We all write stories in our minds. Past experiences woven in with assumptions form the basis for understanding ourselves and the people around us. As a result, we have expectations about how a person will react, what they will say, and even how successful we will be at a given task. Our brains do this to make sense of the constant barrage of sensory information and to simplify things by only paying attention to some of that information. But that can be a problem.
The Juggler: Imagine Paul as a high school student - lots of creative energy, lots of physical energy, but not much interest in traditional subjects. He only read what he had to in order to get by, but never liked it. Books served primarily as a prop in "library baseball" - a game he developed with friends instead of working on a group project. You get the idea.
One trip to the mall changed that. Paul walked into a bookstore (not on his own accord, of course) and saw Juggling for the Complete Klutz - a small book with a set of three bean bags attached. The bean bags got his attention!
The Struggle: Always enjoying a good challenge, Paul decided he wanted to learn how to juggle and got the book. It took about a week of practicing on and off for him to get the feel for the basic juggling pattern. For him, juggling was a puzzle to solve and using the images and steps outlined in the book helped. The struggle came from trying to wrap his head around the fact that a book was the source of this new found skill.
The Breakthrough: After reading Klutz and practicing for that week, Paul caught the juggling bug and wanted to learn more. He visited a toy and game store in his town and found a second book on the topic: The Complete Juggler. A much bigger and more daunting book at first, but it opened up a whole new world. It introduced Paul to a wide variety of skill toys like juggling many of which we use in our workshops today.
Although still not an avid reader of fiction, those two books changed how Paul approaches learning. No longer seen as just a method of torture inflicted by teachers, he realized that he could discover new skills and learn about topics of interest from them. His personal library now includes books on business, science, history of toys, and astronomy.
The Insight: For Paul, juggling triggered a mindset shift about reading. Our "mindsets" are beliefs that shape our reality and filter through which we see the world. It can impact both our physical reactions to a situation, our ability to be successful, and our long term health and happiness. Kelly McGonigal's TED talk and book Upside of Stress challenge the idea that stress is bad for us and instead argues that our belief about stress determines whether it has a harmful or beneficial effect on our bodies. If we view a stress like learning to juggle as an opportunity for growth, seek help, and have confidence in our abilities, it can actually have positive health effects.
In her book Mindset, Carol Dweck looks whether individuals view intelligence with a "fixed" or "growth" mindset. Someone with a fixed mindset believes that abilities like intelligence are static - you either have it or you don't. They want to look and feel smart so they often avoid challenges, get stressed by failure, give up easily, and ignore constructive feedback. On the other hand, a person with growth mindset believes that abilities can be developed and embraces challenges as an opportunity to learn. Effort, setbacks, and feedback are viewed as necessary steps toward skill development and mastery.
Mindsets come from our past experiences and the good news is that they can be changed! Studies have shown that even one hour interventions can lead to long term results. We see it all the time in our juggling workshops. People that come in saying "I can't juggle" or "I'm too uncoordinated" create their own biggest obstacle to learning. The way we structure the workshop, however, gives them an opportunity to practice, reflect on, and shift their mindset.
As you begin to pay attention, you may realize that you have a growth mindset in some areas, but fixed in others. It may be hard at first, but remember that mindsets can be shifted.