This is an excerpt from Eat. Lift. Thrive. by Sohee Lee.
I harbored a fixed mindset, which is the belief that traits and abilities are fixed and cannot be changed or improved (Dweck 2013). Whenever I violated any of my (admittedly arbitrary) diet rules, I interpreted my lapse as a sign that I simply was not destined to be in amazing shape. As I watched my friends laugh into their salads as though there was nothing else in the world they’d rather be eating, I wondered whether the fact that I had to choke down my tuna and egg whites meant that it wasn’t in my genetics to be healthy. Because of this belief, I became consumed with looking the part. I pretended that sticking to the perfect diet came naturally to me. I talked nonstop about how much I enjoyed running (in fact, I was beginning to hate every minute) while secretly pigging out more and more on brownies, cookies, and candy. The more I stumbled, the more I tried to mask my true self. Unbeknownst to those around me, I ate and exercised the way I did not because I wanted to but because I felt trapped. The reality was that I was far from the picture of health - obsessing over what I couldn’t eat, berating myself for not doing better, and becoming increasingly miserable with each passing day. In my pursuit of physical health, I neglected my well-being and quality of life.
Those with a fixed mindset actively avoid challenges and back down when they encounter an obstacle. They make excuses left and right about why they cannot do something. They play the victim. They balk at feedback, however well-intentioned, and do anything but exert effort.
Contrast them with people who have a growth mindset, which rests on the belief that ability, skill, and personal characteristics can be developed through dedicated effort. The growth mindset asks, "What can I learn from this so that I come back to do better next time?" whereas the fixed mindset proclaims, "Ah ha! Here is proof that I’m not cut out for this."
People with a growth mindset are all about self-improvement. When confronted with a setback, they actively work to improve their deficiencies and mistakes. They set out to learn and are constantly looking for opportunities for progress.
The work of Carol Dweck, a researcher at Stanford University, has been instrumental in highlighting how the mind can either impede change or open doors for a drastic transformation.
Interestingly, you may have a growth mindset in one area of your life and a fixed mindset in another area. For example, you might dedicate several hours per week honing your piano-playing skills with the hopes of one day becoming a world-class musician but, at the same time, shy away from algebra studies because mathematical concepts simply don’t come naturally to you.
Consider how you think about your nutrition, exercise, and even your physical body. What kind of language do you use with yourself? You may notice that you’re extremely defeatist and that when something goes awry - for example, when you accidentally dive into a box of donuts - you play the victim. Or perhaps when you realize one day that you can’t zip up the dress that fit you three months ago, instead of sobbing into your pillow you immediately commit to scaling back your daily wine consumption.
The good news is that you can learn the growth mindset. Simply knowing about the two mindsets can allow you to recognize which way you tend to lean and then redirect your thinking. Whatever thoughts you harbor right now about your potential can be changed for the better.
You always have room for growth; you can always do something. You just have to believe it to be so.
Learn more about Eat. Lift. Thrive.