Mental Health October: Mindsets

image from amazon.com

A few years ago, my work book club brought the book “Mindset” by Carol Dweck up for discussion. I borrowed a copy from the office, not knowing that my nose would be buried in it for the next couple of days, ravenous for more.

I sincerely believe that consciously adopting a growth mindset has been one of the most helpful changes that I’ve made for my mental health. Without it, I wouldn’t have gone to therapy, accepted the lessons I learned there, or done the self-examination needed to grow and persevere through my issues.

I know this all sounds very woo-woo! But if you’re interested in learning more, click on!

Fixed vs. Growth

I won’t spoil the entire book – truthfully, it’s been years since I read it, and I probably wouldn’t be able to do it justice anyway – but there were a few major takeaways that I’ve carried with me. The biggest of these is the concept of a “fixed” vs. a “growth” mindset.

I won’t spoil the whole book, but the author did do a TED talk!

In a nutshell, having a “growth” mindset means that a person is willing to have their mind changed. They’re open to receiving new information that causes them to constantly challenge and re-evaluate their own views. On the other hand, someone with a “fixed” mindset views their own opinions as steadfast and unwavering, and refuses to absorb any information to the contrary.

It’s a tricky line to walk! You want to be secure in your own points of view, but for a true “growth” mindset, you also shouldn’t dismiss any opposing ideas, however egregious, without consideration. Every nugget of information is an opportunity to learn, whether it’s to add on to your own positions or understand conflicting viewpoints further. This is especially difficult now, when political and social issues are more polarizing than ever, and it often feels like people are not listening to each other in good faith!

image from unsplash.com

In that same vein, learning about mindsets can also help illuminate how other people think, and whether they’re even willing to have a frank and open discussion or not. I have identified people in my own life who have demonstrated many times that they’re more interested in arguing and proving that they are right instead of showing sympathy for my concerns. This makes it a lot easier for me to set boundaries! (Boundaries are so important!)

Self-Evaluation

image from unsplash.com

Attempting to adopt a “growth” mindset forced me to look into my own behaviors and examine why I do things, and whether my actions reflect my own values. This was because I realized that I was kind of on “auto-pilot” – doing things because the people around me were doing them too, or because I had been doing them for years and had never given my habits a second thought. Once I realized that I could change my thoughts, it wasn’t a huge leap to re-think my actions as well.

Additionally, I feel that it’s important to be secure and steadfast in your own values when adopting a growth mindset. For me, knowing my values acts as a “starting point”, or the lens through which I absorb and retain new information (or not!). Having this mindset doesn’t necessarily mean believing every single thing that every single person tells you, so having a personal “starting point” is important for learning how to stick to your own beliefs and being true to yourself.

Finally, again, while it’s important to look inside yourself to determine your own values, it’s equally important to realize that people have their own values, and they aren’t necessarily the same as yours! Like recognizing that other people have their own mindsets, it’s vital to realize that other people aren’t in your head, and don’t hold the same exact things dear that you do. Because you can’t control other people, the best you can do is to be secure in your own values, and live as truly as you can to them! (Again, boundaries!)

Mean Trisha, A Case Study

I used to be super mean!

Throughout middle school, high school, college, and beyond, I had a mean-spirited sense of humor. I had always embraced this part of me as a fun, quirky personality trait, and always assumed that it was something that people enjoyed because people laughed! And laughing felt like acceptance!

To illustrate how ingrained this trait was to my identity, I have an example: in high school, I made a Lenten promise (just Catholic school things) to stop being mean to one of my close friends. Constantly making fun of him and putting him down had become one of the cornerstones of our relationship. I told him about my resolution and he was appalled – what was our friendship without this nagging? He recoiled when I started giving him compliments and begged me to start being negative again.

Years later, I look back at this time with embarrassment. Is this how I wanted to be remembered? Is this how I wanted to make other people feel? After being around people whose presence constantly brought me down, I realized that I didn’t want to be that person for anyone else.

I would be lying if I said it was easy to shed this persona completely, especially since it served me seemingly well for so long. I would even say that my mean spirit is still there, waiting like a reflex for the right moment to say something biting or nasty.

However, in accepting that I don’t want to be a callous person anymore, I’ve had to learn how to consciously suppress these reflexes when inappropriate, and instead lift up the people around me instead of regularly tearing them down. I’ve had to learn how to recognize the time and place for trash talk and playful jabbing, and that “all the time, everywhere” is not the answer.

This part of me is still a work in progress, but for me, having a growth mindset requires recognizing what needs to change, knowing that I am capable of change, and doing the work toward it!

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