Having a growth mindset is important after illness or injury. I feel it is key to crafting a life worth living when you are dealing with a challenging health issue whether your own or a loved one’s. It’s a way of believing, thinking, doing, and feeling and is based on the work done by Carol Dweck, a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. So it has an evidence base.
The idea for this blog came from the video I shared last week in which they refer to a growth mindset in relation to grief. And I thought this concept that a growth mindset is important after illness or injury deserves more attention.
Because it can be tough living with unwelcomed changes. To the point we forget to notice the good stuff which happens in our life. It feels like happiness, confidence and joy have well and truly left the building. It feels like life is so hard now and if your body has changed a lot, it feels like you have no control to effect change anymore.
So in this blog I share what a growth mindset is, why it’s important particularly in the case of dealing with challenging health issues, and the one thing you can do to set a strong foundation for developing a growth mindset. I also signpost to additional resources.
What is a growth mindset?
A person has a growth mindset when they believe they can learn and change things for themselves through effort, strategies and help from others.
You may have to put in a lot of effort, and sometimes that can be really hard. There can be obstacles and challenges, but you persevere, look for strategies to help, and get help when you need it. You feel good with the results and you look forward to learning more.A person has a growth mindset when they believe they can learn and change things for themselves through effort, strategies and help from others. Important when you are living with a #seriouillness #seriousinjury… Click To Tweet
The opposite is a fixed mindset
When a person believes they cannot learn or change things or that one’s ability is fixed, then that is known as a fixed mindset.
For example, you believe that intelligence is fixed and you can’t or don’t want to change it. You here this in the saying, ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’ Or when someone says, ‘I cannot possibly learn that!’ or ‘I’m not creative.’
Challenge, obstacles and difficult people get in the way of getting what you want for yourself. You give up. There’s no point. You cannot effect change. And you generally don’t feel happy, able, satisfied, etc.When a person believes they cannot learn or change things or that one’s ability is fixed, then that is known as a fixed mindset. This can get in the way of you living well with the impact of a challenging #health issue… Click To Tweet
Here’s an example of growth and fixed mindsets
|Fixed Mindset||Growth Mindset|
|Mindset – Your belief about something||You believe that your body has changed so much it’s beyond repair.||You believe that some gains in your rehabilitation can be made.|
|What you think and say to yourself as a result of your belief||“What is the point of doing physiotherapy? Nothing is changing. And I’m never going to be able to things like I used to!”||“I want to learn what I can be doing to help myself.”|
|What you do as a result, i.e. how that belief manifests itself in your behaviour||You don’t do physiotherapy and choose to watch tv instead.||You find a physiotherapist who specialises in treating your condition. You have a family member help you from time to time with your physio.|
|The outcome of the above||Due to reduced movement, your function has deteriorated. You now have to use a wheelchair full time. You have to rely on others a lot to get out and about.||Doing your physiotherapy exercises improves your balance and mobility. You can now use a stick when walking outside whereas previously you had to use the wheelchair.|
|How you feel about the outcome||You feel frustrated you cannot move as freely as you used to. But this is life.||You are pleased you can use mainly just the stick to get out and about.|
This is a simplified example. With some conditions, gains in rehabilitation won’t be large, they can be minimal over time. Efforts at rehabilitation may largely prevent you from getting worse rather than improving your functionality. Also, having to use a wheelchair full time is no bad thing at all. A wheelchair can be someone’s legs enabling them to get out and about in the world.
What I am highlighting is the mindset you start out with, the end result, and how you feel about the end result. So even if you can’t change your physical functioning due to the health issue, the growth mindset applies to how you feel about it and deal with it.
We all have a mixture of growth and fixed mindsets
In some situations, or with certain people we may have a growth mindset. In other situations, or with other people, it may be more fixed. We will experience both at different times. And they change as we change and experience new things. Growth and fixed mind states are not static.
Why a growth mindset is important
A growth mindset means
- we are more flexible in our outlook, we can see the negatives and the positives,
- we view the effort and struggle required to learn and do something new as part of the process rather than something that is negative and must be avoided,
- we can learn from mistakes, failures and challenges rather than wallowing in them and giving up,
- we are more willing to ask for and accept help from others, and
- we see or can create the opportunities for ourselves.
In short, we believe we can learn. Even if there are challenges, obstacles and unhelpful people on our path. We find a way over, above, under or around them. And we learn from these experiences. As well as learning from experiences when things have gone well and came more easily to us.
Why a growth mindset is important after illness or injury
A growth mindset can help you to more quickly find ways to manage your health issue, live well enough with it, and also to thrive and flourish. It enables you to take control.A #growthmindset can help you to more quickly find ways to manage your #health issue, live well enough with it, and also to thrive and flourish. It enables you to #takecontrol Click To Tweet
How quickly this happens for you is impossible to say. It depends on how developed your growth mindset is, when it is in operation or when a fixed mindset takes control.
Due to the inherent belief of a fixed mindset that making change is not possible, it can be harder for you to live well after experiencing a serious illness or injury. Ultimately, it can make it harder for happiness, confidence and joy to walk back into the building.
It is understandable how a fixed mindset can come about
You can become conditioned over time to focus on the difficulties and negative aspects of your health issue because you deal with it daily. For example, you know how difficult it can be to deal with a really tough treatment like chemotherapy and all its side effects. Or a lot of uncertainty about how your symptoms like chronic pain or fatigue will be from day-to-day and therefore what you can do. Or fear of relapse. Learning how to live in a changed body that doesn’t do what you used to do and still want to do.
After a time, the difficulties, fears and negative aspects become all you know. You can forget to focus on positive experiences and good things that happen. You may feel stuck in the pit of negativity and not see a way out. With some clients, a large part of our work is developing that way out.
The work involves making a conscious effort to focus on good stuff that happens and nice experiences, however small they are (tiny is fine). Doing this reminds you of your ability to notice the good and positive things in your life and strengthen it. This helps to restore a sense of balance to your experiences and therefore how you feel. I think of it as setting the foundation for developing a growth mindset.
You can see why developing a growth mindset is important after illness. It ensures you don’t end up living in the pit of negativity.
So yes, it is possible to develop a growth mindset
Even if the situation which has caused all the changes to you and your life was unwelcome and traumatic like a life-changing health issue often is, it is possible with time to develop a growth mindset from it. This isn’t to say you have to be 100% positive and happy all of the time because that is just unrealistic. Nor is it to say you should not or won’t experience difficult emotions. You may and you acknowledge them as I wrote about last week. And you also learn from them.
How you develop it is a blog I’ll write for another day. But now you know why a growth mindset is important after illness or injury, here are some good resources to learn more about the topic.
- The power of believing that you can improve – Ted Talk by Carol Dweck, September 2014
- What Having a “Growth Mindset” Actually Means – Article by Carol Dweck, Harvard Business Review, January 2016
- Mindset: The New Psychology of Success – Book by Carol Dweck, Ph.D., 2007
- What we know about growth mindset from scientific research – Article by Carissa Romero, Mindset Scholars Network
What’s it like for you?
In which areas of your life do you feel you have a growth mindset and in which areas a fixed mindset? What has contributed to that? What resources would you like to help you develop a growth mindset? Share your thoughts or questions in the comments below or alternatively email them to me (contact form in sidebar).
If you are living with a challenging health issue or are caring for someone who is, and would like support on any of the issues discussed here, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.
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© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2019