A lightbulb went off when a few years ago I read the book “Mindset: The new psychology of Success” by Stanford Psychologist Carol S. Dweck. This was one of the first audiobooks I listened to while on the run, and I remember thinking to myself “This makes so much sense… I got it all wrong! But I still have so much time to change!"
The book discusses the difference between a "fixed mindset" and a "growth mindset”.
The fixed mindset is the belief we are born with talents and qualities which are fixed and immutable. On the opposite, the growth mindset is the belief that, through practice, effort and shift in perspective, we can grow to our true unknown potential.
Don’t be fooled by reading my oversimplification and interpretation of the growth mindset.
While the concept may seem simple and obvious, the implications are enormous. Dr Dweck and her team spent years researching, studying and testing the growth mindset and system. They applied it to young students in different schools, with amazing results.
The book has particular relevance to coaches, leaders, teachers and parents, but I feel it has a place in this blog as it can be applied to running. It can be interpreted in the context of training and racing, and constant improvement of our skills.
My three major insights from the book were:
Qualities are like muscles, we can strengthen them.
It seems plausible to me that, Usain Bolt and Kouros Yiannis, possess some special genetic combinations which give them innate advantage over the rest of us. But I am sure that when they were kids or starting out, these supreme qualities were not that obvious but they cemented through a lifetime of dedication and training.
There are plenty of example of people transforming from overweight and badly out of shape smokers, to elite athletes.
We have not been served with a hand of cards when we were born and that’s it.
Our qualities are not fixed, they can grow and can always be strengthened like a muscle. Our potential is unknown until we tap into it. If we allowed ourselves to try. And it all starts from believing we can improve.
To paraphrase Tony Robbins, “we overestimate what we can achieve in a year, but we underestimate what we can achieve in three to five years”.
Focus on effort over achievement or outcome.
As a result of the previous point, a “growth mindset” is focused on the effort we put in what we do.
If qualities and talents are not fixed at birth, we can stop trying to validate them through achievements only, but instead, we can cultivate them (through effort). This is extremely powerful as when we focus only on achievement, we tend to remain stuck to what we know and what we are good at. When we focus on effort, we open up to the opportunity of taking risks, accepting failures and grow. We can take on challenges, races, training sessions and define our success based on the effort we put in (I gave it all I have, I worked hard for months, etc.), rather than just the outcome (I won the race, I got the time I was after, etc..).
I find this liberating. If throughout my training and a race I give my truly whole self, I can be satisfied. And I can always put 100% effort into what I do.
The conversation we have with ourselves and others is important
To quote Dr Dweck from her Ted Talk:
“I heard about a high school in Chicago where students had to pass a certain number of courses to graduate, and if they didn't pass a course, they got the grade “Not Yet.” And I thought that was fantastic, because if you get a failing grade, you think, I'm nothing, I'm nowhere. But if you get the grade “Not Yet” you understand that you're on a learning curve. It gives you a path into the future."
"I am not that fast, yet”. “I have not reached my PB, yet”.
When we truly mean the yet at the end of the sentence, it changes its meaning and impact. It leaves space for growth and moving forward.
We all have certain aspects in our lives for which we naturally have a fixed-mindset and others for which we have a growth mindset. I know I sound like a broken record but changing mindset requires practice and faith in ourselves.
The book is really powerful and contains several methods on how to practice growth-mindset.
I would encourage you to read or listen to this book. In fact, I have it back on my Audible list, ready for my next long run!