn’t seem hard anymore.
What is it that you wish you could do or do better?
- Make time for yourself?
- Cook healthy meals?
- Exercise more?
- Feel calmer with your children?
- Speak more positively to your partner?
- Get up earlier?
- Learn a new skill?
You can do those things. You just can’t do them YET.
“You must learn a new way to think before you can master a new way to be.” Marianne Williamson.
Any fellow perfectionists out there?
If so, you need to know it’s not possible to have a growth mindset all the time. Everyone has a mixture of both and even if you have a growth mindset most of the time, certain things may trigger a fixed mindset about a particular area. Often this happens if you encounter something really outside your comfort zone or meet someone who is much better than you at something you regard as one of your strengths.
The key is, recognising when you have a fixed mindset about something, and then reframing your thinking. Over time, it becomes easier to adopt a growth mindset about things.
Let’s say you find yourself losing your cool in front of your children again. Instead of thinking ‘I’m such a bad mum’ or ‘I’m so short tempered’, reframe it to ‘I’m not handling these situations the way I want to yet’.
Then, forgive yourself. You’re learning!
If you’re still in the moment you can pause and choose a new response.
If the moment is over, make a mental plan for how you will handle it next time.
Your kids can have a growth mindset too
Now, are you interested in how this might be relevant to your kids?
Carol Dweck’s studies show that children start to show evidence of fixed or growth mindset at 3.5 – 4 years old. Mindset patterns start developing even earlier than this.
The way we role model mindset has a significant impact on whether our children spend more time in fixed or growth mindset. That in itself is a pretty good reason to reflect on our own mindset.
You can talk to your children about how their brain grows from early on. Just keep it really simple by introducing these ideas (in your own language) as they relate to what you and your kids are doing:
- Their brain is growing and getting stronger when they practice things or try things that are hard at first
- Effort and practice will help them master things
- We’re all learning new things all the time and that’s exciting
- They can’t do certain things or aren’t a certain way YET.
Now, back to you.
What do you believe about your intelligence and abilities? What you can learn and achieve is endless, and it all starts in your mind.
Here’s your More to Mum Action Plan to start breaking free from that fixed mindset (here’s a useful worksheet to record your answers).
- What’s the “I’m not…” or “I can’t…” statement you say most often? Write it below and add the word YET at the end. (Then try saying it out loud. It might feel weird but it will help to make it more real for you.)
- What are three things you can do in the next month to help you move closer to being able to change that statement you just wrote down to “I am…” or “I can…”?