Ian Stauffer
Photo credit: Ian Stauffer

The Ultimate Growth Mindset Exercise

Relate to your mind like a tantruming child.  

growth mindset, was coined by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck and colleagues, which stipulates the belief that a person’s talents, intelligence, and abilities can be developed and improved over time through effort, dedication, and hard work. With a growth mindset, we can break through stuckness and achieve the long-term goals we desire to enhance ourselves in our relationships, in our work, or in any other aspects of our lives. 

Individuals with a growth mindset seek opportunities to learn, gain new skills, and enhance their existing skills. When presented with a challenge, an individual with a growth mindset sees it as a prime opportunity to grow, no matter what the outcome. They believe that being proactive and action oriented can help them advance and thrive. The fixed mindset postulates: “I can’t do it.” The growth mindset postulates: “I can’t do it yet.”

In her book on Mindset, Carol Dweck states: 

The 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 in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments, everyone can change and grow through application and experience.

The foundation needed for building a growth mindset is enhancing our self-compassion and self-belief, especially during moments of adversity and emotional discomfort. If we have unrelenting nurturance for ourselves, we will continue to believe in our ability to grow and change and will put in the effort needed to facilitate it. Here is a metaphor to consider toward helping you increase your self-compassion and self-belief in order to foster your growth mindset. Simply relate to your mind as a tantruming child.

Consider:

Understanding that a child’s basic human nature is good even though they are having a tantruming moment.

Self-reflect: Our thoughts are just something we have; they are not indicative of who we are. Having “mean” thoughts doesn’t make us a “mean” person. When we are having one of those “moments”, it is a prime opportunity to be inquisitive and seek to understand ourselves better.

You can’t take at face value what a tantruming child says during a tantrum. He or she is acting out of extreme levels of heightened emotional states such as impulsivity, anger, frustration, etc.

Self-reflect: When we are experiencing extreme levels of emotional states such as anxiety, anger, hopelessness, etc. we cannot fully rely on what our mind is conveying to us about the way we are thinking and feeling. The thoughts and feelings are usually very exaggerated and disparaging and are coming from a place of irrationality, inflexibility, and exasperation. It is best to wait on problem solving and making decisions when mindfulness is much more likely to get carried out.

During a tantrum, it is best not to react angrily, berate or join in on the chaos because it will result in the tantrum being prolonged and the child becoming more incensed.

Self-reflect: When we are at a fully heightened emotional state, it is counterproductive to dismiss, berate or shame ourselves for our thoughts and feelings. The lack of compassion just contributes to further negative thoughts and feelings about ourselves, a deeper state of hopelessness, and prolongs personal healing and the working through of our challenges.

It is best not to react to the direct emotions of the tantruming child but rather to get to the context of their feelings that is underlining their reaction so you can work through it with them.

Self-reflect: As human’s we all act and react based on the emotions that get evoked. Anger is a secondary feeling which is coached in a primary feeling such as disappointment, frustration or hurt. We should not take the display of anger or another emotion that we are having at face value but rather get underneath the primary feeling that may be compelling the reaction so that we can actively and healthfully work through it.

You would not try to talk your tantruming child out of their feelings or invalidate the feelings that they have. This response would provoke them instead of making them feel supported and comforted. You would recognize the value of your child having the feelings and not just look to “kiss it away.” You would want to talk it through with them and lead them to experience the feelings but not necessarily speak and act on behalf of them.

Self-reflect: When we are having difficult or uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, leaving our comfort zone and fully experiencing whatever shows up is truly where the growth happens. Our nervous system gets alerted, while our prefrontal cortex learns to decipher between genuine versus perceived threats. We learn to cope better by being with rather than rejecting, disregarding, and trying to get rid of these thoughts and feelings which show up no matter how hard we try to push them away. There’s great value in learning how to tolerate frustration and just being with all feelings that show up, especially the difficult and uncomfortable ones. This leads to our self-empowerment, self-growth, and personal development.

Showing empathy, compassion and love during a tantrum will help soothe the tantruming child. We need to carry out those actions compelling our parenting values of connectedness, even if we do not necessarily feel those particular feelings in the moment.

Self-reflect: When we are exasperated, what will truly lead us to openness for self-exploration, insight, learning and the changing of habits and behaviors is us acting from a place of personal self-belief, self-love, and self-compassion. We need to make concerted effort to carry these actions out, irrespective of being fully connecting to them, because it is truly what we need and what will be helpful for us.

The Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chodron eloquently stated, “The more we get to know our mind, the more we foster a connection to it. We begin to soften, open up and become curious about ourselves and others.” 

If only we would relate to our minds as we do to a tantruming child. If we were to, it would open ourselves up to being more loving, compassionate, and nurturing toward ourselves. Our self-compassion and self-belief foster our self-confidence and compels us toward a growth mindset. It accelerates us toward a life in which we initiate, make concerted efforts, and take action toward our life’s goals and being our very best self. 

Here is a Mountain Guided Meditation for Inspiration led by me. Please subscribe to my YouTube channel for more interviews and guided meditations.

Blog as published in Psychology Today.

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