I'm going to ask you a few questions, and depending on your answer, you might not like me very much (just forewarning you!).
Are you the type of person who wants to appear smart to others? Or do you want to learn?
Do you have a tendency to avoid challenges? Or do you embrace them?
When confronted with obstacles, do you give up easily, or do you persist in the face of setbacks?
Do you see putting forth your best effort as something that is a fruitless endeavor? Or do you see your effort as a path to mastery?
Do you respond to criticism negatively and ignore useful feedback when it is provided? Or do you learn from criticism and try to improve in areas you are weak in?
Do you feel threatened, intimidated, or envious of the success of others? Or do you try to find lessons to be learned and to draw inspiration from their success?
How did you do? Did you tend to agree with the first set of questions provided, or side more with the second?
If you agreed mainly with the first questions, then you are someone who has what's called a "Fixed Mindset". If you answered yes to the second part of each question, then you have what is called the "Growth Mindset".
At Constant Forward Progress, we have created a business and philosophy of training, and a philosophy of life that very much embodies the Growth Mindset. How else can you explain the people in our gym who have accomplished great feats of strength, endurance, and skill, and body composition? It certainly didn't happen on its own, but rather through consistent effort, a willingness to internalize feedback, and also by approaching their training with a growth mindset.
For me personally, I didn't always have the growth mindset. In fact, very much the opposite! And the crazy thing is that you can have a growth mindset in one part of your life, and have a fixed mindset in another. Due to emotional scarring from past experiences, changing our mindset towards a part of our life isn't always easy, but it can change if we keep at it. To illustrate this, I want to share with you a little about my own upbringing, and how I let the fixed mindset take over my life and dictate every decision I made.
As a young child, I naturally had a growth oriented mindset. I wanted to see how good I could be at, well, everything! If I saw one of my peers was better at me in something, I practiced at it until I was just as good as they were. I loved taking on new challenges. Reading was the perfect example. In first grade I was not initially placed in the highest reading group. But I worked my tail off every night at home, completing my phonics books and going above and beyond. Eventually I got in the higher level group.
Somewhere along the line, though, my mindset began to change. As I grew older, I began to receive praise for certain inherent traits, qualities, and characteristics. I was perceived as a fast runner, a good writer, and a great reader, and all around good athlete. But the more I was praised for my talents, instead of my effort, the less certain I became of them. The more I was praised, the more I became scared to be to not be perceived as having one of those qualities.
After a while, I stopped seeking out the challenges I once embraced. A perfect example was in sixth grade when I was not placed in the highest level math class. Instead of working to get to that level, as I'd done in first grade, I found myself wanting to receive a good grade more than joining the higher level class. Instead of risking a lower grade in a more challenging course, I remained content to receive an A in my lower level class.
This trend carried on through high school. I took many honors courses, but only the ones I felt certain of receiving an A. In fact, I distinctly avoided classes that interested me purely because they were perceived as more difficult! By the time I graduated, I was one of my school's valedictorians, but I am still ashamed to say that I received a 4.0 only because I avoided taking on many challenges along the way.
Nothing changed when I began attending college in 2006, until one fateful day in the early spring of my freshman year. In the second meet of my college track career, I destroyed my left hamstring running the 200 meter dash. I struggled both physically and psychologically through my rehab. For the first time in my life, one of the gifts I was born with had been suddenly taken away--I could no longer run fast, let alone walk without crutches!
During the next few years, I went through phases of self-pity, envy of my teammates who were healthy and successful, depression, anger (at my situation and at God), and ultimately I began to feel threatened by those around me who were reaping the benefits of their training while I continuously re-injured the same muscle with every attempted come-back.
In the spring of my Junior year, I ultimately decided to quit the track team the day before we were scheduled to leave for a spring break trip to southern California. After practice, I told my coach how I felt scared to get hurt again, and how I didn't believe I was of value to the team any longer because my times weren't what they used to be. But John's (my coach) words stunned me.
"Did you ever stop to think that your value to this team extends beyond the time you put on the scoreboard every meet?"
John's words provided the turning point I so sorely needed in my life. I returned to the team, and instead of focusing on the times I ran every meet meet, I suddenly felt thankful that I could still run at all! After all, there are people out there who can't even walk, let alone sprint competitively. I felt rejuvenated. Even if my performances weren't as good as they once were, I felt it was my duty to honor my creator and those who believed in me by putting forth my best effort regularly.
I continued to train and trust in the process for the last year I attended graduate school. Even though I wasn't as fast as I used to be, I relished the challenge of training, found joy in the process, and ultimately became free of the shackles of the fixed mindset.
I have kept these lessons close to me ever since. Even though my journey has been a long and continuous battle, I can only say that if it were not for my focus on getting better every day, I would not be where I am physically, emotionally, or spiritually today. I would not have been able to gain the weight I did, and then lose it. I would not have discovered how to eat in a way that made my six pack show. I would not have the ability to do a pistol squat. And despite all of my old injuries, I would not be almost pain-free (because let's be honest, we've all got our aches and pains, people!). The growth mindset saved my life, and it can save yours, too.
And this is my message to you out there, too: Don't you think your value to yourself and others extends beyond what you measure yourself by? If we only measure our self-worth by our waistlines, muscle definition, and how many pushups we can do, I've got unfortunate news for you: there will always be someone better.
The silver lining in all of this is that we can always focus on becoming the best version of ourselves possible.
The first step to this is to focus on what you can do to improve, and not on what you cannot do. Do not demand perfection of yourself.
If you're trying to lose weight, is it possible that your mindset towards your weight loss is what needs to be addressed? If you have a meal out and overeat, instead of feeling frustrated that you undid a week's worth of progress in one meal and then giving up on your efforts completely, treat it as a learning experience to draw from at a later date. Then get back to your regular habits and keep plugging away toward your goal.
In the gym, instead of looking at the people who can do chin ups and saying, "Yeah, that will never be me", try shifting your mindset. Say, "Yeah, someday that WILL be me". Remain consistent and pay close attention to the little things that indicate you are getting close to your goals, such as a simple feeling of something becoming less challenging to perform. It's not just about how many reps you can do, it's also about how well you can do them!
If something new doesn't come easily to you, don't give up! Persist. Understand that your inherent talent has NOTHING to do with your current struggle, but the EFFORT you're willing to put in has EVERYTHING to do with overcoming it!
The things that provide us the most value in life are the things we must work for the most.
Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, good comes easily or quickly, which is honestly backward to what society and the mainstream fitness and nutrition media would have you believe.
If you commit yourself to growth, to being just a little bit better every day, you'll feel satisfied in the process of reaching your goals, whatever they may be, even if they take a long time to reach.
Wake up and ask yourself, "What are the opportunities for me to get better today? In my job? In my relationships with others? In the gym? In the kitchen?".
You want to lose weight? Get stronger? Get promoted? Create a new healthy habit? Reconnect with an old friend or loved one? I encourage you to embrace failure, take pleasure in the struggle, relish in your frustrations, because with the right mindset, you'll use them to overcome the hurdles that stand in your way.
Through your trials you will learn what doesn't work for you, and in the end, you'll end up learning what the recipe for your success ultimately is! I can attest to this personally (if you haven't read my article on my weight loss journey, check this one out!). Once you've learned this, the likelihood of you ever backsliding to your former self is almost zero.
Alex Rodriguez, one of the greatest baseball players ever, said, "You can either go one way or the other".
Knowing that, you might as well be the one who decides which direction that you go in.
-Better every day