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Personal Narrative: The Fixed Mindset Voice

Posted on May 20, 2016

This week, we will continue our exploration of the power of voice in reclaiming control over one’s personal narrative. The concept of Growth Mindset plays a critical in exploring the change in voice – the change from a voice with little power or control to a voice the reflects the strength and wisdom that can come from post-traumatic growth. Carol Dweck in her book Mindsets states, “This Growth Mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way…they believe that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training.”

Dweck has studied many diverse groups of people of different ages and from different cultural backgrounds, and has found that when a person views themselves in relation to the effort they put forth, their achievement and ability to reach their goals increases dramatically. On the other hand, if someone believes they are either inherently great or poor at something, their performance usually suffers compared to those that focus on effort. Most clients I have worked with fall into the second category, or what Dweck terms having a Fixed Mindset.

When clients are in the Fixed Mindset, it is easy for them to get stuck in their current situation, and it can be difficult to find the motivation and hope needed to work towards a better future. Believing that there is something inherently wrong with you leaves you in a place of powerlessness and victimization. One of the things I have been really paying attention to in recent years has been how our language as helpers reinforces the concept that there is something inherently wrong with the client. Labels such as homeless person, criminal, addict, mentally ill, and others can reinforce that the person is their problem. It is easy to develop a Fixed Mindset when those in your community constantly judge and label you.

This internalization of their challenges being part of their personality can leave clients feeling like they are inferior to others who do not have these labels or challenges. Dweck found that people struggling with a Fixed Mindset have increased depression or anger in the face of hardship, and struggle to find the energy and motivation needed to make their situation and lives better. I have seen this happen with so many of my clients over the years. When even little things didn’t go the way they expect, I often saw a level of defeat or anger that didn’t seem appropriate to the situation. It is only when one steps back and sees the current challenge in terms of a larger series of setbacks and failures that the depression and anger starts to make sense.

The tragedy of the Fixed Mindset is the missed opportunities for growth and change. If a client feels they are unworthy of a resource or the empathy and trust of the helper, they will struggle to find motivation or even may not continue to engage in services. The important thing to understand about the Fixed Mindset is that what often seems like an inherent lack of motivation or energy for change is not a flaw of the client as a person, but the result of years of setback and hardship.

The Fixed Mindset is one of those pieces of research that really taught me a lot about myself, as well as the struggles of my clients. I have always been someone who has been hard on myself, and I struggle greatly when my performance does not meet my own high expectations. As I read Carol Dweck’s research, I realized that I was a great example of someone stuck in the Fixed Mindset. Throughout my education, As were not something to be celebrated, but were expected. In sports, victory was less an accomplishment than the absence of defeat, and in my trainings, one bad evaluation could offset 80 great ones.

Instead of seeing myself on a journey of constant improvement, I expected perfection on every task, every time. Too often, I would fail to live up to the standards I set for myself. In this Fixed Mindset, I never paid much attention to my strengths, as my weaknesses kept me from being the person I truly wanted to become. When I think about the similarities between my mindset and those of my clients, I realize that we were often both stuck in negative cycles of thinking.

The only difference that I can find was that I lucky enough to have been raised in a safe community and a loving home, where I was able to have some early success in school and sports. While my thinking was fixed, I realized that hard work and dedication would minimize failures and setbacks. This gave me a great amount of motivation to work harder and longer than any of my peers. Even though this provided me with some success in life, my focus on the negative prevented me from reaching my true potential and enjoying the achievements I did accomplish.

Unfortunately, most of my clients grew up in chaotic homes and dangerous neighborhoods, and were forced to focus more on survival rather than achievement in school or other activities. Few people gave them credit for the amazing amount of resiliency this survival calls for, and instead focused on their struggles in school. Without much tangible success or support from adults, their Fixed Mindset became nearly paralyzing, and too often led to them giving up on ever meeting expectations in school and employment environments.

What I love most of all about Dweck’s work is how easy it is to identify Fixed Mindset thinking. Once the thinking is identified, we can then challenge it with Growth Mindset thoughts and actions, resetting how we look at ourselves and the world. In next week’s post, we will examine the Growth Mindset in more detail, and look at some basic skills to help shift Fixed Mindset thinking into motivation and help for a better future.

My question this week is whether you can identify any Fixed Mindset thinking in your own life. This thinking is usually characterized by statements like, “I have no musical talent” or “I’m just not a natural born athlete.” My hope is that over the next couple weeks, you can change this thinking and how you look at yourself, and then take this understanding into helping clients reset their own Fixed Mindsets.

Personal Narrative: The Fixed Mindset Voice

Posted on May 20, 2016

This week, we will continue our exploration of the power of voice in reclaiming control over one’s personal narrative. The concept of Growth Mindset plays a critical in exploring the change in voice – the change from a voice with little power or control to a voice the reflects the strength and wisdom that can come from post-traumatic growth. Carol Dweck in her book Mindsets states, “This Growth Mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way…they believe that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training.”

Dweck has studied many diverse groups of people of different ages and from different cultural backgrounds, and has found that when a person views themselves in relation to the effort they put forth, their achievement and ability to reach their goals increases dramatically. On the other hand, if someone believes they are either inherently great or poor at something, their performance usually suffers compared to those that focus on effort. Most clients I have worked with fall into the second category, or what Dweck terms having a Fixed Mindset.

When clients are in the Fixed Mindset, it is easy for them to get stuck in their current situation, and it can be difficult to find the motivation and hope needed to work towards a better future. Believing that there is something inherently wrong with you leaves you in a place of powerlessness and victimization. One of the things I have been really paying attention to in recent years has been how our language as helpers reinforces the concept that there is something inherently wrong with the client. Labels such as homeless person, criminal, addict, mentally ill, and others can reinforce that the person is their problem. It is easy to develop a Fixed Mindset when those in your community constantly judge and label you.

This internalization of their challenges being part of their personality can leave clients feeling like they are inferior to others who do not have these labels or challenges. Dweck found that people struggling with a Fixed Mindset have increased depression or anger in the face of hardship, and struggle to find the energy and motivation needed to make their situation and lives better. I have seen this happen with so many of my clients over the years. When even little things didn’t go the way they expect, I often saw a level of defeat or anger that didn’t seem appropriate to the situation. It is only when one steps back and sees the current challenge in terms of a larger series of setbacks and failures that the depression and anger starts to make sense.

The tragedy of the Fixed Mindset is the missed opportunities for growth and change. If a client feels they are unworthy of a resource or the empathy and trust of the helper, they will struggle to find motivation or even may not continue to engage in services. The important thing to understand about the Fixed Mindset is that what often seems like an inherent lack of motivation or energy for change is not a flaw of the client as a person, but the result of years of setback and hardship.

The Fixed Mindset is one of those pieces of research that really taught me a lot about myself, as well as the struggles of my clients. I have always been someone who has been hard on myself, and I struggle greatly when my performance does not meet my own high expectations. As I read Carol Dweck’s research, I realized that I was a great example of someone stuck in the Fixed Mindset. Throughout my education, As were not something to be celebrated, but were expected. In sports, victory was less an accomplishment than the absence of defeat, and in my trainings, one bad evaluation could offset 80 great ones.

Instead of seeing myself on a journey of constant improvement, I expected perfection on every task, every time. Too often, I would fail to live up to the standards I set for myself. In this Fixed Mindset, I never paid much attention to my strengths, as my weaknesses kept me from being the person I truly wanted to become. When I think about the similarities between my mindset and those of my clients, I realize that we were often both stuck in negative cycles of thinking.

The only difference that I can find was that I lucky enough to have been raised in a safe community and a loving home, where I was able to have some early success in school and sports. While my thinking was fixed, I realized that hard work and dedication would minimize failures and setbacks. This gave me a great amount of motivation to work harder and longer than any of my peers. Even though this provided me with some success in life, my focus on the negative prevented me from reaching my true potential and enjoying the achievements I did accomplish.

Unfortunately, most of my clients grew up in chaotic homes and dangerous neighborhoods, and were forced to focus more on survival rather than achievement in school or other activities. Few people gave them credit for the amazing amount of resiliency this survival calls for, and instead focused on their struggles in school. Without much tangible success or support from adults, their Fixed Mindset became nearly paralyzing, and too often led to them giving up on ever meeting expectations in school and employment environments.

What I love most of all about Dweck’s work is how easy it is to identify Fixed Mindset thinking. Once the thinking is identified, we can then challenge it with Growth Mindset thoughts and actions, resetting how we look at ourselves and the world. In next week’s post, we will examine the Growth Mindset in more detail, and look at some basic skills to help shift Fixed Mindset thinking into motivation and help for a better future.

My question this week is whether you can identify any Fixed Mindset thinking in your own life. This thinking is usually characterized by statements like, “I have no musical talent” or “I’m just not a natural born athlete.” My hope is that over the next couple weeks, you can change this thinking and how you look at yourself, and then take this understanding into helping clients reset their own Fixed Mindsets.

16 responses to “Personal Narrative: The Fixed Mindset Voice”

  1. Rainey says:

    Another great blog Matt! Thank you for sharing.

  2. Erin Dupuis says:

    Yes, I’m currently working on breaking down some fixed mindsets around, well, so many big bucket aspects of my life! It feels like taking a sledgehammer to a tall wall of brick and mortar. Is there an easier way to move into Growth Mindset that doesn’t feel so exhausting? What supports the change and transition and letting go? Sometimes I think just lack of sleep and too much change or stress at once can make me slip back into a fixed mindset about certain things. I will persevere. Thanks, Matt! Great post.

    • Matt Bennett says:

      That old Peter Gabriel song started playing in my head! I’m hoping to answer your question in the next couple of weeks. Your insight and struggle is exactly what many clients also experience. Add to that the challenge of living healthy lives and it can leave us feel stuck. Be gentle to yourself my friend, as Peter says…

      I get in lane
      I’ve kicked the habit (kicked the habit, kicked the habit)
      Shed my skin (shed my skin)
      This is the new stuff (this is the new stuff)
      I go dancing in (we go dancing in)

  3. Randy Hylton says:

    Matt – I deeply appreciate your vulnerability in this post. One of the things that makes the fixed mindset so challenging in my own life is its subtlety. While I have done major work through the years in dealing with my own negative habits of mind, the fixed mindset repeatedly creeps in like a silent ninja and begins to deftly turn my thinking while avoiding my focus and attention. All too soon this unfavorable mentality becomes familiar and my baseline is lowered – again, without me even noticing. It becomes so important to awaken oneself and to move back to a state of self-awareness and examination. Often, when I begin to recover I find it’s helpful to start simply. My rule of thumb is to climb back out of the pit by doing at least one thing per day that I can point to that demonstrates my commitment to effort and achievement. It can be as simple as a period of good exercise in a day, working in my yard in the sunshine or completing a household task that I’ve avoided for weeks. As I move through these “elementary” accomplishments, I regain a sense of empowerment and self-confidence. Regrettably, the ninja’s work is never done and he will soon return, using the silent warrior’s methods to ransack my self-respect and self-compassion. By remaining focused on one simple achievement each day I can disarm him and maintain my freedom. Thank you for providing this encouragement to each of us and reminding us that we can move forward and become that person we were meant to be.

    • Matt Bennett says:

      Your welcome and thanks for the great comment. I fight those ninjas as well my friend! Matt

  4. Philip J. Malebranche says:

    The term “Fixed Mindset” first recalls this one: idee fixe. Given my background and experience, it is American extremists who have an idee fixe; that is, trying to get the world to accept that which has not been proved by science. I think of white supremacy and the idea of racial supremacy. American society has been victim–for the duration of the Republic–to an unproved idea, which leads to negative and unfortunate policies. These damage the Nation and are ruinous to an untold number of fellow-citizens. In the meantime, suffering individuals are inculcated with debilitating propaganda, leading to self-hatred, sometimes. The society, and not the vulnerable, lives with psychosis, and blames its members. Personally, I learned over time of my own abilities, after having been taught that I was not a good student. Self-schooling led to an effort to self-improve and to discovery. Then came an awareness of bloodlines of thinkers and the possibility of good genes. Development is a tool of liberation; hence, the term “arrested development.”

  5. Philip J. Malebranche says:

    The process of improvement can be slow and steady. It need not be a cause of undue stress. Detractors invite disruption. I seek to persevere against them. Bouncing back continually is necessary. Attacks, in the way of slights and setbacks, are ongoing. Resist!

  6. Philip J. Malebranche says:

    Resistance is carried out by any manner of peaceful means. Riposte with peace.

  7. Carlee says:

    That’s a smart way of lokonig at the world.

  8. http://www./ says:

    What short memories everyone has.The gorilla ad was met with an equal amount of scepticism and in fact was slated in the advertising community initially, until it started to receive the huge amount of interest and copycating on youtube.This will probably do the same and the fickle turncoats amongst us will be angrily clapping at the awards ceremonies. And then enthusiastically telling each other how great it is.It’s still a lot better and more unexpected than every other ad out there at the moment.Hats off, they’ve probably done it again.

  9. http://www./ says:

    My suggestion might be to check out Christian Light Education this is where I think I would like to get started into soon Lord willing and we live ??? It sounds like a good curiculim. ?????

  10. http://www./ says:

    That’s a cunning answer to a challenging question

  11. Hi Lakshmi,I like your Kamal work and Kalamkari Patch works. The effort you have put in is very much appreciable. I would like the Kalamkari patch "Hamsa".Padmaja

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