Recently, I’ve been reading a book called Mindset. It was given to me, along with a few other similar books, by one of my closest friends when I was having a bit of a rough week, and although the basic premise of the book is nothing new to me, oh my god is it a revelation.
According to Carol Dweck’s research, people fit into two groups — those with the “fixed mindset,” who believe that ability is innate, and those with the “growth mindset,” who believe that ability can be gained and improved through hard work and practice. And the most interesting element, to me, is this idea that people in the fixed mindset group view hard work, in itself, as a failure. Talented people can do things easily. The harder you work, the less good you are, so if you have to work at something, you’re already a failure and you should feel bad about yourself, even if, through hard work, you ultimately succeed. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t a mindset that leads to you striving extra hard to achieve your goals when you find obstacles in your way.
For about a year now, I’ve been reminding myself, “Be more Hufflepuff.” Focus on the hard work, on the learning, rather than obsessing over where it’s going and why you’re not there yet. And although I’d heard of Dweck’s mindsets before, and even learned about them in my college psych classes, this book is giving me a whole new insight into this impulse I’ve been having, that I need to shift how I think about the work along the way.
Because Dweck’s fixed mindset is me to a tee. To this day, I think about how awful I was at GCSE music. It was my worst class. I had to work really hard, and really stretch myself, and I couldn’t be sure that I was going to do well. I got an A in that subject, by the way. You don’t get an A at GCSE from being completely hopeless at the subject. But because it was really hard, I’ve always subconsciously felt like it didn’t really count. What mattered was where I was when I began working, not when I finished.
And although I’m more than willing to work hard at things that I already think I could be good at, I’m still finding it hard to convince myself of the book’s premise that this doesn’t just count for academics. That it counts for pretty much everything. Sport. Art. Performing. All the things that are firmly in the box of “things I’m not good at, was born terrible at, and could never get good at, ever.”
But reading this book almost makes me want to try out the theory. An experiment of sorts. Take something I think of as ‘wow, it’d be nice if I was good at that,’ while 100% believing that I’m terrible at it and will never improve, and see if I can approach it with an open mind and maybe get better along the way. There’s a big barrel of stuff it could be. Drawing (seriously, five year olds are better than me). Painting (how do people not just end up with a splodgey mess??). Graphic design (every time I try to add text to an image, it looks like a comic sans meme). Singing (just… oh dear). Photography (how does light work? How does any of it work?).
I would so love to be good, or even passable, at all those things. I’d love to sing along confidently while playing my ukulele, or be able to sketch a picture from nothing (how do people do that??). And it might be handy to be able to make graphics considering the internet-based nature of my job. But whenever I do think I’ll give those things a shot, I see how bad I am when I start, and I get disheartened. Maybe this book can show me how to push past that?
So, yes. Something I’m considering. Haven’t got to the part of the book where Dweck hopefully talks about transforming your mindset, so fingers crossed that actually comes up. And in the meantime, I really recommend people check out her work. If nothing else, it’s definitely making me think! 🙂