On Flirting with Prince Charles, Church Ladies, and Growth Mindsets

 

In the annals of my life, few mistakes bubble to the top:

  1. Not studying abroad for an entire college semester.

  2. Not flirting better with Prince Charles when he asked whether I'd had a drink.

  3. Not starting a business (what is now ClassPass) back when I had the idea.

  4. Taking Accutane as a quasi-preventive measure.

  5. Having to wear an "I talk too much" sign one day in Mrs. Wenzel's second grade class. (Shocker.)

As an optim(al)ist, I don't often frame life experiences as failures—they're learning opportunities (said with an annoying amount of positivity).

Like that time I learned the basics of geometry and experiential (v. chronological) time by lodging myself in the chute of a hay bale elevator. (Shout out to Dad who dislodged me with a tractor and loader when he arrived home 45 min. later.)

Or that time when I learned the concept of adrenaline/hysterical strength as I chased after a young punk who had just stolen my friend's purse. (While my friends sat frozen with their mouths agape, I offered a few choice words and kept pace with the teenager for 100 yards until his accomplice pulled up in a car to make a quick getaway.)

A few years ago, I learned why: it's my predominantly growth mindset. Hat tip to Dr. Carol Dweck and her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, which I recently re-read in preparation for BOOST (a workshop I co-produce a few times a year). I highly recommend this quick read but know you're busy so I'll call out the highlights:

  1. Our mindsets are interpretative processes and internal monologues that tell us what is going on around us.

  2. We fall into one of two camps: 1) a passion for learning ("growth" mindset); or 2) a hunger for approval ("fixed" mindset).

  3. In a growth mindset, effort is what makes us talented, smart, or creative. In a fixed mindset, effort is bad (i.e., we wouldn't need effort if we're talented, smart, or creative).

  4. Someone with a growth mindset thrives on challenge and sees failure not as a lack of talent, intellect, or creativity but as a springboard for growth. Someone with a fixed mindset assumes that talent, intelligence, and creativity are static and largely unchangeable...and strives for success/avoids failure at all costs to affirm these qualities.

  5. We manifest these mindsets at a very early age—informing our behavior, our relationship with success and failure, even our capacity for happiness—but we can rewire our cognitive habits at any age to cultivate a growth mindset and a much more nourishing approach to life.

 

It doesn't take failed royal run-ins to recognize just how paralyzing fixed mindsets are.

I was struck by a recent experience in which I helped a small group of older women serve a celebratory meal at a church. I'm far from a culinary expert, I wasn't a member of the church or familiar with its kitchen, and I was, on average, 40 years younger than the other women in the group. We prepped the food before the church service started and, at the end of the service, we arrived to find the egg bakes completely uncooked due to a faulty oven.

As congregants filled the basement, I thought "No sweat—let's grab some skillets and turn each pan of egg bake into a scrambled egg hash." But the reaction of the other women in the group ranged from "I don't feel comfortable doing this because I don't know how to use an electric skillet...I don't have one at home" to "I just want to run away" to "I can warm the plates but I wouldn't be any help figuring out what to do with the eggs." I was bewildered by their cowering because:

  1. My favorite way to cook is takeout;

  2. Scrambling eggs is nearly foolproof (pro tip: if you put too much cheese in the eggs, they won't cook through); and

  3. If it's not safe to fail in church (of all places), what hope is there for us?

I know what you're thinking: Did the congregants have to wait long to eat? Was there green Jell-O to pacify their hunger? How much cheese did you put on those eggs? 

"No." "Heck no." And "Not enough" (this is always the answer, salmonella risk notwithstanding).

After we finished serving the attendees, the other women gathered at a table to eat and lament over the oven snafu. I stuffed my face with the delicious hash and made note to add it to my breakfast rotation. The contrast genuinely surprised me: in the moment panic is a bummer but understandable. Continuing to dwell on it? Puzzling. Why hijack the joy?

Ever the solutionista, it got me thinking about what I could offer to others with a fixed mindset who wish to cultivate a growth mindset. Here are three, Dweck-approved steps to take:

  1. Make note of internal dialogue. Language creates reality. What we tell ourselves greatly impacts how we think about the world around us. If we constantly tell ourselves that we should protect ourselves in case we fail, or that something would be easy if only we had the knowledge or talent, we know that’s the fixed mindset talking.

  2. Acknowledge choice. We can read about the benefits of a growth mindset all day, but until we actually move around in the world in ways that fit the model, we haven’t changed much. A certain amount of "talking back" to our fixed mindset voice with our growth mindset voice is also healthy: it helps solidify new ways of thinking and rewires brain circuitry.

  3. Take growth mindset action. Practice hearing both voices and then choosing to act on the growth mindset. As we do this, we embrace and praise the learning process, including its difficulties and/or setbacks (v. the end result).

Don't worry: I'm not still pondering what might have been with Prince Charles (he was dating Camilla anyway). But should I ever run into Prince Harry, I'll take a different approach. ;)