Quick Summary: In order to grow, we must change. Change, even good change, is hard. Adversity forces us to change, but adversity can be one of the best avenues for us to develop and grow.
I was recently talking with a patient who is going through a challenging time. She had not been feeling like herself, and there had been big changes in her life, including some deep, painful losses. She looked back on the way things were and compared that to the way things are now, and expressed a hope that “Things will go back to how they were. I want my old self back.”
I told her I hoped not. I hoped that old self would not come back. I hoped that she would emerge from this difficult experience a different person, who has grown through adversity and become a fuller person as a result of the challenges she faced.
Growth mindset refers to a belief system or mindset that we can develop our abilities, intelligence, and talents through dedication, effort, and continuous learning. It is the idea that our capacity to feel, experience, and develop are not fixed traits, but rather qualities that can be cultivated and improved over time.
The concept of growth mindset was popularized by psychologist Carol Dweck in her book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.” Dweck contrasts a growth mindset with a fixed mindset. In a fixed mindset, people believe that their intelligence and abilities are fixed traits that cannot be changed. They may perceive failure as a reflection of their innate limitations and tend to avoid challenges to protect their self-image.
On the other hand, individuals with a growth mindset see failure and challenges as opportunities for growth. We believe that with effort, perseverance, and the right strategies, they can improve and achieve their goals. They embrace challenges, learn from feedback and criticism, and are not discouraged by setbacks. Setbacks are viewed as temporary obstacles, and effort and hard work are the path to mastery.
Having a growth mindset leads to increased resilience, motivation, and persistence in the face of challenges. People with a growth mindset are more likely to take risks, seek out new experiences, and continuously learn and develop their skills. Having a growth mindset also allows us to have a more positive attitude towards failure and setbacks, seeing them as learning opportunities rather than indicators of worth or ability.
More broadly, challenges, difficulties, disappointments, and hardships are not inherently bad. Instead, they are opportunities that allow us to grow. Difficulty and adversity are necessary components for growth. We only recognize our limitations when we come up against them, and we only come up against our limitations when we are challenged. This idea applies broadly– we can believe that our capacity to love and be kind is fixed, or we can believe that it can be cultivated.
I’m not advocating that you go looking for difficulty– it will find you. That is a part of life. When things are hard and the chips are down, that narrative can be re-cast as an opportunity to learn. When we are feeling upset or disappointed or lost, we can recognize that as an opportunity for learning and growth. These growth opportunities are often unwelcome– for good reason, we do not relish pain. Change is hard and painful; growth, by definition, involves change.
We all have our fears, and one of my greatest fears is that I will stagnate, that I will stop growing and learning. To me, living life well means I am constantly growing and learning. It follows from this that I must accept some level of emotional discomfort on an ongoing basis. This comfort with discomfort is inherent in an embrace of a growth mindset, an integral part of development.
So, the next time you are in the midst of a difficult situation, ask yourself, What can I learn? What is the universe trying to teach me? How can a grow through this adversity? I don’t pretend that this will make everything ok, but I do hope that by embracing adversity as an opportunity for growth, you will come through it with a more fully developed sense of what it means to be human.