The idea of us all having either a fixed or a growth mindset was first articulated by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck. She conducted a study whereby she assigned two groups of 10 year olds a series of increasingly complex puzzles. One group was told how smart they were before they began. The other group was praised for being such hard workers. The “smart” group did measurably worse. The results were surprising: if the kids were told they were so smart, wouldn’t they try to perpetuate that evaluation by doing well? Turns out, that praise stimulated a “fixed mindset,” one where the basic belief is that our inherent qualities can never be changed. The pressure of potentially not living up to the label “smart” ended up hindering the kids’ progress. The other group was exposed to a growth mindset — one where the premise is that our basic qualities can be cultivated and improved through effort. How can you fail at being a hard worker? Only by not trying. Thus, the kids in this group tried their hearts out and succeeded.
Dweck’s findings led her to expand upon the idea of mindset (see here for her book by the same name), leading her to the conclusion that developing a growth mindset is the key to achievement — professional or personal, including relationships.
Yoga philosophy believes that our best qualities can be developed through practice. Need more patience? Practice being patient, perhaps by staying in Warrior II longer than you want to or think you can, without freaking out or completely losing the awareness of the breath. Yogas ethical guidelines – the yamas and niyamas – embrace this approach as well.
The next time you catch yourself thinking you can’t do something (maybe your self talk is that you’re not smart enough, or strong enough, or flexible enough), see if you can catch yourself and shift gears to a growth mindset. Maybe you can’t do that certain thing yet. But very little good in life comes without effort and dedication. And one of my most favorite things about yoga is that through the practice, we grow, whether or not we ever nail that elusive pose.