How Mindset Shapes You
Understanding Mindset can transform your approach to art and learning.
Carol Dweck, Ph.D., is one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of motivation and a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. Her research has focused on why some people succeed while others do not. To me, her most powerful idea is about Fixed Mindset and Growth Mindset. If you have not consciously chosen your Mindset, you have inherited it. If your parents and teachers haven’t made conscious choices either, chances are that your Mindset is hurting you in profound ways. The good news: you can change your Mindset.
The Fixed Mindset
When you have a Fixed Mindset, you see your ability as unchangeable. You might say “I’m good at math and bad at sports. That’s all there is to it.” If you don’t see any talent, then trying to improve appears pointless because in that rationale you’ll always be a mediocre athlete at best.
A Fixed Mindset can also affect you if you think you are pretty good at something. If winning makes you a winner, your identity can easily get tied to your performance. This turns failure into the single most terrifying thing – to be avoided at any cost. A person in a Fixed Mindset will do anything to look smart. That removes the possibility of actually becoming smarter. This has profound implications. The immense pressure of maintaining a perfectionist image can kill your passion for any field.
The Growth Mindset
In the Growth Mindset, you understand that you can develop skill in any area through consistent practice. Just like you learned to walk, you can learn to sing, dance, speak French, or paint a portrait.
It’s not about being talented – it’s about becoming talented.
Carol Dweck quotes a seven-year-old girl who shares her approach:
“I think intelligence is something you have to work for. It isn’t just given to you… Most kids, if they’re not sure of an answer, will not raise their hand to answer the question. But what I usually do is raise my hand, because if I’m wrong, then my mistake will be corrected. Or I will raise my hand and say, ‘How would this be solved?’ or ‘I don’t get this. Can you help me?’ Just by doing that I’m increasing my intelligence.”
M.C. Escher, Two Birds, 1938
Failure = Growth
Josh Waitzkin is a chess master, Tai Chi Chuan World Champion and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt. He shares the following in his transformative book The Art of Learning:
We must take responsibility for ourselves, and not expect the rest of the world to understand what it takes to become the best that we can become. Great ones are willing to get burned time and again as they sharpen their swords in the fire.
As artists, we feel pain when we destroy a beautiful passage in a work because we took a risk. These are our “burns”.
Notice when you pull back from something you are curious to explore. Stop. You have a choice. Consider the implications. I believe that these moments of choice shape our character. Take risks. Practice “looking bad”.
Failure is not when you mess up a drawing. Failure is when you don’t try something because you are afraid that it might mess up your drawing. The richest insights come when you are willing to risk getting burned.
The atelier environment breeds artists that are risk-averse. We spend all day working slowly and carefully. We get lots of praise from friends and family that reinforce the idea of being a “talented artist”. (Red flag: Fixed Mindset!) Thank them for their compliment (they mean well), but hold firmly to your Growth Mindset.
Walking my Talk
You might get a kick out of this. As I was writing this article I received an invitation for a “bad taste” party. I’m already uncomfortable at most social gatherings. So when I picture myself dressing up in ridiculous clothing and facing a room full of strangers, I feel one thing: massive resistance. It was an easy decision – skip the party and use my Friday night as planned: to finish the article and publish it.
Then it hit me…
I was about to turn down one of life’s invitations to take a risk – in order to publish an article about taking risks!
I could feel my entire body tensing up. I knew deep down that the only way out is through. I had to find a way to get from “I can’t.” to “Fuck. There is no other way. I have to do this.” The desire for growth was stronger than my fear of embarrassment. I took the leap.
The moment I put on my wife’s striped yellow pants, all the fear dissolved and I laughed out loud. I felt so alive! For the rest of the night, I was able to just enjoy being silly and meeting new people. Here is a photo of me that night:
I am grateful for the opportunity to think about these things and share them with you.
Thank you for reading, you help me stay honest!
To you and me taking rewarding risks,
Where can you take a rewarding risk right now?
- Find a piece of paper and a pen.
- Write down a list of at least five things you know you should do but have been afraid of.
Is it making that phone call? Erasing and redrawing that head that is almost right?
- Close your eyes and remember a time when you were courageous.
See what you saw, hear what you heard. Really get into that memory.
- Choose one item from the list that you feel ready for, and just do it.
Then let me know how it went.
I’m enabling comments for this post because I would love to hear what you have done. Please share!
If you want to dig deeper, these books are excellent: