The pace of modern life is such that it often keeps us from self-reflection; we move from one checkpoint to the other, something that gradually becomes a result more of habit than either passion or motivation. This summer, I decided that I wanted to take the plunge and pause. My father and I took time off from our workplace and school, respectively, having made the decision to go on a five-day long trekking expedition. It isn’t an activity I would usually do, which is exactly why I was determined to do it. It is something I would likely "put off for later," as I tend to do with several things in life. But it is this attitude that created an urgency in me: if I’m "putting off" everything, what am I even doing with my life right now, in this very moment?
The trek taught me how my privilege has been protecting me so far; I experienced a great discomfort staying in tents, without the usual luxuries of air-conditioners and electronic gadgets. I think, though, that if we are looking for real connectivity, perhaps we need to isolate ourselves from the humdrum of habit and do novel things rather than check our wifi connection. We need to consciously step out of our comfort zones and push our own boundaries. Like most evolution, this is a step-by-step process. It is a journey that requires not only resilience, but also patience.
Doing something new helps me realize that my identity as a person can't be defined by just a few interests or traits and that I'm able to challenge myself to push my boundaries. Doing things that I haven't done before lets me experience my own evolution, every single day. All of us have our comfort zones — they mostly consist of activities we've done a lot of before. Trying something new allows you to break fixed mindsets and build connections in your brain, so you can see from many different perspectives.
“The path to a growth mindset is a journey, not a proclamation.” This simple insight about mindset was put forth by world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck after decades of research on achievement and success. Dweck explains fixed and growth mindsets in very simple and easy to understand terms:
“In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort.” When you have a fixed mindset, you're so worried about failure that you don't put in effort and give up without even trying. Imperfections are shameful to those with a fixed mindset, because a lot of people think that success is about establishing superiority.
“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.” Success in a growth mindset is about working your hardest to reach your personal best, despite imperfections.
Failure can actually build a pathway to a growth mindset. Until a couple of years ago, whenever I faced criticism or when my teacher or parents pointed out my mistakes, I would get defensive and at times even averse to trying again. In grade eight, when I refused to attend a math session with my teacher because he had pinpointed my errors as an example to the class, I unexpectedly experienced a moment of transformation. My math teacher sat down with me to discuss the whole idea of constructive feedback and its benefits, and that’s when I began to see the immense value in applying feedback for self-improvement. It was like opening a door that showed me what could be beyond my perception of personal capacities and competencies. From then on I found myself often picking challenges that seemed out of my comfort zone and even unachievable. The more you embrace failure, the less likely you are to continue failing—every time you don’t succeed, there's one less thing that could go wrong the next time you try. In the words of Thomas A Edison “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”
When I came back from my trek I thought about how I should slow down and take time to be amazed by things right in front of me. Many things which I would easily miss on a regular day, like a crawling snail, an innocent smile, or a waving hand, now came into my vision and landscape. I could see myself in a new light.
I believe it is way cooler to be the jack of all trades rather than the master of one. This way of thinking does not limit me to one path, and means I can merge multiple ideas and possibilities to accomplish something much bigger than one method alone ever could. Being an expert in one thing and one thing alone means we are less capable of drawing from multiple and diverse resources for problem solving. This could also lead to lower confidence in solving everyday problems and consequently looking for help all the time.
Trying new things compels you to go ahead and try another idea, then another. It opens you up and creates a growth mindset, where you’re looking to expand yourself, and are willing to push your boundaries and do things that you haven’t done before. Benjamin Barber, an eminent sociologist, once said, “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 non-learners.” We as people can evolve and change very rapidly. Our personalities, skills, intelligence, and even mindset are not inherent traits—they're developed. Knowing this keeps me extremely motivated in whatever I do. I know that everything is learned, and thus that I can learn and do anything I put my mind to.
Dweck explains in her book Mindset that teaching a growth mindset creates motivation and productivity in the worlds of business, education, and sports. It enhances relationships. A growth mindset creates eagerness for learning and the ability to learn from failure. To test this theory, researchers asked a group of 4-year-olds to complete an easy jigsaw puzzle. The children were then given the option to repeat the same puzzle, or try their hand at a more difficult one. In this situation the group conformed to one of two mindsets: growth versus fixed. Those who chose to do the harder puzzle were the ones who had developed a growth mindset because the idea of repeatedly doing the same thing without learning anything new seemed absurd to them.
A growth mindset is about being comfortable with getting out of your comfort zone and actively searching out challenges. Having a growth mindset means you are more likely to accept opportunities that come your way, explore the world, and discover new passions.
Building a growth mindset has allowed me to try lots of new projects and to follow my whims and fancies, chasing after ideas that only seemed like fragmented abstractions. I have been able to build a wider perspective, and even find new passions. I remember how strongly I once felt that there is only one way to approach a certain task or idea. As it turns out, there are so many, and the more deeply you acknowledge that, the more widely they’ll open up to you. In the mountains, my biggest epiphany was that I am just a speck in this universe. In our daily lives, our minds are usually filled to the brim with ourselves, but the ego really does need a check. This is essential not only to enable our practice of gratitude, but also to help us successfully overcome our own fixation with things by embracing new ideas. Trust me, once you decide to, it’s never too late to press the reset button. Nurture your spirit of adventure to fly to unknown shores and bring alive stories unheard of and experiences unfelt. Like Indian author and poet Ruskin Bond says, “I am still on my zigzag way, pursuing the diagonal between reason and heart.”
Dweck, Carol. “Carol Dweck Revisits the 'Growth Mindset.'” Education Week, September 23, 2015. https://www.stem.org.uk/system/files/community-resources/2016/06/DweckEducationWeek.pdf
Dweck, Carol. “What is Mindset.” Mindset. https://mindsetonline.com/whatisit/about/
Dweck, Carol. “Mindset for Achievement.” Mindset. https://mindsetonline.com/howmindsetaffects/mindsetforachievement/index.html
Popova, Maria. “Fixed vs. Growth: The Two Basic Mindsets That Shape Our Lives.” Brain Pickings, January 29, 2014. https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/01/29/carol-dweck-mindset/
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