Words of Wellness: Fixed or Flourishing?

November 23, 2021 - Culture of Caring - Claudia Finkelstein

Feeling a bit gloomy during a recent short, cold November day, I found myself (not following my own advice) engaging in doom scrolling in semi darkness. Among the memes and outrage, I found a quote that made me pause.

It went something like this: “there are those who, when looking upon a field of roses notice only the thorns, and those, who given a single weed will notice only the wildflower in it.” It may not be the exact quote by Amy Weatherly, but you get the gist of it.

This got me thinking about the importance of perspective, which in turn, got me thinking about mindsets, a concept introduced by Carol Dweck. In her book, Mindset, she asserts that our mindsets are greatly responsible for our successes in and enjoyment of the world. She divides mindsets into two types: fixed and growth mindsets and lays out the characteristics of each. This post summarizes and explains the basic concepts which are more fully fleshed out in her book.

The two mindsets have fundamentally different responses towards five specific areas of life:

  • Challenges
  • Obstacles
  • Effort
  • Criticism
  • Success of others

In short, each takes a different perspective leading to a vastly different world view. When you believe you are “as good/capable/smart as you’ll ever get” (the fixed mindset) you tend to avoid challenges, see obstacles as insurmountable, feel like effort is useless, cringe in the face of criticism and cannot celebrate the success of others. In contrast, when you believe you can change, that “now” is just the starting line and change is possible (the growth mindset) this perspective allows for a  different approach. You welcome challenges with persistence and effort, and you learn to grow from criticism and from the success of others. So, how do we move towards a growth mindset?

The good news is that we can learn using a variety of strategies. One is as simple as adding a word, from “I can’t do this” to “I can’t do this, YET.”

Another strategy is to work on learning to shift our perspective. One way is to use a bit of humor. Looking at a setback as an AFOG (Another Fabulous Opportunity for Growth) can help. So, when faced with an obstacle (be it a person, a policy, a difficult task) give it a humorous label (AFOG) and see what you can learn from it to help you shift. Another thing we can do is to ask ourselves if there is any other explanation for what we are observing.

This is also known as reframing. For example, “that jerk speeding dangerously down the highway” might be “the devoted family member making it to the hospital hearing that a loved one is injured.” Finally, there is a technique that, while useful, may feel a bit out there having been popularized by Byron Katie who is a new age author. Her method of self-inquiry involves asking yourself four questions about any fixed belief you have. 

The questions are:

  1. Is it true?
  2. Can you absolutely know it’s true?
  3. How do you react when you believe that thought?
  4. Who would you be without the thought?

It takes practice whichever way you chose to shift perspective. It’s well worth a try. So, I’m reframing the cold dark days as an opportunity to turn inwards, to reflect, to find positive ways to broaden my perspectives today and especially during this holiday season.

Read more Words of Wellness from the Culture of Caring.