Sunday, May 27, 2012

Are You Being or Becoming?

In the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck suggests that how we think about our capabilities plays a significant role in how far our abilities stretch. She refers to these ways of thinking as "mindsets."

We're often taught a particular mindset early in life - what Dweck calls the "fixed mindset." Actually, what is "fixed" isn't the mindset. Instead, the fixed mindset involves the belief that our capacities - tendencies, traits, talents - are "fixed." In other words, our strengths and weaknesses are predetermined from birth, and life is about "being" what we already are. Success, therefore, depends on learning to play to our strengths, and compensate for our weaknesses.

As a result, many of us try really hard (without seeming to) to prove that we "have it," whatever "it" is - intelligence, creativity, athleticism, musicality, and various other types of acumen. Through this lens, success involves proving yourself (or your innate ability, anyway), and failure results from a lack of innate ability. Even having to work at something can be taken as a sign that you don't have enough talent. The outcome, rather than the process is what matters, and that outcome has significant bearing on your perception of worth and identity (are you a "success" or a "failure"?).

Fortunately for all of us imperfect folk (in other words, all of us), there is an alternative - what Dweck calls the "growth mindset." The growth mindset assumes that we can always learn and grow from where we are now, without fixed barriers to what we can "be." If we're willing to work at it, we will continue to evolve in a process of "becoming."

Success is therefore redefined - we succeed when we stretch and grow, working hard creates our talents and abilities, and the only failure is when we stop trying to grow. When we are unable to do something (what the fixed mindset sees as failure), it's about "doing" rather than "being" - in other words, it's not a threat to our identity. What matters is what we are able to learn from the experience - process is more important than outcome.

As you might imagine, this growth mindset has a lot of potential to eliminate some of the barriers we create for ourselves in a fixed mindset. It protects our sense of self, while motivating us to keep trying to grow.

So, are you being or becoming?

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