I want you to think about the last time that you started something new. Maybe it came easily to you. You quickly grasped what was required, congratulated yourself and moved on to the next thing. Or maybe it was a struggle. Obstacle after obstacle presented itself, and in the end you gave up. Clearly you were never meant to be a good teacher / cook / insert noun of choice.
Have you ever lifted weights? Too light, and you could do 100 reps and it still wouldn’t build any muscle. Too heavy and you wouldn’t be able to get them off the ground. The weights are an analogy for the scenarios above- the light weights are the things that come super easily and the heavy ones are so hard you give up without getting anywhere. You need to have just the right weight so that you have to push yourself to lift them. But when you try, when you give it your best effort, you can do it. That’s when you grow.
And that’s where the problem often lies. We haven’t developed the right relationship with effort. Maybe our parents and our teachers said things like “she’s naturally talented at this”, or “she was born this way”, or “she just doesn’t have a math brain- I’m the same.” And we were told that if we had to put in effort, if we didn’t get it easily and fast, we weren’t at the same level as those who did it “naturally.” We were somehow inferior.
And what was the result of this? Well, those things that we believed we just didn’t have the natural ability for, we either never started or quickly stopped. For example, for many years, I believed that being academic and being sporty were polar opposites, and that all my skills and abilities had lodged firmly on the academic side. When people asked if I played any sports, I told them the story of how I played netball as a 9 year old and was in the F netball team- and that the teams were ordered by ability and started with A. A, B, C, D, E, F…. that’s a lot of teams. So I ditched the netball and focused on what I was good at instead- the academic stuff. If you think about it, it’s a pretty terrible thing if someone gives up something at that tender age. I wonder now, did I ever stop to think about how long some of the other students may have been playing and how that might have influenced my position? And although being a top netballer was probably never in the cards (because yes genes do of course play some role), I could have got good enough to enjoy playing through school, and even socially as an adult.
And if we believed that hard work meant that we looked like we couldn’t cope, that we were dumb, why then we stopped trying at things that might make us look less than perfect. And so we cut a lot of things from our lives, which became smaller as a result.
Here’s the beautiful thing though- it’s not true. It’s not true that natural ability is the be-all and end-all. It’s not even half of what it takes to be successful in any particular endeavor. Your skills, abilities and even intelligence can grow and change – but it starts with you. You have to move away from the above way of thinking, which is what Carol Dweck calls a “fixed mindset” into a “growth mindset.”
According to Dweck, having a growth mindset means that you believe that through your dedication and your hard work you can get better in any and all things. As a result, you love the process of learning, because it doesn’t bring up feelings of inadequacy or shame. Instead it presents itself as a series of challenges that you know that you are capable of overcoming. And when you make a mistake, you don’t perceive yourself as a failure. Instead you rethink your approach and start again. You become more persistent and also more resilient.
So how does a growth mindset make you happier?
Well first of all, you’re not beating yourself up when you don’t get something right.
Have you ever told yourself you’re a failure, you just don’t get it or that you’re stupid? Not the most conducive thoughts to be having if you want to be happy, are they? With a growth mindset, you will be able to kick these feelings to the curb.
Secondly, the confidence and pride you feel in yourself as you try more and succeed at more will enhance your self-esteem.
And even though the idea of having a high self-esteem has been given a battering in recent years, the evidence does suggest there is a strong relationship between your self-esteem and overall feelings of happiness. You’re doing what I talked about in my second Happiness Hack: do something every day that moves you forward .
Thirdly, your world becomes so much bigger.
I can think of three specific things in which my world has become bigger since I embraced a growth mindset. Firstly, cooking. It’s no surprise to anyone that I used to suck at cooking, and consequently hated it. However after my husband started talking about how great my cooking was, and expressing his appreciation for every meal, I started to believe that actually I could cook. Then I started to push myself further and further into trying new things. The other day, I had had a super busy day, and was about to prepare a complex meal. I suddenly realized that I was enjoying the thought of cooking because I knew it would be absorbing, and that I’d lose myself in the task. This was a far cry from the woman who used to get stressed out by the thought of preparing dinner. The other win side is the family, who get more interesting and delicious meals than before. I even hosted Christmas dinner last year!
Secondly, running. Several years ago, still firmly believing that I could not do anything physical, my husband, brother, sister and stepmother ran in a 10km event, while my father and I watched. As they all came over the finish line I thought to myself – I want to be able to do this. Just over one year later, I was running my own 10km event. I’m now entered into a half-marathon for October. Running is physically good for me, has helped me shift persistent weight, brings a calmness and stillness to my life and has also helped me develop and strengthen connections with people. For example, my husband and I always run together, and I now have another thing to talk about when I’m faced with the awkward small talk convo at parties. This is something I wouldn’t have tried if I hadn’t opened myself to the possibility.
The third is blogging. I love blogging, but wow is it complicated. There’s so much technical stuff to come to terms with, especially when you first set up your site. Then there’s things like designing graphics or taking photos for your posts, mastering social media, SEO, growing your list, monetizing… I haven’t even written the actual research and writing of your posts and newsletters, not to mention opt-ins and courses…. I think that if I hadn’t had a growth mindset when I started this journey that I could have just put this in the too-hard basket. But blogging is so satisfying for me, and has really given me a purpose and focus. I don’t know what I would be doing without it.
I think you can see how all these things would make you happier, right?
Now, if this was an infomercial, right now you’d be saying, so how do I get one of these? And I’d be telling you that you could buy a growth mindset for just 6 easy payments of $99.99. Luckily for you though, it isn’t and I won’t.
Here’s how you develop a growth mindset.
Commit to change.
That thing you’ve always wanted to try but think that you possibly couldn’t? Start by committing to the idea that you can and you will!
Change your self-talk.
Replace “I can’t do this” with “I can’t do this yet,” or “I can do this; I just don’t know how to do it yet.” When you doubt what you’re trying then repeat this mantra to yourself. Go make a cup of tea or coffee, drink it, then put your shoulders back and give it another go.
Find the strategies.
Remember that saying, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again? Remember also that trying the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity? So the takeaway from both of these clichés is that don’t give up, but don’t keep trying the same method. Maybe you’re learning how to knit, so you go to You tube and search how to cast on. You watch one video, but you just don’t get it. That’s ok, just go to the next one and watch that. If that still doesn’t work, ask your friends or family if they can watch you and give you advice. Eventually you will find the method that works for you that enables you to move forward.
Depending on what you are doing, I advise taking a course from someone respected in the field you want to get into, or actively finding a coach or a mentor. You don’t know what you don’t know, right? You also don’t know exactly what is right or wrong about your technique- this person will guide you and support you, correct your mistakes and enhance your performance.
Never give up.
If it’s something you really want, don’t stop until you either have it, or you don’t want it any more! Keep repeating steps 1-3 until it clicks and you make progress. Accept that putting in a large amount of effort is not only required but something to be desired.
So cast your mind back to the beginning of this article, when we talked about struggling with new things. Now equipped with my five point strategy, you’d be amazed what you can achieve. Just imagine, those things you’ve dreamed of being able to do? You’re on the right path to get them. It just starts with effort. I’d love to hear about those things you never thought you could do that you’re going to give a try now. Let me know in the comments!
P.S If you want to know more about mindset, I recommend Dweck’s book on
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (This is an affiliate link- I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking through here. Read my disclosure policy for more info). It has advice not only for you personally, but also as a parent and as a coach. Check it out!