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What You Believe You Know – Talking Mindset

What do you know about yourself? What do you believe? What are you good at…

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?

Stuff. Lots of stuff.

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.

And solve for purple playpuses (platupi?). Or something.

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.

Yes, that is me, in my happy place. I recognise the fins.

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?

Again, eh.

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, yeah, I could never do that.

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, 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.

Early attempts – a very toothy dragon who has seen something he can never, ever forget, no matter how he tries.

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?

Not talent. I just became fixated on arm balances, because they’re FUN.

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 that’s within our physical and mental capabilities (the actual ones, not the ones we set for ourselves), 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/mentally 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.

My favouritest Beaufort picture so far, because this IS Beaufort.

How about you, lovely people? What are some beliefs about yourself you’ve challenged? What beliefs would you like to challenge?

growth, growth mindset, how-to, learning, life, mindset, writer's life, writing

  1. CreatingTheRoad says:

    The one thing I don’t thing I could ever do is sing well. Also, I used to swim and run, and my muscle structure is such that I’m better at longer distances rather than sprints. But I’ve spent a lot of my life teaching basic math and statistics, and making it fun and easy. So many people freeze when they see a number or an equation so I make them laugh and they forget to be afraid. Just recently, I discovered that I love to color with watercolor markers. I’ll never be fantastic at drawing, but I have a pretty good eye for color. And I think many of us are so glad you discovered you could draw dragons. To see Beaufort is a joy indeed.

    1. kimwatt says:

      Ah, yes – singing. That’s an activity that, like dancing, doesn’t leave the house around here…! Thank you so much for your lovely words about Beaufort – what’s really encouraged me to keep trying with the drawing is how many people seem to enjoy them. You’re talking me into it! 😉 And I wish I’d had a teacher who’d been able to teach me that maths isn’t scary – I still find it so daunting!

      Watercolour markers sound like they’d be an awful lot of fun – I need to make time to add colour to my sketches. I do have some water colours, and a friend even gave me some watercolour pencils, but somehow that’s still a much bigger thing in my mind than just using pencils. The next challenge!

  2. Lisa Sell says:

    So many thoughts on this!

    Firstly, as someone who gets depression, mindsets are both integral and complicated. I get depression for chemical reasons but my self-esteem is a factor. Cognitive behavioural therapy teaches a lot about mindsets and how we approach the things we feel we can’t do. I’ve tried it with varying degrees of success.

    As a teacher, I saw how a pupil would often say they couldn’t do something because then they didn’t look like a failure if they couldn’t. There were pupils genuinely not adept with English but there were often those who set themselves up to fail before they even began because of lack of confidence.

    Next, being British means we don’t too our own horns. We are rubbish at talking openly about what we can do. It seems to be the norm to make jokes about what we can’t. While I enjoy a bit of sarcasm, this way of being can be negative.

    As a runner I’ve been learning how to challenge my head. Exercise, as you know, is far more mental than physical. Each run I battle my head that says to stop, I can’t do it, it’s not worth it. I sometimes come back more exhausted in my head than my body, but I am getting there.

    Finally, writing… Well, that is just a rollercoaster of feeling good and crappy. I have no cure except to just ride it and hopefully make it to the end in one piece.

    Great post. You clearly got me thinking! Sorry for the spiel!

    1. kimwatt says:

      I love a good spiel! And I was actually thinking of your running when I wrote this post – such a perfect example of how, when we set our minds to it, we can talk down our can’ts and give ourselves a chance to see what’s possible. I think what you’re doing is amazing 🙂 (And, on a side note – how’s the training been going with the snow?? Hope you’re not freezing!)

      Yes to the talking down, too – NZ has a very similar culture, and I do remember that anyone who even talked of their accomplishments was ‘too big for their boots’. I understand not wanting to appear big-headed, but I think it can really limit us. I mean, holy muse, WE WRITE BOOKS! We should be shouting about that, and instead half the time I seem to describe it as ‘trying to do a bit of writing here and there’. It’s silly. Learning to be comfortable with being proud of ourselves (and realising it’s not the same as boasting) would be a handy thing.

      Also a good reminder about CBT – I’ve worked with it a bit, years ago, but it might be interesting to revisit as someone a little older and (possibly) a little wiser.

      Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment – I love them!

  3. Heidi Love says:

    I love your line, “I can take all these beliefs about what I can’t do and turn them into possibilities.”

    1. kimwatt says:

      Thanks so much, Heidi! It’s a work in progress for me, that one. 🙂

  4. datmama4 says:

    Most of what we can and can’t do really *is* mostly habit and not fact. You’re absolutely right! I love that you’re exploring things you enjoy and are stomping the idea that you’re unable to be good at them. Just because (to use drawing as an example) you didn’t naturally start out as an incredible artist doesn’t mean you can’t learn to draw terrific (and adorable) illustrations that not only please your readers but also satisfy your artistic side.

    1. kimwatt says:

      Aw, thank you for the words of encouragement! And for the compliment on the sketching – it’s become quite fun.

Comment away! (Points awarded for comments involving cats, tea, or baked goods)

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