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which mindset are you?

One of my favourite books of all time is Mindset by Dr Carol Dweck. I re-read it when I am losing the drive to change and would rather jack it all in and sit in my pants crying at Loose Women.

In my humble opinion, Dr Dweck is one of the most impactful psychologists living on the planet. Her work has been implemented in many schools across the Western world, although in my very brief experience, the process is explained through a tiny verbal introduction and not to the extent that it needs to be to be fully realised by students and teachers. The book focuses on her study of the two different mindsets; the fixed mindset and the growth mindset.


As the name suggests, the fixed mindset works within a limitation zone; you have a rigid ideas about how far you can progress, what you are good at, what you can't do, what your capabilities are, even as far as traits in your personality. In this head space, all of these are non-negotiable facts and nothing can be done to alter you as a human. You are the way you are (a phrase I heard a lot as a child)...

The growth mindset is all about seeking challenges and persisting with them; even when you hit a brick wall. It looks at how you can outsource help, research, use different methods of learning and most importantly practise. It reminds you that anyone who grew in any role or skill, had to find ways to leap over hurdles, no matter how long that took. No one glides into a position through natural talent alone.


I love the way the book references the 'superhuman' sports personalities in the last century. Dr Dweck really pulls apart the myth that there are those simply born with more talents than other people. There way be a tiny percentage of those who can play the piano like a Beethoven aged two. However for the other 99%, we have to find ways to keep going. Michael B Jordan didn't make it onto the basketball team in high school. Yet he remains the best player in the world to date. He practised consistently. He failed over and over again. Even at the height of his career he was looking for ways to improve his technique. He didn't wake up and suddenly invent a new jump up to the basket. He worked on it for hours and hours. With passion and boredom and determination. There are examples of sports and music personalities whose careers only functioned so long in the fixed mindset before they spiralled into blame, excuses and to many peoples disbelief, defeat from the underdogs.


That is a very VERY simplistic outline of these two opposing ways of negotiating the every day. I urge you or rather implore you to buy this book and delve into it right away. It will open your eyes to how an average day works for you and others around you.


The reason I reference Dr Dweck's work is because this a daily practise in my journey to enlightenment. Back in 2018 when I was milling around Waterstones, the book's simplistic title and cover grabbed my eye and that night I devoured it from cover to cover. A couple of times I stopped in my tracks and gasped aloud as I recognised how my timeline so far had fixed mindset stamped all over it. I'll give you some examples.


I hated Physics and Chemistry in school. My chemistry teacher was abysmal, yet I still had the material to revise. A physics GCSE was coming up, so guess what? I didn't bother to revise. You see, in my head, if you weren't naturally intelligent then there wasn't any point in trying. I truly believed some people were born brainy and others weren't. I had mates who would get all A*s and I convinced myself it was due to their natural ability. Perhaps they did find some concepts easier to begin with, but if I had applied myself using different techniques and reached out to ask for help, I no doubt would have achieved much more.


For me, it was always about effort. I didn't want to put effort in because there was a skewed belief floating around in my mind. Something like this:

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(Int. Physics Lesson- 10:51AM)

We cut to Jenny- 15 year old gay who doesn't know it yet. Hair is beautifully arranged in greasy centre parting. Jenny's huge heart and fantastic personality go unnoticed as she sits looking down in despair at her sheet.


Jenny (Inner Monologue):

I don't understand this.

I could put in some effort.

Nope, I tried and I still don't understand.

Everyone else gets it.

It's because I'm thick.

Someone else is already on Question 7.

I'm weak.

I can't ask for help.

This is humiliating.

Oh Jenny, don't bother, you're just not naturally good at it.

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Mindset engulfs this notion in angry flames. There is always room to improve Jenny! You may need to go over something one hundred times until you can break down the concept and understand it. You may need to get up and reenact it to remember it. We all have our ways of learning, for some it takes longer to understand a concept but that does not reflect their intelligence level (intelligence as a concept is a whole other conversation). But if we persevere we will get there eventually.


In contrast, I was labelled as a strong performer in drama classes so I didn't bother to practise harder to hone in on my craft. If it came naturally to me, why bother? I found this repetitive pattern crop up in drama school. If I'm 'naturally good' at accents, then I don't need to do any work on improving them. And if I'm terrible at gracefulness, then I'll give in because I'll always walk around with a limp.


Again, it was always about effort. This was an average day of training in my first and second years:

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(Int. A gloomy dingey drama school room. Winter weather, winter atmosphere. 11:11)

Jen Carss, wannabe actor and now sort of confident gay, sits waiting for her turn to speak. Her heart is pounding yet she has a smirk on her face.


Jen (Inner monologue):

Oh, I have sight-reading.

It's the only thing I'm good at.

I don't need to do a vocal warmup.

Look at them all preparing.

Hah!

I don't need to do any prep.

When I read it's like I get my power back.

I'll show them.

Hah, who is laughing now?

Oh shit, I just messed up a word

God, my face is going red.

Don't look at them!

Too late.

Well that was a disaster.

You know, I've always hated sight-reading.

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As comical as it may be, it's the honest truth about how I functioned day to day. It applies to everything. Relationships in particular are very interesting to digest when you understand these mindsets.


Cut to December 2019 and so much has changed in my inner and outer world. Now, it is easier than ever to recognise the fixed mindset in others. I hear it in the kids I am teaching and challenge them on it. The fixed mindset relentlessly bombards my mind with negative put downs. Like any ingrained habit, it takes time to shift the old crap out and reinstall an up-to-date system.


But in the growth mindset, I have battled many personal fears. I've booked something ridiculous for next year which I will share with you in my blog next week. All because the lenses in my life glasses have switched from seeing endless barriers and blockades to revealing spectacular challenges and opportunities. The struggles help us to grow. Avoiding change keeps us where we are. And we all deserve so much more that.


So keep growing. Whenever you get stuck, ask for help. Stay with it. Focus. You can do it.

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