One of my biggest regrets from my teenage years was not going to play laser tag.
In general, I didn’t enjoy youth group and frivolous activities, so I stayed out in the lobby. It’s not the game I regret, what I regret is not trying it.
Years later when I had the chance to go paintballing with some friends, I did. Later, I had the opportunity to go again. I was looking forward to it, but something drastic changed. It was no longer the right thing for me to do, so I didn’t go. I have no regrets from trying it or from not going when it was clearly the wrong thing for my emotional health.
Over the years, I have cultivated a desire to try new things, learn from my experiences and my failures. I recently came across a concept which I find useful in talking about this change. It is a growth mindset.
Carol Dweck, a researcher at Stanford University, came up with the idea of a growth mindset vs.
fixed mindset. A person with a growth mindset is always looking for ways to grow – through such things as embracing challenges, being inspired by other people, and seeing failures as an opportunity to learn and persevere. A fixed mindset does the opposite. They avoid challenges, are intimidated by other people’s success, and give up easily.
A recent email from the Rural Mental Health Network gave five suggestions on how to move
from a fixed to a growth mindset.
The first one is: “Tell yourself a different story – catch yourself in the moment, make a shift,
change your language.”
One of the best things I learned in counselling was to avoid imperative words such as should. For example, “I should work on my novel.” When I tell myself this, it makes me want to avoid it and feel guilty. Instead, if I tell myself, “I want to finish writing my novel, so I plan to set measurable and attainable goals, and forgive myself if I do not meet these goals.”
Connected with this is the next item in the list: “Set learning goals as opposed to performance goals – focus on process as opposed to outcome.”
Every experience is an opportunity to learn. However, if the focus is on the final product, this can be lost.
Number three is a bit harder to get my mind around. “Capitalize on your failures – review them, identify what did not work and then devise a plan to correct the mistakes.”
This requires a certain amount of emotional detachment and time. Any type of reflection requires time, but reflection on negative events and emotions requires extra care and more time. I often find, that waiting a bit between failure and reflection is helpful. I often fill this break with self-care, such as going for a walk or colouring. Self-improvement and empowerment are not easy tasks. They require flexibility, grace, and patience.
The fourth idea is to “choose Goldilocks tasks for continuous improvement” which means tasks which are just a tiny bit higher than your current abilities. This goes back to my example about language. The writing tasks I tend to give myself are included in this category.
The final idea is to “be consistent and flexible – consistently reflect on behaviours and be flexible in learning from them.”
I would also add that, for me, flexibility includes active forgiveness.