What do you know about yourself? What do you believe? What are you good at? What things leave you bewildered? What’s your mindset?
We’ve all got those preconceptions – I can do this, but not this. I’m good at this, but not this.
But what if it’s not that clear cut? What if what we believe is less fact and more habit?
What if we can change it?
I read a very interesting article the other day. Well, interesting if you’re into that sort of thing. You know – the oddities of human behaviour and all that fun stuff. It was about mindset, and specifically fixed versus growth mindset. Odds are, you’ve heard those terms before. Maybe you know all about them, which is all good, and you can now go and read about cats and time machines, because you’ll learn nothing more from this blog post (although send me the link to the cats and time machines. That sounds good).
I knew a lot less about these things than I thought. Fixed mindset = not open to new ideas, growth mindset = open to new ideas, right?
Yes and no.
Yes, that’s part of it. But not in the clear-cut way I thought. See, I like learning stuff. I’m getting increasingly less concerned about feeling (or appearing) silly as I get older, so that makes learning stuff ever-easier. I believe that if we set our minds to things, and work hard, we can achieve most things we set out to achieve. So, growth mindset, right?
Eh. Not exactly. I’m also very, very good at telling myself all the things I can’t do. Such as:
- I’m not good in social situations.
- I can’t draw.
- I’m clumsy and uncoordinated.
- I’m not good at maths.
You know, all the stuff I just have no talent for, right? And here’s some other things I tell myself, about what I can do:
- Writing’s just one of those things I can do, like some people can draw.
- I’m lucky because I find it easy to work out every day.
- Watersports are just natural for me.
- It’s in my nature to be self-disciplined, so working from home’s fine for me.
Okay, so. Things I can’t do, and things I can. Facts, right? Just being honest about my abilities, right? I mean, obviously I have to consider these points, because there’s no sense trying to achieve things in areas I’m no good at, right?
Turns out I actually have a pretty fixed mindset about myself. And I doubt I’m the only one. I think a lot of us look at our abilities – and the abilities of others – and just think, wow, she’s good at that! Or, hmm, I don’t think that’s really his thing.
This is something I’ve become more aware of since I started sketching. One of the facts I absolutely knew about myself was that I couldn’t draw. I was useless at art – I mean, jeez, I failed it at school! Who can actually fail art? (We’re not talking advanced here, either – I was about 15) But due to a dearth of tea-drinking, acrophobic dragon pictures, I decided I’d try drawing anyway.
Turns out, I’m no Chris Riddell, but I can draw. With some practise. And youtube tutorials. And laboriously copying other people’s pictures to start me off. And a lot of trial and error. And when I put my pictures online, suddenly people were laughing at me and saying, of course you can draw! Don’t be silly – you’re natural at it! And quite a few people were telling me that they wished that they could draw.
But I’m not natural at it. And a couple of weeks earlier, I couldn’t draw. But the wanting to grew big enough that it outweighed the knowing, so I tried anyway. I shifted my mindset, and decided that I could learn, and I did. It’s never going to be super-easy for me, and I doubt it’ll ever be anything more than a bit of fun, but that’s okay. Because it means more to me than just, oh, I can illustrate my short stories, now. It means I can do things I was quite sure I couldn’t.
There’s two sides to this – one is the negative beliefs, that stop us doing so many things. Drawing, for me. Maths and science is my other bugbear – which are also subjects I did pretty badly at in school (except biology. Biology was cool). So I’m trying to rephrase things. If I can learn to draw, what’s to stop me learning to maths? (Yes, I just used maths as a verb. I am a writer, and I do what I want. On this blog, anyway.)
Okay, so this is cool and exciting! I can take all these beliefs about what I can’t do, and turn them into possibilities. I’m not good at maths now, but if I study it and put the work in, I can learn it. I mean, odds are I won’t, because maths, but still. I could. Less exciting is the possibility that with a bit of work I could become, if not comfortable, at least adept in social situations, thus having no excuse to hide in the kitchen looking busy at every party I go to. Somehow even maths feels easier than that.
So what about the things that I can do? Am I to believe that I was not, actually, born swimming in words and sea water? Surely not! Surely I didn’t actually just put a lot of time in and learn those things, just like everyone else?
Sadly, yes. And I can even point at one of them – working out every day – and remember that I was desperately bad at PE at school, and only really took up working out when my very active lifestyle became a not-very-active-at-all one. And that the whole moving every day thing only became a habit when yoga was my way of keeping my head on straight. So I learned to make it part of life, and now I get itchy if I miss more than a day.
*Sigh*. So I’m very unspecial. I’ve worked for all my ‘natural talents’, and if I worked on my non-talents I might be able to turn them into talents too. Boo?
Not really. How exciting that is! How dragons and popcorn fun to imagine that we can try pretty much anything, and if we put the time and effort in, we can master it! How – how freeing. How astonishing to realise we are a sum of our experiences, and by opening ourselves to something new, we can become something new. We can learn. We can change our preconceptions of ourselves. We can grow. We can take all those things that we (and other people) have been saying we can’t do, and do them. You know, as long as they’re legal and physically possible and no one’s going to lose an eye.
And now I have to go have a little sit-down, because all that potential is making my head swim.
Although I’m still not sure about the social skills. But, y’know – I could.
How about you, lovely people? What are some beliefs about yourself you’ve challenged? What beliefs would you like to challenge?