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Dancing Into a Growth Mindset

Kirchner, Ernst Ludwig - Mask Dance 1929

I started a dance class this week. For as long as remembered I've always wanted to dance.

But I could never pull the trigger and sign up for a class.

I always had a reason - too busy, too expensive, not the right class…but the real reason was a belief that I wasn't going to be good enough.

My mother tells this story about how I was always two beats behind everyone in a pre-school dance class. Her point --- that I'm not particularly gifted at dance stuck to me like glue. It cemented this fear that if I tried, I'd fail and embarrass myself and others in process.

It seemed better not to try.

Then in the fall of 2015, I was introduced to the concept of growth and fixed mindset.

The terms, coined by Stanford researcher and psychologist Carol Dweck, describes two opposing ways of thinking*:

For twenty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value. How does this happen? How can a simple belief have the power to transform your psychology and, as a result, your life?

Believing that your qualities are carved in stone — the fixed mindset — creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character — well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.[…]

I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving themselves — in the classroom, in their careers, and in their relationships. Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb?

Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser? . . .

There’s another mindset in which these traits are not simply a hand you’re dealt and have to live with […]This 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.

Fixed mindset quickly becomes about performance for others rather than real learning. You only are also less likely to take on true challenges for fear of failure. The focus is often on external approval.

My mother is right. I'm not particularly gifted at dance. I can see someone perform a move 30 times, try it 30 times and still not "get it". But what I've learned is that my "gift" is not fixed. If I try, I can learn. If I practice, I can get better. So now I'm dancing. Getting myself to that door on Monday night was one of the hardest things I've ever done. Struggling in class is frustrating, and sometimes embarrassing. My teacher called me out to demonstrate to others what not to do at one point...And the old me would've died in that moment and never come back to class.

But now I know I can learn, work hard and get better.

So I'm going to keep on dancing. And that's enough.


Is there an area in your life where you could

benefit from a growth mindset?​



To learn more about growth mindset and listen to this 3 min video. The video's focus is on kids, but the lessons apply to anyone.

You can be growth mindset in one area of your life and fixed in another.

No one is truly fixed or growth mindset. We're all a mixture.

Kirchner, Ernst Ludwig - Mask Dance 1929

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