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What You Can Achieve with the Right Mindset
What can you accomplish by cultivating a growth mindset? Well, the short answer is: anything you want. If there’s an area of learning or skill that you are interested in, you can learn, grow, and improve your skills if you apply a growth mindset.
Whether you want to improve your intellectual skills in logic, math, rhetoric or astrophysics; develop your creativity in music, drawing, writing, or film; or boost your athletic ability on the court, on the trail, or on the yoga mat, you can improve in any area you wish.
To understand why this is true, it’s helpful to know the concept of neural plasticity.
The human brain has around 100 billion neurons, which are a special kind of nerve cell. These neurons connect to each other through connection points called synapses to make around 100 trillion connections.
This vast network of neurons controls everything about our bodies and minds, from our digestion and breathing to our mental functions such as memory, knowledge, thoughts, and emotions. Crucially, this neural network allows us to take in information, process it, remember it, and make new connections between things we know (animals with big teeth can bite) and new things we encounter for the first time (I’ve never seen that animal before, but it’s got big teeth! Run!).
Up until a few decades ago, scientists believed that the neurons in our brains grew rapidly in childhood, but then stopped growing as we reach maturity. The lack of new neural growth, it was thought, limited how much adults could learn and change in later life. In essence, the scientific understanding of our brain was, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
However, recent developments in neuroscience have completely changed this understanding. With new tools that allow us to look inside the brain, scientists have discovered that neurons can grow and change throughout our lives. For example, after a stroke, humans can relearn skills such as walking, speaking, and fine hand movements, even if the original part of the brain that controls that function is damaged. The ability of our brains to change and grow is known as neural plasticity.
One moving example of neural plasticity is that of actor Christopher Reeve, known for his role as Superman. Reeve turned out to be a real-life Superman after a horse-riding accident left him a quadriplegic. Before Reeve, the established medical wisdom was that people with spinal cord injuries might continue to improve and regain some function for months after their accident, but, by around two years post-accident, no more improvement would be possible. Reeve, however, was determined to beat the odds.
Shortly after his accident, Reeve began physical therapy. Around five years after his accident, he regained the ability to move his index finger. Inspired, he began even more intensive training. While he would never walk or gain control over some parts of his body, he was able to dramatically improve his health and regain some movement and sensation.
Perhaps most importantly, his example opened up new avenues of research. Scientists have since built on these early findings and are making great strides in helping people with spinal cord injuries regain function, sensation and movement.
While Christopher Reeve might be an extreme example, his story illustrates an important truth: we can learn and grow at any age. In other words, a growth mindset isn’t just a nice idea; it’s the scientific truth of how our brains work. No matter what you wish to improve, with strategic effort, growth and learning is possible.
Inspiration for Growth Mindsets
The world is full of examples of people who exemplify a growth mindset. Here are just a few:
While many athletes are hailed as naturals who somehow have an almost magical gift for their sport, this idea belies the intense work and determination it takes to be competitive. In fact, most of the sports heroes we know, from Mohammad Ali to Tiger Woods, were not hailed as naturals at the start of their career. Only extremely hard work made them seem, at the peak of their powers, to have been naturals all along.
For example, consider the story of Fauja Singh, multiple world record holder in running, who didn’t learn to run until he was 89.
Fauja Singh, the world’s oldest marathoner, was a sickly young boy growing up in India. He was often teased by his peers, but still developed an interest in running as a young man. He soon gave up running, though, and didn’t return to athletics until 1995, when he was in his 80s.
Spurred on by deaths in his family, he wanted to take care of his health. He ran his first marathon in 2000, at age 89. In 2003, at age 93, he beat the world marathon record for his age group by 53 minutes. Singh held multiple age group awards in various running distances, and was the first centenarian to finish a marathon in 2011.
If there is a sport or activity you’d like to try, know that while you may not become Michael Jordan or Serena Williams, you can learn and improve at any age.
Even for people who believe that intelligence can be cultivated and developed, creativity and artistic ability can seem impossible to acquire if they aren’t inborn. Yet, creativity and artistic skills can be learned and cultivated just like anything else. In fact, many famous artists struggled for decades before mastering their craft and gaining recognition.
For example, Impressionist painter Claude Monet didn’t begin painting seriously until his 40s and painted his most successful works amidst his beloved gardens as he aged. Monet’s fellow Impressionist Paul Cezanne also got off to a slow start. He was repeatedly rejected from art school and didn’t find any success until his 40s. Getting an even later start was American artist Anna Moses, commonly known as Grandma Moses. She didn’t begin painting seriously until she was 78.
Writing is another field in which success might seem due to natural talent, and yet, hard work and determination are the deciding factors more often than not. For example, Laura Ingles Wilder, writer of the Little House on the Prairies series, didn’t begin writing until her 40s, when she started a freelance journalism career. It took another twenty years before she published her first novel.
Poet Charles Bukowski published his first book at age 51, Nobel prize winner Toni Morrison didn’t publish her first novel until age 39, and novelist Donald Ray Pollock started writing in his 50s, finishing MFA at 55 with his debut novel coming three years later.
For more examples of how a growth mindset helps people succeed in sports, music, business and relationships, read Dweck’s book, Mindset, The New Psychology of Success, which is full of examples of how a growth mindset leads to success, while a fixed mindset hinders it.Other Details
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- Year Released/Circulated: 2021
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