Chapter 3 of Carol Dweck’s book Mindset is titled “The Truth About Ability and Accomplishment” and in it she lays out the premise that through effort (growth mindset) nearly anyone can accomplish nearly anything. Ability may play a part in our accomplishments, but effort plays a much greater role in our eventual success.
In our Twitter discussion (#Mindset13) yesterday about this chapter, I tweeted this in response to another participant’s wondering about perceiving people with fixed mindsets as people who don’t want to work or put in the effort:
… perhaps they work hard in areas they’re good at, and simply don’t do things they’re not good at. #notanathlete
I didn’t think much about my response at the time, but today, when I was working out in the therapy pool to provide some relief for my arthritic knees, I started to think about myself and the totally fixed mindset I have about myself and my athletic abilities. The hashtag #notanathlete was written quickly, but sums up my vision of myself with regards to any sports or athletic anything—I don’t engage in those things because I’m not good at them, and I don’t enjoy them (probably because I’m not good at them—a vicious circle). I started to wonder if my fixed mindset about my physical self is part of why I haven’t even tried to do many physical things in my life. I tend to enjoy intellectual pursuits, but sit on the sidelines and watch (happily) as others play games that require physical skill and endurance.
This train of thought was triggered by a comment that another woman in the pool made to me as I was concentrating on doing an upper body workout. She said, “Wow! You’re really working hard today!” My mind jumped to our discussion yesterday about effort and the growth mindset, and I realized that I was making an effort to change the current state of my body (painful osteoarthritis in both knees) in order to regain the freedom of movement I had always enjoyed before my initial diagnosis last summer, and the ensuing months of pain and limited activity that have followed. In all other areas of my life I have a fixed mindset about my physical self and my abilities, but here in the therapy pool, I know I can put in an effort that will have the effect of changing my life. The greater the effort, the more I know I will be able to impact the quality of my life outside the pool.
I still consider myself #notanathlete, but that moment of realization in the pool made me think that I can change who I am physically through my own efforts. This is the first time in my life I have really thought that way. I can move out of the fixed mindset that I have about myself and put in the effort required to do this! It was an eye-opening moment for me, and for a few minutes, I felt like an athlete in training for an event. The event: my pain-free life outside of the therapy pool.
Now on the mornings when I would rather turn over and get a few minutes of extra sleep, I’ll be able to remind myself of the importance that making an effort—having a growth mindset about my physical abilities—can have on my life. I’ll make the extra effort to get to the pool before I go to school, in order to make the changes necessary to have the life I want to have. Just hoping that I’ll have a pain-free day isn’t enough—I have to act on it to make it happen.
I don’t know the name of the woman in the pool, but I’ll be sure to thank her next time I see her. Her friendly comment may have just changed my life!