The Growth Mindset: a mountain climbing epiphany

You may have noticed that I’ve been a little quiet lately on the blogging front these past few weeks. There are reasons for that. Those of you who know me know that I teach high school students music for a living. Choir, specifically. And that tends to keep me pretty busy in spite of my part-time status! I have lots of thoughts (and recipes) to share with you with you eventually. I just may not be as fast as some bloggers because of my day job!  🙂 But I had an epiphany last week, and I wanted to share it because I suspect that you may also have an area of your life in which you can relate.

 

Last spring, right before school ended, our admin team let us know that over the course of 2016-2017, we would be reading and implementing principles from a popular book called Mindset by Carol Dweck. You may have heard of it. At the time, I had not. But I did read the part of the email that said that admin would buy us a book! Given my book fettish, I could never pass that up. Also, my mind, body and spirit were ready for a reset, and this sounded like it could be great food for thought that I was so hungry for. So I quickly said yes to the Mindset book group, and right before the end of last school year, my copy of Mindset was delivered to me.  And back in June, … I. Devoured. It. For many reasons. And I will share some of those with you today.

 

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To briefly summarize, the book or concept of “Mindset” states that there are two ways of thinking: the “Fixed” Mindset, and the “Growth” Mindset.  When you operate under the Fixed Mindset, you believe that you are as good (or intelligent or talented or accomplished or … you fill in the blank) right now as you are EVER going to be at something. If you have a Fixed Mindset about one particular area of your life, chances are that you won’t put much effort into trying to improve that area, because after all, you are already as good as you can ever expect to be. If you have a failure or setback in an area that you have a fixed mindset about, it is likely that you will chalk that up to “it is what it is,” and it will become confirmation to you that you were never destined to be any good at in anyway. You may also come up with lots of reasons (some might even say excuses :-)) why you are not strong in this area. In this way, you choose to live with the limitation, … even if it is crippling or toxic.

 

When you operate with a Growth Mindset, on the other hand, you believe that even if you are not currently as good at something as you want to be, you can improve it with effort and perseverance. When you operate with a Growth Mindset, you may be disappointed by failures and setbacks, but rather than staying stuck in them or letting them define you and your abilities, you make the choice to learn from them. You look at (or hear) feedback about yourself, and own your shortcomings by deciding how you will move past them. You will know that you have a Growth Mindset in an area if you are open to hearing the feedback that could lead toward improvement instead of responding with defensiveness and shutting down. Obviously, I’m greatly simplifying the Mindset concept by summarizing this life-changing book into two paragraphs. But it is important to understand what the Growth Mindset is as it relates to the rest of this story.

 

As I shared a little bit about on my first blog about my Whole30 experience, I found myself at a low point and ready for change, health-wise, in the last year. I had allowed the previous two-and-a-half years of foster care to take a toll. I failed to remember the most important part of foster care, which is self care. So one of the changes I have made over the last year is to resume my fitness regimen. I love to work out. It is part of what makes me tick. Working up a good sweat re-energizes my day, helps me to maintain my mental focus, and gives me a rush of feel-good endorphins that help me to keep my emotions balanced. So as part of my plan to reclaim my health and vitality in 2016, I needed to get back into working out!

 

I’m sad to say that it took me until June for me to hit my groove and find a gym that I love and USE. (More on that later!) The classes are wonderful and challenging. So challenging, in fact, that after trying the first two classes out, I was so sore, I could barely move! Layers upon layers of (unused for years) muscle soreness! I’m talking crinking around on Frankenstein legs sore, and not wanting to laugh too hard at a joke because all of the layers of my abs were sore (to the touch!). It was somewhat discouraging at first because even though I knew I was out of shape, I hadn’t realized the situation was quite that dismal. And doggone if one of my teachers didn’t love Mountain Climbers. MOUNTAIN CLIMBERS, people. So Mountain Climbers make their appearance in many of the workouts. Well, THAT is annoying!

 

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So I kind of made up my mind: Mountain Climbers were too hard for me!!!!! After all, I am not an athlete. Thirteen years of public school education and PE grades have validated and confirmed this! (FACT: The only time I ever played a group sport (soccer), I kicked a goal for the opposing team.) And after all, only the athletic and talented people can do things like Mountain Climbers. Maybe I am happy for them about that. (Although I might be somewhat jealous that they are so gifted, right?!?!) And I’m not. Bad genes. Also, I’m slow. I’ve always been slow. Like since Kindergarten. Also, I’m out of shape. And did I mention: they kind of hurt! And on and on it went in my mind, until I realized that, workout after workout, … this teacher was not going to give me a break on these Mountain Climbers.

 

And then I realized …

 

That sounds a lot like a Fixed Mindset to me. That’s right. Me, who not too long before this point had allegedly just finished a life-changing book about Mindset. Yep here I was, just chillin’ with my Fixed Mindset about Mountain Climbers. Needless to say, once I realized that, it was such a bummer. Because I knew I had to make a choice. If that book was going to be life-changing, then it should impact the way I live. So I made my mind up that Mountain Climbers were no longer going to be the part of the workout where I grab my water bottle and hydrate, towel off my sweat, or catch my breath. And if all I could do at first was to hold a plank, then I was at least going to hold that plank. And if I had to go slow, then I was going to go slow, but … I would go.

 

So now its been over three months. And you know what?! I still kind of hate Mountain Climbers. In fact, I still even have a bit of anxiety when I hear my teachers say that they are coming next. But now, rather than shutting down and deciding in advance that “I can’t,” I have decided that I will “do what I can … for today!” With recognition for the fact that tomorrow, or next week or next month, “what I can do” will probably be different, and better, if I put myself out there today. In fact, I might even venture to say now that I “love-hate” Mountain Climbers! Which is a HUGE improvement in my mindset! LOL

 

For a while, that mindset shift didn’t look like much. Maybe just some extra plank time at first. I would just plank. Which is still working! And then, little by little, I began to have enough strength to be able to climb slowly. With a few breaks. And then the breaks began to be shorter, and the “climbs” were longer. And it didn’t feel quite as excruciating to be doing them! And now it is not uncommon for me to do a minute solid of Mountain Climbers. And because my teacher is pretty hardcore, she usually puts them at the end of a hard workout. After all of my muscles are already pretty fatigued from everything I’ve just done. And I’m still doing them!!!! They are still not easy. But I am doing them! And it feels amazing! So why is this such a big deal??

 

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Although this epiphany is primarily about Mountain Climbers, the Mountain Climbers are not even really the main point. (Although it sure is great to be able to do them now!) What is significant to me is that I now know: I can. This kid who was “bad at PE” in a K12 setting is actually doing OK (maybe great?) for herself and her health in her mid-forties! And most importantly, I know that for future personal goals I set  (athletic or otherwise), I can feel confident in knowing that I will be able to continue to make progress if I stick with it and not let my past or my current or my own thoughts limit me. I may not be in the Olympics. Ever. But I can certainly be an athlete and I can most definitely mountain climb! And that is huge.

 

My hope in sharing this is that I can somehow be an encouragement to you in knowing that you CAN do so much more than you think you can! That you are not defined by where you are now! (You can take that however you want!) Is it a relationship? Is it your health? Is it your job? The great news is that you have the ability to change things. If you are willing to muster up your grit and determination, and to stick with it! You can set stretch goals for yourself, and work at them. If you are not in a healthy place right now, the amazing news is that you are not stuck in your body, unless you want to be! It may take effort and you may have to spend some time, but you can get there. And I look forward to connecting with you and hearing about your journey!

 

So what about you? Have you ever had a similar epiphany?

 

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