Fixed versus growth mindsets

Sometimes little nuggets of trust and wisdom drop into your life when they are most perfectly appropriate.

I’m taking a course this semester called Mentoring in the Sciences. It is taught by a wonderful woman named Laura. Last week Laura started the class by putting up a slide that asked: “Is it reasonable to expect perfection when attempting something you’ve never done before?”

I smiled inwardly when I saw the slide. Maybe even a bit outwardly. I can be exceedingly unreasonable in this expectation. In graduate school, I often feel that I am balancing the act of pushing myself to achieve/learn/perform while developing acceptance of my own human limits. I believe I have cultivated habits that both encourage achievement and prevent me from really reaching my full potential. Yet attempting to achieve perfection is not the same as achieving mastery, and the narrowness of perfection certainly leaves much to be desired. I’ve been left to believe that attempting to achieve perfection provides safety, yet what it most reliably provides is emotional fragility.

So, no, it is not reasonable to expect perfection in light of trying something new, but, yes, I expect it all the time.

The next concept Laura introduced was the idea of fixed and growth mindsets. If you haven’t heard fixed and growth mindsets before, you might be able to intuitively understand what they are.

A fixed mindset leads to a desire to look intelligent and lends a tendency to…

…avoid challenges, give up easily, see efforts as pointless, ignore useful critical feedback, and feel threatened by the successes of others.

A growth mindset leads to a desire to learn and lends a tendency to…

…embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, see effort as the path to mastery, learn from criticism, and find lessons and inspiration in the successes of others.

The presentation of these two mindsets with the realization that I live much of my life stuck with very fixed, rigid viewpoints was eye-opening, relieving, and a little sad all at once. I had been looking for this information. I had been trying to understand how my mind was keeping me stuck in a place of stagnancy, anxiety, and dissatisfaction. Adopting a growth mindset and relaxing the grip of perfectionism can be an effective balm to life’s stressors and challenges.

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Some of my favorite neural cell sketches from Ramon y Cajal.

 

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