Mindset Matters

“If you want to improve in anything, start seeing mistakes and failures for what they are — the precise means of your education.” Gregory Ciotti

What’s your mindset? Research shows that people with a “growth mindset” are more likely to focus on taking small steps to reach goals, experimenting along the way, while people with a “fixed mindset” tend to believe that talent is inborn and unchangeable, and so give up on their dreams way too easily.

Instead of obsessing over the things you can't...

-Mandy Hale (Photo credit: deeplifequotes)

Lately, I’ve started a practice of writing “morning pages,” a strategy outlined by Julia Cameron in her book, The Artist’s Way, as an effective means to prime the creative pump. Each morning, I show up at a table by my dining room window, sit down with a cup of green tea, and write three pages of whatever is on my mind.

It’s quite simple, but not easy. And, over time, incredibly powerful.

A colleague recently introduced me to Gregory Ciotti’s blog on creativity, The Sparring Mind. One of the concepts that fits well with my own creative practice is fixed vs. growth mindset. Ciotti talks about bright girls being particularly unwilling to take risks because they believe their talent is inborn and unchangeable – largely because of the way girls are socialized in our culture. This happens to be a particularly crippling world view.

As a girl who went for the straight A’s and avoided topics that felt too foreign or difficult (in my case, math and science), I have direct experience with the limitations of a fixed mindset.

People who develop a growth mindset, however, are able to take risks because they don’t fear looking foolish. They actually want to experiment and to fail, because that’s how they learn. Ciotti argues that a strategy of “fake it until you make it” is actually quite effective — it results in small wins, which then lead to genuine confidence.

In Ciotti’s words, “Over time, this creates a key trait in the growth mindset: a passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval.”

By taking small steps (like writing morning pages instead of the Great American novel), we build our confidence and our curiosity about what comes next. As a woman, I’ve spent way too much time hungering for approval. One of the great advantages of aging, and being conscious about it, is the ability to see our own patterns over time – and then being willing to break free of them.

As I get older, I care less what people think of me, and way more about my own feelings and perceptions – and my ability to learn.

The research on bright girls is instructive. Psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson, PhD, has published excellent essays like The Trouble with Bright Girls, where she addresses how “fixed mindset” sets students up for failure.

I hold out hope that all of us, whether female or male, young or old, can foster a learning mindset. Taking small steps teaches us that consistent effort over time is the path to mastery. If we start a daily practice of any kind – whether morning pages, yoga, meditation, or whatever rings out bells – over time we will build confidence. And we become curious about where our small steps will lead. Before you know it, those morning pages turn into the Great American novel, or the start of your next painting, or the inspiration to dance.

Practice creativity daily and fearlessly. Ultimately, small steps foster a passion for learning and help to soften any hunger for approval. Read more posts on this topic.