If you know that who you are, what you do, and how you think about things are all changeable and accessible to your own intervention and effort—What Carol Dweck, author of Mindset calls a “growth” mindset—your assessment of yourself will also tend to be very accurate.
In contrast, if you believe that who you are, what you do, and how you think about things are all fixed and unchangeable—a “fixed-trait” mindset—you will then believe that you are at the mercy of forces outside of yourself, and your assessment of yourself will be predictably and dramatically inaccurate.
In order to make accurate assessments, we have to have accurate data. If we are faced with a poor assessment, and our belief is that we are powerless to change, then the only way to salvage any emotional hope is to skew the data, to trick ourselves into discounting it. In this case, the necessary self-reflection will feel threatening to us, containing blows to our self-concept, rather than feeling like useful information. This can lead to incredible suffering and bad results, and can lead us to avoid challenges or difficult feedback—the very things we need in order to grow.
Here’s the challenge:
Notice how you respond to feedback. Do you tend to reject negative feedback, become defensive, change the subject? Or do you hear it, feel the predictable emotions (nobody likes negative feedback; I wouldn’t expect you to feel happy about it), and then look for what there is to learn from it?
If you tend to reject it, chances are you are operating, in that particular area at least, within a fixed-trait mindset. If you can identify this, that’s very good news… because you can change it! By understanding that this is a fixed-trait mindset, you can choose to change it toward a growth mindset. Look for your assumptions about yourself that are fixed and immoveable, and dispute them. Sometimes this is all it takes; sometimes it’s more complicated and it’s important to get some help with it.
Now for an even trickier challenge: Pay attention to how you give yourself feedback, and how you take it.
When you see that you’ve done something wrong, or make a mistake, or you’ve forgotten to do something, how do you treat yourself? Are you harsh and attacking (“You idiot!”)? Do you make negative generalizations about yourself (“You can never get this right!”)? Or do you look for what you have to learn and keep your focus on how to solve the problem?
If you’re calling yourself names, or generalizing, then you’re not going to get anywhere. You’ll just feel bad, even ashamed, and you’re likely to do the same thing again, and call yourself names and generalize again, and the shame and other negative feelings will cause you to avoid the whole issue if you can, making your possibilities diminish.
(Shame is a horrible feeling, with powerful consequences. I’ll talk more about this in a later column)
If you’re looking for what you have to learn, and you keep your focus on how to solve the problem, then you’re likely to see the situation and your role in it clearly, and you’re also more likely to actually solve the problem. This is an expansive cycle that leads to learning and growth, and to greater possibilities.
Pay attention to how you give and receive feedback from others. It will tell you a lot about what you can do to improve your life. But the person you live with constantly, whose assessment you are continually exposed to, and who has the greatest impact on your thoughts, actions, and feelings, is yourself. Do what you can to earn a good reputation with yourself; it’s the reputation that matters most.
PS: I currently have some openings available for life coaching. Go to https://drjoelwade.com/coaching/ to sign up for a free 30-minute initial conversation.