During this first month of 2017 I’ve been thinking about how I (and many others) think about life loss and unwelcome change. It’s hard to wrap your mind around a loved one’s death, or the end of an important relationship, or a forced shift in your usual lifestyle for any reason. What do you do with your beliefs about yourself and the world?
I’ve been reading a book called Mindset by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. How each of us processes our challenges is as individual as we are, and comes from a complex interplay of genes, temperament, experience, and effort. To be sure, mindset has a profound effect on how resilient we feel.
Dweck offers two basic mindsets – fixed and growth. She describes the fixed mindset as a belief that our qualities are carved in stone – you are who you are. This would mean people always need to prove and confirm their strengths because every situation is evaluated. We judge ourselves according to feelings of success or failure, acceptance or rejection, and winning or losing. I would add feelings of happiness or sadness, and peace or overwhelm as well.
Dweck goes on to describe the growth mindset as the sense that our basic qualities can be cultivated through effort. We may all start with certain talents, aptitudes, and temperaments, but we can change through hard work and experience. According to Dweck, such a mindset helps people to thrive during the most challenging times in their lives.
This makes a lot of sense to me as someone who believes strongly in the concept of post-traumatic growth. I’ve been through enough difficulty to understand that even in the most terrible of circumstances there are things I can learn – new ideas; new ways of thinking; new ways of responding.
It’s not that I can skate effortlessly through anything to my happy place; it’s that even though I feel painful devastation, hurt, and overwhelm I try to see if there is anything I can learn from the experience. Believe me, there have been times I didn’t want to learn anything – I just wanted life to return to the way it was.
But the willingness to keep learning and developing, even when it’s hard, is part of the growth mindset. It moves you forward by helping you with Accepting, Adapting, Meaning Making, and Replenishing – all necessary facets of coping well with loss.
Science has discovered that the brain is far more capable of ongoing growth than was previously thought, which is great news for aging and coping with illness. It also brings into question those limiting beliefs that often keep us stuck.
Let’s face it – no one likes the arrival of unwelcome change. And it can feel even more outrageous to have to change your Self in response. Please let me know your thoughts about fixed and growth mindsets. And don’t hesitate to contact me if you’d like to work on cultivating your own growth mindset.
Essays on Grief Resilience