Updated: Mar 7, 2020
Writing is a struggle. There is nothing in the process of putting thoughts onto paper (or in this case, typing into a computer document) that comes naturally to me. Ideas, metaphors, and stories float effortlessly in my mind. But the flip-flops of my stomach signal the challenge of culling my thoughts into orderly words with proper punctuation and engaging prose.
Through high school and college, I relied on my math skills and excellent multiple-choice test-taking abilities to achieve top grades. It wasn't until graduate school that others questioned my lagging written work. I labored to achieve basic competency necessary to compose a written report. I fought to put my thoughts in writing. I braced myself for critique by those I trusted. The rewriting process was torture.
A course I was taking, Academic Assessment, helped me recognize the signs of a learning disability. The challenges I faced in silence began to have shape and definition. Reading, spelling, and hearing sentence structure were processed differently in my brain.
Once I understood my limitations, I sought out workarounds. Spellcheck and online editors like Grammarly and Hemmingway were my companions and teachers. I learned to work ahead of deadlines. I let my writing and thoughts simmer. Books on tape and podcasts filled my body with the rhythm of good writing.
I am surprised each time I receive a compliment on my writing. When I hear from friends who read my postings on my husband's CaringBridge site, my heart warms as they share the writing’s impact. And, I am over-the-moon when I receive shout-outs from trusted editors who intimately know my obstacles. The accolades reflect one of my proudest accomplishments - writing worth reading.
I also wonder, why do I continue to work on writing?
To make a change, trudge through the process, and stick with necessary actions needs a commitment to an outcome. Becoming a competent and less tortured professional would be an understandable reward. But I worked on writing even when it was unrelated to my job. Motivating me was the desire to be a good communicator. Speaking and training were easy and rewarding. I saw writing as a way to dive deeply into topics and complexities. And perhaps, it would allow me to engage with more people.
A firm dedication to an outcome is necessary but not sufficient for lasting change. Psychologist and author, Carol Dweck suggests that it is a growth mindset that allows us to believe that it is possible to cultivate our abilities and to love what we are doing in the face of difficulties.
So what does a growth mindset look like?
Approaching learning with enthusiasm.
Willingness to accurately assess abilities.
A belief that efforts pay off.
A desire to use knowledge to change.
Eagerness to take on a challenge.
And, maybe most importantly to allow discomfort: learning includes struggle. (For more on this topic, check out my post on Tolerating Distress.)
A fixed mindset is the belief that our abilities (like intellect, talent, or personality) are unchangeable and out of our direct control. Devaluing effort and fearing challenges are benchmarks of fixed mindsets. It can lead to the expectation of an ability to show up before learning takes place: either you are smart, or you are not.
As a child, a piano teacher confided to me that my sister was naturally gifted. She had a fixed idea of talent. Although I loved practicing, I gave up piano. My sister also resigned from the piano. She hated practicing.
The language we use as adults guides the child's developing self-image. When we respond, "You are so smart," or "You are really good at drawing," we may indirectly reinforce the idea of fixed abilities.
To cultivate a growth mindsets in children try these tips.
Look to encourage effort rather than recognize accomplishments “You are on the right track.” “You worked really hard.
Use praise that emphasizes actions. "You used lots of blue and green colors." or "The tower is really tall."
Allow your child to make the observation of success and reflect her words back, “You did it!”
Encourage your child to think about how to help others learn. “Can you show your sister?”
Add the word, “yet.” Dweck's research suggests that when a child struggles, adding the word "yet" increases persistence and resilience. “You haven’t found Waldo yet! Keep looking!”
Mindset is something that can be nurtured and changed over time or in different contexts in children and in adults. With the understanding that the brain is changing throughout adulthood, we can also use the words, "not yet!" We can nurture a growth mindset even when we face failures or when we try something new.
I continue to play with the idea of how change happens. I am gentler with myself, and more accepting of my explorations, when uses phrases like, “I am playing with…” and, “I am practicing.” It reminds me that my process in change is the goal, not necessarily the outcome. If you have read to this point, let me know how this piece lands for you. I am open to communication, whatever form works for you!
Growing Awareness, my newest endeavor, invites self-exploration of triggers, patterns, and fixed-mindset that restrict or reinforce self-limiting beliefs. By training our mind to focus our attention, to become aware of the present moment, and to nurture self-compassion, we free ourselves up to change.
For Minnesota readers, there is still time to sign up here.