A few years ago I stopped doing New Year’s resolutions and started setting a one-word intention for the year. Last year my word was “time.” For the first time since becoming a parent, I wasn’t working and all three of my kids were in school. I found myself with unprecedented amounts of glorious, unstructured time to work on my own writing. It felt like I had won the time lottery and I needed to figure out how to not blow it on stupid stuff like reading about other people’s lives on Facebook.
I feel like I used my time pretty well last year. I started this blog. I wrote about three-fourths of a novel manuscript. I trained for my first ultra marathon. I invested in friendships with some really awesome people who make me laugh, help me grow and help me be a better mom, writer, and person. It was a good year with lots to be proud of. I still wasted plenty of time. I didn’t finish my novel like I had hoped to (more on that in a second). But I was conscious of time as a non-renewable resource, and that guided a lot of my decision making.
Something I learned this year: Time is not like money. You can’t hoard it and save it for later. The time will get spent one way or the other, but you get to choose how you spend it.
This year my word is “finish.” I am really good at starting things and am perfectly content being in the middle of a project, but I avoid finishing stuff. My theory has always been that I’m a perfectionist, and that avoiding finishing is my way of avoiding screwing up. You can’t officially fail if you don’t finish, right?
Reading the book Mindset by Carol S. Dweck has given me new insight into why I don’t finish things, particularly writing projects. When it comes to writing, I have a “fixed” mindset, meaning I operate from a belief that my success as a writer is something I have no control over and my success or failure as a writer defines me. Eek, right?
In other words I have believed that being a good writer is a God-given talent that you either have or you don’t. Writing a “successful” book (which according to my fixed mindset outlook is a book that is published by a publishing house and is well-received by lots of people) is something I have very little control over. An agent has to want to represent it. An editor has to believe in it and pitch it to her fellow editors. The publisher has to get behind the book and spend money promoting it. I can’t control any of that stuff.
I get hung up on all the pieces of this process that I have no control over, and I basically give up when the writing doesn’t flow easily. I tell myself that if I were a better writer, the kind of writer that writes a “successful” book, then this would all be effortless. If it’s hard then I must not be very good at it, and if I’m not very good then my book will never get published. I imagine an editor trying to pitch my book to colleagues in a New York City office, snowflakes gently swirling outside the skyscraper window. I imagine everyone in the meeting giving a big thumbs down. That’s when it becomes very likely I will close my laptop and turn to another more appealing project like cleaning the toilet.
I have a fixed mindset about writing, and that mindset is what is standing in the way of finishing my novel. And finishing lots of other cool stuff too. The good news is that I can do something about this. Mindsets, like hairstyles, are changeable.
A fixed mindset defines success as proof that you are talented or intelligent. And failure is evidence that you are not talented or intelligent enough. Sorry, thanks for playing, but you had your chance and you blew it, is what the fixed mindset tells you when you fail. Or if things go well, the fixed mindset tells you that of course you did well because you are talented and that’s what talented people do. Talent, not effort, is the reason for success in the fixed mindset framework. Performance is everything.
Have you ever praised your child for being “smart” when they do well on a test? I think probably every parent has done this. That’s fixed mindset right there. Of course you did well on that test, you are naturally gifted with intelligence. Hard work has nothing to do with it, is the unintended message.
A growth mindset is characterized by the belief that you can develop yourself, that you can learn from mistakes, bad grades, and rejections. Challenges are to be expected because you are stretching yourself to do something difficult. Those setbacks aren’t the end of the story, they are valuable feedback that help you improve. Learning is valuable in its own right.
I underlined and put an asterisk next to the following passage from Mindset:
“You have a choice. Mindsets are just beliefs. They’re powerful beliefs, but they’re something in your mind, and you can change your mind…think about where you’d like to go and which mindset will take you there.”
I imagine sitting down with Dr. Phil and telling him about my fixed mindset approach to writing and him responding with, “how’s that working for you?”
Well, I have zero novels published, Dr. Phil, so not very well I guess.
So here’s my new growth mindset approach to writing:
- A successful novel is a finished novel that I am happy with.
- Writing a successful novel is in my control and no one else’s.
- Writing a successful novel will require me to work hard, get feedback and use that feedback to revise. “Feedback” may come in the form of rejections. No, feedback will come in the form of rejections. Those rejections are helpful to me because they will make my novel better.
- Writing a novel is difficult, but I am up to the challenge. I do hard things all the time. In fact, I kind of enjoy doing hard things, which is why I do crazy stuff like training to run an ultra marathon.
- Publishing is in my control. I will try to get my novel published in the traditional way, but if that doesn’t work out, I can still publish it myself.
- Don’t worry about the outcome, just write the story you want to tell as honestly as you can write it.
I am using writing as an example, but you could apply the growth mindset to so many things. Whether your 2019 goal is to lose weight, organize your house, or start a new business, the growth mindset is your friend. Realizing you can change the filter on how you see the world and your potential is pretty amazing and so encouraging. It doesn’t mean success will come more easily, but your mindset may be what keeps you going when the going gets tough.
Are you wondering if you are more of a fixed or growth mindset person? Here’s a little quiz from the book. Answer “yes” or “no” to the following questions.
- Your intelligence is something very basic about you that you can’t change very much.
- You can learn new things, but you can’t really change how intelligent you are.
- No matter how much intelligence you have, you can always change it quite a bit.
- You can always substantially change how intelligent you are.
- You are a certain kind of person, and there is not much that can be done to really change that.
- No matter what kind of person you are, you can always change substantially.
- You can do things differently, but the important parts of who you are can’t really be changed.
- You can always change the basic things about the kind of person you are.
Did you answer “yes” to questions 1, 2, 5, and 7? You are seeing the world through a fixed mindset filter.
If you answered “yes” to questions 3,4, 6, and 8, then you see the world through a growth mindset filter.
How do you view mistakes? Being wrong? Do you feel like you always have to prove yourself?
If you said that you hate making mistakes, get really defensive if someone accuses you of being wrong, and feel like the world is one big final exam, then I am right there with you.
What if we didn’t see the world this way?
Here’s an illustration from the book: Imagine you have signed up to learn a new language. A few sessions into the class you have been called to the front of the room to answer questions. Do you feel anxious? Worried your lack of knowledge will be revealed to a group of people that is evaluating you? Or do you see yourself as a novice, at the beginning of something new with lots to learn. And this is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for?
This feels like a choose your own adventure story. I know which option sounds better to me…
What is the thing you’ve been scared to try? Or scared to finish? Do you make resolutions or intentions for the year? I’d love to hear!