“None but ourselves can free our minds.”
When was the last time you gave yourself permission to be enthusiastically “bad” at something for a while? To feel not quite comfortable performing part of your job or when trying a new hobby or recreational activity, but to keep going anyway – without beating yourself up?
Permission to recognize that it was just a matter of time and effort before you’d reach some level of expertise, and to just enjoy the stretching and the learning process itself?
Think about that time – what made it possible for you?
Chances are, it was what Carol Dweck calls the “Power of Yet.”
Yet is a tiny little word, but it’s a powerful word indeed.
Dweck shared this story in her TED talk, The Power of Believing You Can Improve:
“I heard about a high school in Chicago where students had to pass a certain number of courses to graduate, and if they didn’t pass a course, they got the grade “Not Yet.” And I thought that was fantastic, because if you get a failing grade, you think, I’m nothing, I’m nowhere. But if you get the grade “Not Yet,” you understand that you’re on a learning curve. It gives you a path into the future.”
Cool concept. Being able to view the growing pains of learning as positive can come in handy. Not only when learning a new skill or task, or solving a problem, but with the bigger things in life too — such as starting a new job (or business), moving to a new city (or country), or even making a total career change.
Imagine being able to use the power of yet to keep going when we’re in the middle of a “stretch moment,” whether big or small. As in: I don’t understand this…yet. I’m not able to do this…yet. That one little word leaves the “path into the future” open, as we work to learn and grow. It recognizes where we are, without accepting the notion we’re stuck there.
What makes it possible for some people to view a big learning curve as something fun, while for others it’s enough to stop them in their tracks?
Dweck, a Stanford professor of psychology and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, has some useful ideas on that question, based on decades of research.
She has found that one’s choice of mindset makes all the difference, and has described two: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset.
The Fixed Mindset
In a nutshell, someone with a fixed mindset believes that they are what they are. In other words, they feel their character traits, intelligence, and creative ability are “carved in stone,” and that they “can’t change in any meaningful way.”
Her research has shown that “adults in a fixed mindset think that great effort, great struggle, means that you are not smart,” and rather than embracing new challenges, tend to seek validation over and over by sticking with what they were successful doing in the past.
The Growth Mindset
Someone with a growth mindset, says Dweck, believes that “your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way — in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments — everyone can change and grow through application and experience.”
“A growth mindset…thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities.”
Why does this matter? Dweck writes:
“For twenty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish things you value.”
Let that sink in for a minute.
Put another way:
A growth mindset allows you to dream and encourages you to work towards making your dreams a reality through learning and the application of that learning.
The world opens up.
“Do people with this mindset believe,” asks Dweck, “that anyone can be anything, that anyone with proper motivation or education can become Einstein or Beethoven? No, but they believe that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training.”
We human beings are such multi-faceted creatures, but we can get into a box and stay there all our lives if we insist on limiting ourselves. The good news is that just as who we are is not really carved in stone, our mindset needn’t be either.
In fact, Dweck shares right up front that when she first began her research and the two mindsets came to light, she realized pretty quickly that she was stuck in a fixed mindset. “I knew instantly which [mindset] I had. I realized why I’d always been so concerned about mistakes and failures. And I recognized for the first time that I had a choice.”
“Learn to hear your fixed mindset voice. Recognize you have a choice. Talk back to it with a growth mindset voice. Take the growth mindset action.”
Clearly, adopting a growth mindset can help us make our dreams a reality, bit by bit.
So, next time you find yourself yearning to try something new, but hear yourself saying “But I don’t know how to do that!” try adding this tiny but powerful word to your declaration: yet.