Which Mindset leads to Freedom?
Why we love a challenge.
“I don’t divide the world into the weak and the strong, or the successes and the failures…
I divide the world into the learners and nonlearners.”
What if the solid ground you walked up suddenly shattered into thousands of little pieces?
I had a hard time being grounded most of my life, but I’ll always remember the day when my clay earth exploded right in front of me as I stood helpless.
I was eighteen, and had finished molding a clay mask in my high school art class. Even the perfectionist in me was impressed. The final step was for the mask to be “fired” in the kiln. I cautiously handed it over to my art teacher, who put it inside the oven.
As I stood shell-shocked, glaring at the destruction of all that I saw as perfect in the world, I allowed myself to have a true teaching moment. Actually, let me rephrase that. I was livid and crushed the moment my art teacher opened the kiln and I saw my artwork shattered. Only now, in hindsight, with the work that I’ve done on my mindset, can I say this was a teaching moment.
As I stood there, my perfectionist Self feeling extremely dejected, my art teacher suggested with a challenge: “There are no mistakes in art. Why not pick up the pieces and make something unique and beautiful out of this?”
I begrudgingly acquiesced, and began to de-construct my art, piece by piece, until an assemblage of clay was mindfully scattered like rose petals on an otherwise mundane carpet.
I created something anew out of shards of clay that I would’ve otherwise angrily thrown into the garbage. My art teacher graded my work, and to my great surprise gave me an “A”. Why?…
Twenty five years later, I can now reflect upon this and understand the purpose of the exercise.
There is no failure in life unless we are willing to accept defeat. Failure is our patient teacher that opens doors to new possibilities, and effort is our greatest tool in achieving success.
How perfectionism stems from people-pleasing
How did I become a perfectionist in the first place? Here’s my take…
I had a wonderful childhood - loving parents, supportive teachers, good friends, and a slew of interests in art, writing, dancing, and nature. Yet somewhere along the way I became my own worst critic.
When we’re children we can pick up on others’ energies much more acutely, as our subconscious brain states are more active. Recent research into epigenetics, or how our environment shapes our genes, shows that we begin to form our thoughts and beliefs in the womb. Stem cell biologist Bruce Lipton, PhD asserts in his groundbreaking book The Biology of Belief, that we begin to shape our mindset as early as the third trimester.1
The subconscious mind is like a recording device. For the first seven years of your life, your subconscious mind soaked up all the information from your surroundings like a sponge. At that age, your mind was always in the theta state — the state of mind in which your subconscious is easily programmable.
-Dr. Bruce Lipton
We all develop coping mechanisms at some point in our lives - a learned response to threats big and small. As a child, if I sensed anger or tension in our family, particularly from my parents, I coped by “fawning”. This essentially means that to avoid a perceived threat, I would act in ways to please others as a means of avoiding conflict, criticism or disapproval, while putting aside my own needs. I wanted to be the “good little girl” for my parents that always had their approval.
This parent-pleasing eventually lead to people-pleasing. If I was asked to go to an event, or help out with a project, I’d do so without a question. It was difficult for me to assert myself and say no. Instead of checking in with my own needs for Self-care, I ignored my feelings and checked out.
My turning point
My people pleasing was left unchecked for years. Every time I said “yes” to someone else, I said “no” to myself. Molding myself into someone who was not authentically me. This eventually led to depression, anxiety and insomnia in my 20s, followed by a full out burnout seven years ago, in my mid-30s, just after marrying my husband.
As women we put a great deal of external obligations on ourselves to check off all the boxes of life’s accomplishments. The people pleaser in me stood poised with my pen in hand, ready to place my check marks.
Society and social media have conjured an image of the ultimate Super Woman, to which we should all aspire. Get an education, have a career, get married, have kids, cook like Martha Stewart, clean like a hurricane, exercise like a nutter to fit into the same jeans you wore at 18, and do it all without breaking a sweat, wearing a great pair of heels, with a smile on your face.
For many years, to my detriment, I believed this narrative, trying to embody the essence of this incredible woman. What I didn’t realize, is that I had attained it long ago. We are all super women in our own right, fighting our battles to find peace in our lives.
In the end, my rock bottom of burnout served as a bedrock of honesty for what kind of life, and what kind of societal bricks, I wanted to build.
Why effort is greater than a good grade
Going back to my parents for a moment. They never put pressure on me to be an over-achiever in school (or anything for that matter), nor were they ever disappointed if I got poor grades - not that I really did.
A poor grade in my eyes was anything less than an “A”! They praised my effort, which let me know that I, and my effort, were valued more than the achievement itself. However, I was the one who internalized my failure. But why?…
Society reinforces the fact that if we have to put in work, or try hard, by default this means we’re not intelligent. As a society we value natural, effortless accomplishment over achievement through effort.
I subconsciously figured that everything I tried, I should get right the first time around (or pretty damn close). In my eyes, perfection was easily attainable…but when it wasn’t, it fed my inner critic’s yearning to blame myself, planting seeds for my unhealthy mindset.
Our society believes that effort is for those who don’t have ability.
We often see those who’ve achieved greatness in their prime, without witnessing all those hours of practice and dedication they committed to their craft. When we say “they’re talented” it excuses others and ourselves from having to put in any work to become a master.
Which mindset leads to freedom?
I never knew that we all have the choice between two mindsets until Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck crafted her thesis in her foundational book Mindset.2 She explains that it's not just our abilities and talent that bring us success, but whether we approach our goals with a fixed or growth mindset.
Which mindset do you have?
Read each statement and choose whether you mostly agree or disagree:
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.
The first two questions are fixed-mindset questions, and questions 3 and 4 reflect the growth mindset. We can all be a mix, but Dweck has found that most people lean toward one or the other. You can also substitute “intelligence” with “artistic talent”, “sports ability,” or business skill.”3
“When you enter a mindset, you enter a new world. In one world - the world of fixed traits - success is about proving you’re smart or talented. Validating yourself.
In the other - the world of changing qualities - it’s about stretching yourself to learn something new. Developing yourself.”
-Carol Dweck, Ph.D.
I shattered my body to open my mind
When I was going through my burnout, I knew I wanted more. Amidst all the pain and suffering of coming off of decades of mis-prescribed pharmaceutical drugs, I was ready for change. I was still terrified of what mental, emotional, and physical transformations I would have to go through, but I knew I didn’t want to go back.
By letting go of control, and allowing my Higher Self to take the wheel, I finally felt excited for a journey of a lifetime. These last seven years have been a nonstop odyssey of twists and turns, releasing my fixed mindset of people pleasing and perfectionism, while embracing the growth that comes with reuniting with and mastering one’s Self.
Did life get more challenging after I took this step towards growth?
But I wouldn’t trade that crazy ride for anything less.
Be Bodacious. Be You.
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Lipton, B. The Biology of Belief. Hay House. 2016
Dweck, C. S. Mindset. Random House. 2006
Dweck, C. S. Mindset. Random House. 2006 pp. 12-13