You are who you are, Until you Aren’t

There are people out there who cannot change and there are people who can.

The difference between them is their mindset.

Those who “can’t” actually can change, but they believe that they are who they are and that’s it. It’s about proving who you are. Over and over again. “I am smart. I am talented. I am funny. Watch me be smart, talented, funny.” You know those people, and they do have something to prove. Sometimes it is a bit painful to watch.

Then there are the folks who see life as a work in progress. If you don’t do well on something, you try harder until you can do it. “I could do better. I can work harder. What if I try it this way instead?” Failure is a signal that the approach they tried has not worked, and so they try a different approach. They are the people who just keep going, no matter what.

In fact, this comes down to a difference between people who think they can’t change and those that know they can. Essentially, people either hold the fixed mindset – I am who I am and that’s it – or the growth mindset – With work and effort, I can learn and develop the skills I need. Mindset, by Carol Dweck, discusses these two ways of looking at the world.

Frankly, the fixed mindset seems to not benefit anyone who possesses it. At least not in the long run.

Fixed folks believe that one test can tell you a lot about a person. They see humans as being either inherently smart or not smart, and that nothing can change that. However, some of our most brilliant minds – inventors, business leaders and artists – were mediocre students. And that is because they possess the growth mindset. They knew with enough tie and trial, they would get where they wanted to be. Those who don’t believe in change often end up losing steam – instead of taking challenges head on, they bow out when the going gets tough. After all, they don’t want to appear stupid.

However, this goes beyond just learning and careers, it affects personal relationships and personal setbacks. For instance, fixed mindset people think that if you have to work at a relationship, than it’s obviously not worth having. It should just magically happen. Growth mindset people realize that everyone comes with their own issues, and that in order to have a happy union, lots of effort will be expended. Most people are not innately compatible, and so for a relationship to work, to last and to be happy, both partners will have to sacrifice, change and adapt.

But the thing that struck me the other day was this article in the Huffington Post. It talks about how overweight people don’t lose weight not because they’re lazy or unmotivated, but because they’re perfectionists. They set lofty goals, and get discouraged when they are not met. That seems like a fixed mindset to me. They want the process to be easy and quick, because they came up with a great plan. But the reality of it is that they didn’t gain the weight in a short time, so why would they lose it in a short time?

Instead of setting more realistic goals, like the article suggests, it would benefit them to change their mindset. They can change, and that change will take time and effort. The goals can still be ambitious, the person just has to see the challenge as a hurdle they will overcome if they are dedicated to it.

On the same wave length, Mindset discusses parenting. Parents want to have smart, happy children. And they are often quick with praise for their child’s intelligence for any good result. However, Dweck points out that these children often internalize that they are smart, and eventually become afraid of disappointing their parents by failing at tasks. So they stop trying. They “play dumb” because it’s easier than being proven to be dumb. In one classroom lecture series where the researchers in the book taught children about the growth mindset and the brains plasticity, a little boy who was consistently falling behind looked up with tears in his eyes and asked, “So I don’t have to be dumb anymore?”

Dweck advises parents to praise their children on process and effort, not on results. Telling a child who gets an A that you noticed they studied hard, or effectively, shows them it is the work they put in that got the result, not their “innate” intelligence. Because as Dweck points out time and time again, growth minded children love a challenge. They consistently ask for harder puzzles, tougher math problems, and they don’t mind not being good at them. They see it as an opportunity to learn. The fixed mindset children not only eschew harder challenges, many will lie about their scores if given a chance.

All of this is logical when explained, and it makes even more sense when you teach children. There are some who will try and try and try without a complaint, because they are determined to succeed. While others will throw a fit the moment an answer is incorrect.

We have all heard, and perhaps even said, “people don’t change” or “people can’t change”. That is not true, not even a little. Not only do people change, they do it all day every day, they may just not realize it. Those who don’t change do it on purpose. They stick to their desire to stay the same. Maybe they’re perfect, who knows. But most likely, it’s just easier than facing the things about themselves they don’t like. If they smell even a hint of failure, they’d rather just do nothing.

Now think about the people in your life that consistently shoot themselves in the foot, the ones that don’t live up to their potential, the ones that complain copiously but never DO anything about their grievances. I wonder what they would do if they learned that it has been proven, without a shadow of a doubt, that people can change. It takes time, and effort and patience, but it is possible. Would they actually change? Or would they pretend they never heard this news so they could continue as they were?

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1 Comment

Filed under Health

One response to “You are who you are, Until you Aren’t

  1. Nice post, great thoughts.

    Too many people think that relationships should not take “work.” Too many people believe if something takes too long or takes too much work, it’s not worth doing. But the opposite is true. Anything worth having is worth working for.

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