When I started yoga a couple of years ago, you would say I was anything but flexible.
That didn’t stop me from boarding a flight to India for a one-month yoga training.
I was definitely one of the least flexible in that training too (notice how I kept score of it?)
It’s impossible to live without failing at something. Unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all.
Honestly, I looked at the super bendy girls in class and imagine they were just made of a different set of bones than me.
Believing that one day I would get myself into the splits, and manage to inhale a decent enough amount of air to also get myself out of it, was one of the most challenging things I did.
If you think I’m going to tell you next, how I never gave up and practiced day in and day out….Guess again.
I struggled to keep my motivation and at one point I even stopped doing yoga for months.
Eventually, I jumped back on the mat, aware of how great it felt to practice, even if I wasn’t particularly good at it.
I started closing my eyes as much as I could while I practiced. Letting go of comparisons and ideas of what the posture should look like.
My problem wasn’t a lack of flexibility… I had a fixed mindset about it.
If you correct your mind, the rest of your life will fall into place.
– Lao Tzu
Modern psychology shows our beliefs have a key role in our behaviors and in the level of success we achieve.
One of the women who contributed the most to advancing our knowledge about beliefs is Carol Dweck.
Dweck is a psychologist and researcher at Stanford University who was obsessed with understanding how people deal with failures and decided to research it by watching students tackle difficult problems.
She watched a ten-year-old trying to solve a hard puzzle , rub his hands together and scream: “I love a challenge!”
Another boy looked up, happy as a clam, and said: “I was hoping this would be informative!”
What on earth was up with these kids?
See, up to that point, Dweck believed that people either cope with failure or don’t cope with failure.
The thought that some people loved failure was mind-blowing.
She found that one of the most important beliefs we have is whether our intelligence, abilities, creativity and character can be developed through intentional effort- growth mindset – or if they’re fixed and immutable – fixed mindset.
“Mindsets are just beliefs.
– Carol Dweck
On a superficial level, I knew that If I practiced enough yoga I would get better. But deep down, I couldn’t believe it because I didn’t experience it yet.
For me, people were either flexible or not flexible. Confronted with my lack of yoga prowess I felt discouraged and thrown off. Even though I loved how I felt while I practiced.
I was so focused on a particular outcome and on my shortcomings that it slowed my progress.
Most of us have a fixed mindset in a certain area of our lives, and it’s that very belief that’s holding us back from persisting and investing enough time and energy to the process.
In a fixed mindset:
- You’re either smart and talented or you’re not.
- Your concern is mainly proving how smart and capable you are.
- Challenges question your ability and should be avoided because failing is so tied into your self-worth, it takes a huge toll on you.
- Effort is pointless, because if you’re really that smart you shouldn’t have to try hard.
- You take feedback or criticism as an indication that you’re inadequate or unworthy.
- And you feel threatened by others success.
You live by this mantra:
If, at first you don’t succeed, you probably don’t have what it takes.
In one of Dweck’s studies, fifth graders were showed a cardboard box and told it had a test inside. This test assessed an important school ability. They told them nothing else.
First off, they wanted to make sure these kids bought into the description, so they asked them whether they believed the test actually measured that school ability. They all said yes.
Then, they asked them 2 questions:
- Do you think this test measures how smart you are?
- Do you think this test measures how smart you’ll be when you’re older?
Students with a growth mindset didn’t believe the test measured how smart they were. And they really didn’t believe it had any predictive power of how smart they would be in the future. One of the kids even said: “Ain’t no test that can do that!”
Students with a fixed mindset didn’t just believe the test measured an important ability. They believed it measured how smart they were and how smart they were going to be when they grew up.
If you ask me, learning can’t be a truck full of fun when your self-worth is at stake.
I don’t divide the world into the weak and the strong, or the succeses and the failures. I divide the world into the learners and the non-learners.
– Bejamin Barber
When I went for my second yoga training, I had one of the best teachers I could ask for. Seeing how much effort I was putting into my practice, he realized I needed reassurance more than a challenge.
One time during a class, he walked up to me, in my mind, he was going to tell me how much I was screwing up the posture. He put his hand on my shoulder, like a father would do, and said: “Just relax and breathe, you’re doing well.”
He was completely oblivious to the fact that the previous night, I rehearsed how I was going to let him know I was quitting, that it was too big of a challenge for me.
Because of that, I didn’t quit.
The next thing he told me was: “Catarina, I think it would help you if you stopped saying how stiff you are.”
Once I stopped entertaining my obsessive thoughts of yoga inadequacy, I directed that energy to just showing up and practicing.
The progress that followed was A-mazing!
Not necessarily for the fancy yoga postures, but for the living experience of incrementally shifting from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.
In a growth mindset:
- You believe most things can be learned and developed with enough time and effort.
- You’re concerned with learning and progress.
- Challenges are a fun and motivating way of stretching to another level of ability.
- Effort is the name of the game.
- Feedback provides valuable insights and better learning strategies.
- Failure is still painful, but it doesn’t define you.
- You’re inspired and motivated by other people’s success.
In one study, seven graders reported how they would respond to academic failure, in the form of a bad grade in a new course. Those with the growth mindset said they would study harder for the next one.
Those with a fixed mindset said they would study less. If you don’t have the ability, it’s just a waste of time. They even said they would consider cheating.
Instead of learning from the mistakes and repairing failures, people with fixed mindsets will often opt for repairing their self-esteem. One way they can go about it, is by looking at others who are worse off than they are.
College students, after performing poorly on a test were given a chance to look at other students tests. Those in the growth mindset looked at the students who did better, as a way to correct their mistakes.
Students in the fixed mindset chose to look at the tests of students who did even worse than they had. They needed to feel better about themselves.
You can see the differences in mindset by distinct patterns in brain waves. Researchers brought a group of people into the lab. They were asked hard questions and received feedback.
The investigation team was curious about when their brain waves would show interest and attention.
People with a fixed mindset were only interested when the feedback reflected their ability. They paid attention when they were told if their answers were right or wrong.
Here’s the interesting part, they showed no interest in information that could help them learn. Even when they got a wrong answer they showed no interest in learning the right one. Wait what???
On the other hand, growth minded people were paying close attention to information that would stretch their knowledge.
How do We Develop Our Mindset?
Good old nature vs nurture question. It’s both. Genetics and environment constantly interacting to impact our mindsets and character.
Interestingly enough, Alfred Binet, the man behind the IQ test actually championed for the importance of background, training, and experiences.
With the advances in neuropsychology providing evidence for neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change throughout our lives, there’s little question that we can train ourselves into a growth-oriented mindset.
Studies showed that one of the ways we teach children these mindsets is through praise:
- Praising for effort – pushes into a growth mindset
- Praising for intelligence or talent – pushes into a fixed mindset
How Do We Foster a Growth Mindset?
Important achievements require a clear focus, all out effort and a bottomless trunk full of strategies.
– Carol Dweck
In my experience of shifting from a fixed to a growth mindset, these steps help:
1. Acknowledge your mindset
Examine how you’re talking and explaining why you’re struggling with something.
Are you using sentences like:
- I just don’t have the willpower, strength, creativity…
- I’m not athletic, creative, flexible…
- I’m not the kind of person who…. (runs, writes, reads)
- I’m not good with math, science, details etc.
2. Look for examples
Question those beliefs. It’s very hard to eliminate them or replace them just out of voicing new beliefs when deep down you haven’t experienced the truth of them.
But it’s not so hard to just question them.
- Is there any area of your life, where you struggled with something yet persisted long enough that you started to see yourself differently?
- Do you know someone who went through this?
If you don’t know anyone personally, you can read biographies, or investigate the story of someone you admire, and undoubtedly, you’ll come across instances of failure, met with consistent effort and a commitment towards learning.
3. Back it up with action
We believe something when we experience it. Once you question the belief, immediately take action. But don’t take on a monumental and overwhelming challenge.
Commit to practicing and be strategic about it. Here’s how I went about it:
I knew I loved working out and I go to the gym 5 days a week. So I decided I would do deep stretching at least for 15 minutes by the end of every workout, in reality, it was always more like 30 minutes. But, the point is I started with something manageable.
I stopped focusing on the what the postures should look like and instead focused on the alignment and mechanics of the posture. Focusing on processes instead of outcomes is huge.
4. Focus on practice and incremental progress not outcomes
Even though I still have goals for certain postures, my goal, in general, is to practice 4 to 5 times a week. That’s it.
James Clear refers to this as building identity-based habits. The focus is in the choices we make every day. Those behaviors ultimately affect how we see ourselves.
Eventually, I started perceiving myself as a girl who kept persisting and practicing regardless of the results.
Wrapping It Up
Philosophers, psychologists, and thinkers are addressing the importance of our beliefs since we can remember.
People who perform better have a set a beliefs that enable them to shrug off failure. They persist in the face of challenge and consistently look for opportunities to grow.
Most people agree that we can teach someone math. But the idea that we can learn to shape our beliefs in more self-serving ways is not as easily sold.
But once we have an actual experience of it, failure, setbacks and challenges become stepping stones and not stopping blocks.
We know that there is a mindset in which people are enmeshed in the idea of their own talent and specialness. When things go wrong, they lose their focus and ability, putting everything they want into jeopardy.
We also know, that there’s a mindset that helps people cope well with setbacks, points them to good strategies and leads them to act in their best interest.
– Carol Dweck
Clear, J. (2013). Fixed mindset vs growth mindset: How your beliefs change your behavior. Retrieved here.
Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House Publishing Group.
Now I’d love to hear from you. What strategies did you use to overcome challenges? Leave a comment below, as I learn as much from you.