Sunday, October 17, 2010

A great book

I recently re-read a great book by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., entitled Mindset:  The New Psychology of Success.  It's easy to read and understand, but she is a world-renowned scholar in the fields of personality, social psychology and developmental psychology.  She holds a chair in Psychology at Stanford, and previously held one at Columbia, so she obviously has credibility.

The book is about the difference between children and adults who have the growth mindset, that is, they believe they can learn and grown into any skill or ability, as opposed to those children and adults who believe our level of intelligence and skills are set in stone, a given, and are unchangeable even with great effort.  The latter category gives up when they run into a subject or skill set that they cannot pick up on the first try.  They become despondent and feel bad about themselves.  The former category who have the growth mindset believe that they can learn anything if they put enough time and effort into it, and even find it exhilarating to try.  If they fail, it doesn't reflect on them as a person, they get up, dust themselves off, and try another tack, learn more about their challenge before they attempt it again.  Failure is nothing more than feedback that they weren't yet appropriately prepared to face that particular challenge at that moment.

If you asked me which mindset I have, I would likely have told you that I am of the fixed mindset because I often feel bad about myself when I fail to achieve a particular goal on the first or second or even third try.  However, my life has again and again borne out the truth of the growth mindset.  I mastered the art form of opera singing even though I chose it because it was the only art form I wasn't absolutely certain I could master.  I never gave up trying to heal (rather than just mitigate) my fibromyalgia.  For the past 17 years, whenever my research and experimentation with natural medicine took me two steps forward, I always ended up having to take one step back.  It is incredibly frustrating when you work as hard at getting well as I have.  But I refuse to give up.  I know I can master this, too.  There is always a reason for why things have gone awry.  And the process of experimentation and discovery is fascinating.

I remember meeting a young man once while we were both commuting on the ferry from Hoboken, New Jersey to the World Financial Center in lower Manhattan.  He was a gifted musician, but he wasn't Mozart so he completely gave up music to work as a trader and make a lot of money in downtown Manhattan.  He was clearly bitter about not being a better musician, and it was a shock to me to realize how miserable he was.  It was almost as if he were punishing himself for not having been born a better musician.  There are plenty of musicians out there making a living at it but who aren't anywhere close to being a Mozart, and they are happy.  How we choose to judge ourselves and the world entirely shapes our experience of it.  We can choose how we look at things.  It makes all the difference.

I plan to recommend this book to every one of my patients who suffers from a chronic disease that challenges them to keep working at healing.  It can get very discouraging to get sick again when you have worked so hard to stay well, but Mindset

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