My Damn Fixed Mindset

The first time I was introduced to the research and studies behind a fixed vs. growth mindset, I was absolutely fascinated. It’s not that I hadn’t heard of it before or wasn’t aware of it, it’s just that I never had the words to describe my emotions and reactions. I’d previously posted about how I want to foster a growth mindset in my children and in today’s post, I want to share with you a fairly recent experience where I was very aware of how my fixed mindset influenced my actions and emotions and how I moved into a growth mindset.

So here’s the context, I’ve been looking for work for a long time. I lost my job because of COVID-19 but I had been planning my exit about 6 months prior. I’m acutely aware of how not having work has triggered feelings of inadequacy and frustration and it’s been a journey changing my mindset. I haven’t been having success with my job search, partly I think because of the pandemic and partly because I’m switching careers and industries and it’s quite a leap! But then, I had some success. Long story short, I went through a rigorous interview process and made it to the top 4 candidates and was in the final stage of creating some sample work for the company to evaluate. You can probably guess what’s going to happen, they for the most part liked my word but I didn’t get it. They chose the candidate that had more experience.

Those words, “we decided to go with a candidate that had more direct experience” sent me on a downward spiral of negativity and my damn fixed mindset brain jumped into judgement and self-pity mode. Those words triggered me because it was the response I had received from countless interviews years before I got into teaching and was looking for a corporate HR job. Tears streamed down my eyes and I was absolutely devastated. Although I read the rest of the email, all I could hear in my head was, “Why do you even bother? Clearly, you’re not cut out to be in this field. You don’t have what it takes.”

Embarrassingly, I was stuck in this sad self-pity crying state for 2 days BUT after those 2 days, something in my brain switched gears. I realized I was seeing and feeling this experience through my fixed mindset when I should be seeing it from a growth mindset. Here’s some more context, this is the first instructional video I’ve made from beginning to end and with limited equipment. Also, to make it to the top 4 candidates despite my lack of direct experience means that I’m doing something right, right? And so I started shifting mindsets.

It wasn’t easy but I forced myself to turn all my thoughts that were originally fixed mindset to growth mindset. I was so tired of hearing that voice in my head saying that I wasn’t good enough and quite frankly, I was tired of crying. I went back and read the rejection email and really read through the feedback they’d given me. I’m actually really grateful they gave me specific and actionable feedback. So that’s what I’m doing now, looking for ways to learn and improve so that for my next interview, whenever it may be, can hopefully go better.

What I’ve also learned for next time, you know when I get another rejection or something awful happens, to still acknowledge my fixed mindset creeping in. I don’t like the feeling at all but I think it’s important to acknowledge that it’s there so that you can move on. Hopefully I’ll be able to get to my growth mindset a little quicker in the future.

Can you relate? Do you have any tips?

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“You’re so smart!”

This praise was what I longed for as a child. All through my elementary and high school years, I just wanted to be smart. My focus was on getting straight A’s and it should come easy. I only realize now, in my 30s, that it was holding me back, that I had a fixed mindset.

Ever since being introduced to Carol Dweck and her idea of fixed versus growth mindset, I’ve been reading and reflecting on it a lot. Embarrassingly enough, I didn’t realize I had her book, Mindset, on our bookshelf until recently!

An area of particular interest to my husband and I is how we can cultivate a growth mindset in our daughters. I feel like with parenting, unless you’re aware of it, you default to how you were raised and I wasn’t raised on a growth mindset. I mean I don’t blame my parents at all because you don’t know what you don’t know and they had the best intentions. It’s also so much easier to praise the result (Great job on a high score!) than effort (I saw you work so hard and it paid off!).

Curiously enough, this wasn’t the first time we read praising the process over the result. It was also mentioned in our Danish Way of Parenting book and it was nice to see it presented in a different light, with more scientific evidence.

I’ve got to say, it definitely takes more effort to find the right language but I know it will benefit my daughters. I’ve seen how my oldest tends to have a fixed mindset and will often get frustrated when she can’t succeed immediately. We’re trying to coach her into embracing challenges and that things shouldn’t come easy. It’s still early but I think she’s getting. We model it as much as we can because it’s monkey see monkey do in our household!

Here are some phrases we’ve been using:

  • Great job! I saw you practice and it’s paying off!” instead of “Wow you’re so good at that!”
  • Oh this one was kinda easy, let’s try something a little harder!” instead of “You’re so smart!”
  • Tell me about your drawing and the colours you chose!” instead of “Wow my little artist!”

Bottom line is we want to emphasize that effort is important and smart doesn’t mean it comes easy and you don’t have to work hard for it. Hopefully as our girls get older, they’ll embrace the challenges and not be deterred by failures.

Have you tried making this switch with your children? What have your experiences been like?