Why it Pays to Learn to Hold the Pickle Jar with Your Elbow
by Kari Pederson
Recently I broke a bone in my hand. My first response to this unwelcome diagnosis was to burst into tears. My second action was to eat a candy bar and half a bag of potato chips. In my defense, the doctor did say I should eat something before taking the ibuprofen.
Later that day, however, my positive psychology training kicked in, and I remembered I had control over how I move through this experience. I am not talking about being a Pollyanna and finding the silver lining in a broken bone, but I do have the perfect opportunity to practice a growth mindset.
The concept of growth mindset comes out of research done by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck. Her studies suggest that people either approach learning from a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.
If you have a fixed mindset, you tend to believe that your talents, personality and intelligence level are fixed or pretty much permanent. For example, if you are not very good at drawing or algebra, those skills will elude you all your life.
When you establish a growth mindset, you understand that talents and abilities can be developed through effort, persistence and quality instruction. Not that everyone can expect to win the Nobel Prize, but you can get smarter or more accomplished if you work at it.
Why does your mindset matter? In the case of my broken bone, having a growth mindset will help me see opportunities to gain from the experience instead of just being miserable. Now I know just how much fun it is to hold the pickle jar in the crook of my elbow. As an artist, your fixed or growth mindset can affect your levels of success and perseverance.
People with a fixed mindset tend to judge their work harshly and rely on kudos from others to determine if their efforts were successful. A fixed mindset can also keep you from exhibiting your work because you see failure as a negative and accurate reflection of your capabilities.
An artist with a growth mindset knows mistakes can be a tremendous learning tool and skills can improve over time. People with a growth mindset tend to persevere and keep making improvements to their art despite setbacks or undesirable outcomes. Challenges become welcome learning opportunities instead of obstacles.
The good news is that anyone can cultivate a growth mindset or support others to do the same. Consider adding some of these approaches to your artistic toolbox.
- Realize you choose your viewpoint of every circumstance or challenge. If I believe I will never get better at throwing clay pots, then that is exactly what will happen.
- Celebrate your learning, progress or effort rather than the outcome. I can be proud I got all my vitamins in the pillbox rather then focus on the fact I dumped them out trying to snap the lid.
- Judge your unsatisfactory outcomes as “not yet: rather than as failure. The rejection email I received from my last query letter simply means I have not yet been invited to write for that publication.
- Look at skill building as a long-term experiment. What can I Iearn from this mistake or how can I grow my skills? Take a project that needs some work and deliberately try to improve it. View so-called failures as a way to pinpoint the techniques you still need to work on.
- Praise effort and persistence, not just the end result. When a friend suffers a crisis of confidence or your child is trying to master watercolors, celebrate the effort, not the finished product. “Wow, you put a lot of effort into getting that piece just how you wanted it.”
Remember, too, that persistence and difficulty often help you grow your abilities and are separate from your potential. Sometime we confuse being gifted or successful with the process being effortless.
My hand will heal nicely and life will go on as before. Meanwhile, I have a golden opportunity to learn as much as I can from the experience and practice a beneficial growth mindset. Perhaps I will even get brave enough to paint holding the brush in my toes. What skill are you willing to grow this month?
For more information on fixed and growth mindsets, explore Carol Dweck’s books Mindset: The Psychology of Success and Mindset: How you can fulfill your potential.
Kari Pederson, MSW, LCSW, is a writer, clinical social worker and wellness coach who has worked with children and adults for over 25 years. An avid student of positive psychology, she loves helping people live their best lives. Kari is a new writer to VoiceCatcher’s community website and thrilled to be part of its mission. This is the third installment in her series, Healthy Spirit – Limitless Possibilities.