The Growth Mindset

Everybody believes in a natural, one born with some innate ability or talent. But is that really the case? Is someone really born a natural runner? I never considered myself a runner and I hear people all the time say “I’m not a runner.” I never ran track or played sports. I started running in 2010 because I was diagnosed with osteopenia. That scared me enough to start running and try to build up my bones. But I soon started to really enjoy running and to see improvement. I loved the feeling of working hard and found it so motivating to push myself one mile farther or a little bit faster.
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Recently, I read the book, Mindset:The New Psychology of Success and, although not a running book specifically, I found it to offer powerful and inspiring stories and advice that could relate to everything from business to parenting to sports. Carol Dweck believes that approaching situations with a growth mindset, rather than a fixed mindset, leads to success and happiness in life. A growth mindset is one in which you see yourself as constantly evolving, changing, growing and learning. A fixed mindset is basically seeing yourself as who you are, born with certain talents and abilities and unable to change. Possessing a growth mindset can allow you to see setbacks as opportunities. Basically, it’s all about your attitude.

Running requires not just physical strength but also mental strength, grit and endurance – many qualities that make one successful in other areas of life. A chapter in this book explores what makes certain pro athletes so successful. It’s not necessarily their natural talent. It’s their mindset, their hard work and determination, and their ability to see setbacks as motivating. Here are some of my favorite stories from Mindset:

– Wilma Rudolph was celebrated as the fastest woman on Earth after she won three gold medals for sprints and relay in the 1960 Rome Olympics. Born a premature baby, Rudolph was the 20th of 22 children and was constantly sick as a child, almost dying at age 4 from double pneumonia, scarlet fever and polio. After her sicknesses left her with a mostly paralyzed left leg, doctors gave her little hope of ever using it again. But Rudolph pushed herself for 8 years in physical therapy, determined to use her leg again; she was out of her leg brace at age 12 and started to walk normally. Rudolph believed that physical skills could be developed. She once said that she just “want[s] to be remembered as a hardworking lady.”

– Another runner, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, has been viewed as the greatest female athlete of all time. Between 1985 and 1996, she won every heptathlon event that she competed in and earned the six highest scores in the sport’s history, set world records, won two world championships and two Olympic gold medals. However, when she began track, she finished in last place for a long time before she finally started to win. When asked about the change in performance, Joyner-Kersee said that “some might attribute my transformation to the laws of heredity…but I think it was my reward for all those hours of work on the bridle path, the neighborhood sidewalks and the schoolhouse corridors.” Her last two medals came during an asthma attack and a severe hamstring injury. According to Dweck, “it was not natural talent taking its course. It was mindset having its say.”

– Lastly, Bruce Jenner, the 1976 Olympic decathlon gold medalist, said that “If I wasn’t dyslexic, I probably wouldn’t have won the Games. If I had been a better reader, then that would have come easily, sports would have come easily… and I never would have realized that the way you get ahead in life is hard work.”

I like how Carol Dweck sums it all up: “Character, heart, will and the mind of a champion: it goes by different names, but it’s the same thing. It’s what makes you practice and it’s what allows you to dig down and pull it out when you most need it.”

Summing up the sports chapter, Dweck pulls out three key findings:
1. Those with the growth mindset find success in doing their best, in learning and improving.

2. Those with the growth mindset see setbacks as a wake-up call, as informative and inspiring.

3. Those with the growth mindset take charge of processes that lead to success and own/maintain it.

I can only say wonderful things about this book. It’s incredibly powerful and motivating. When I’m not feeling like working out early in the morning or am losing steam during the last stretch of a race, I think of this book (seriously) and the inspiring stories about hard work, dedication and determination. I remember when I was running the Richmond Marathon last November, I thought about all my hours of training and hard work. I drew strength from all the work I’d put towards that moment. It’s not all about natural ability. It’s about working hard, learning from setbacks and moving forward.

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One comment

  1. Great blog and inspiring insights!

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