June 3, 2018

Always Learning

I remember a conversation I had with a senior developer at a company I worked for right out of college:

"You've learned enough about coding, Dave. Youreally shouldn't worry about studying anymore."

Even though he was half joking when he said it, my lizard brain absolutely LOVED to hear that. It felt like such a relief and reassurance that I was "smart" enough. It reinforced my false belief that I had learned "enough".

Recently, I read a book called "Mindset" by Carol Dweck, which has helped me to realize that back then I had a "fixed" mindset.

In highschool, it was easy for me to get straight A's. In fact, I got away with giving 50% effort and still get A's.

In college, I was challenged much more than highschool. But I was still able to squeeze by without putting in 100%.

As a result of doing well in school without having to work very hard, I was labeled "smart".

In her book, Carol describes the difference between "fixed" and "growth" mindsets. When you have a "fixed" mindset, either consiously or not, you believe that people are each pretty much stuck with whatever skills they were somehow magically born with.

When you have a "growth" mindset, you believe that people are always capable of improving their skills with.

I see now that labeling myself "smart" has had some very interesting subtle negative consequences.

You see, fixed mindset thinkers who label themselves "smart" have absolutely zero motiviation to push themselves into situations that might challenge their current skill level. This might not seem obvious at first, but think about it: if you're already "smart", then why risk it? You have nothing to gain by challenging yourself. At best, you discover that your smart (which you're already "knew"). At worst, you discover you're not smart?! And for someone with a fixed mindset, that is absolutely terrifying. If you're not smart, then there's no hope for you whatsoever because of your fixed minset!

This has been so eye opening for me! For example, I've tried many times to build software projects on the side. I usually get overwhelmed and give up. I think there are many reasons for this, but mostly, I think that it is because of my fixed mindset.

I'm so grateful to Carol Dweck for teaching me to shift from the fixed to the growth mindset.

With a growth mindset, I realize that I'm always capable of improving. People are not destined to be smart or dumb. Anyone is cabable of pretty much anything as long as they are willing to do the work.

In hindsight, I realize how much work and stress it has been to protect my image as being "smart" and to protect my image.

With a growth minset, I can accept my skills as they are. And if my skills are not where I want them to be, I know that I can work to improve.

It's an extremely powerful shift in mindset. And it has given me a new look at what I'm capable of. It has given me so much more energy and motivation to work on building my skills in all areas of life: at the gym, as a programmer, as a father, as a husband, as a friend.

From now on, I'll always be learning and improving.

Tags: mindset limiting beliefs personal development