Recently I was asked to submit an application to speak at a local Tedx event at UC (such a flattering invitation). The topic of the day is doubt and fear of failure. I immediately knew I wanted to present on mindset. Poor Molly has heard me talk about this topic a million times. The concept of fixed v. growth mindset (if you don’t know what that means keep reading) rocked my world when I learned about it and fascinates me to this day, and admittedly I talk about it all the time.
So, here is the gist. We raise kids, especially girls (says research) with fixed mindsets. We praise outcomes not effort. Now, I will say, thanks to research this trend is starting to change. But certainly when we were little we got praised for A’s, goals scored, and science fair ribbons regardless of how easy it was for us to accomplish those things.
I, for example, grew up with a fixed mindset. If I failed a science test, it meant I wasn't good at science. If I missed a soccer goal, it meant I must be bad at soccer. It was good, bad, right, wrong. I was afraid to fail, and as a result, I was afraid to try new things. Surely if I failed it would mean something fixed about my character or my ability, who I was as a person. I knew this to be true because when I succeeded my parents, my teachers, and my peers praised fixed traits.
“Look at how you wrote your name! You’re so smart.” Let’s be real, it probably took me 1000 times and many days practicing my letters before I learned to actually write my name. Despite that, I wasn’t praised for the effort, I was praised for the outcome.
When I was 23 I got hit by a car on my bike, and I was in a wheelchair for 3-months. If you’ve been following along with us, you know this story. If not check it out here. It was during this recovery, while at an appointment with one of my physical therapists that I was introduced to the power of mindset and the simple word yet.
He asked, “How are you doing standing?” And I said, “I can’t stand up.” He replied, “You can’t stand up, yet.” Yet. So simple. So powerful. It transformed my recovery.
“I can’t stand, yet.”
“I can’t walk with crutches, yet.”
“I can’t walk without the crutches, yet.”
“I can’t bend my left leg, yet.”
“I can’t walk for more than a few blocks, yet.”
“I can’t walk a mile, yet.”
“I can’t run, yet.”
“I can’t run a 5k, yet.”
“I can’t run a half marathon, yet.”
And then a year a half after I got hit by a car and was told that I probably would never run again, I finished that half.
It would be a few years after that before I would discover the science behind this magical word. After I finished my masters I went on to get a graduate certificate in positive psychology—the study of how humans flourish. During that course work, I discovered Carol Dweck and her work with a fixed and growth mindset. Carol Dweck is a psychologist who studies human flourishing. She confirmed what I already knew.
In a randomized study, Carol found that putting in certain phrases like not yet or yet can really boost students’ motivation. So, if a student says, “I’m not a math person — yet” “I can’t do this — yet,” they will actually perform better over the course of a school year then students who simply say, “I’m not good at math.”
The word yet actually takes us from a perspective of a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. In a growth mindset, we are never good or bad at anything, we’re simply learning. Having a fixed mindset about yourself and your abilities means you think you are the way you are, and that’s pretty much that. A growth mindset, on the other hand, means you believe your skills are not static, and you have the ability to change and learn. Here is an image from Carol's book Mindset that I think does a good job depiciting the differences bewteen the two mindset types.
The word yet has changed my life. It helps me shift from a fixed to a growth mindest. It has given me permission to be exactly where I am while also setting big goals. It has given me permission to try new things and fail—sometimes in a really big way. It has given me permission to try on new hats and new roles. It has changed my relationship with failure. It is the reason I started two companies, left my 9-5 to pursue my dream, moved cities, got married, took leaps, and it is the reason I can stand.
So, if you can't stand, yet—that’s OK, it’ll happen, it just hasn’t happened, yet.