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Second Principle to Knowing Vitality

Vitality Principles #2: Growth Mindset

In last week’s blog, I shared the first and most essential principle to living a life of vitality. This week I will share with you the second principle of vitality. This particular principle has saved me more times than I can count. It will ensure you don’t become a tortured genius or worthless and incapable. This principle will give you access to the “Zone of Optimal Growth” and allow you to continue to grow, evolve, and expand regardless of the situation you find yourself in. 

One of the most overwhelming and defeating approaches to life is to pick a target that is impossible to hit. I would say that the majority of people that come to me for support with anxiety, overwhelm, and feelings of inadequacy are there because they are trying to achieve something that is impossible to fulfill. They are trying to reach a destination that does not exist. There are many of these types of destinations, but two of the more popular unachievable goals sound like “mentally healthy” or  “happy.” I look at these destinations as the byproducts of a fixed mindset. A fixed mindset is a term created by Carol Dweck, a Stanford Professor of Psychology, that explains a common mindset that people have where they tend to avoid challenges, ignore feedback, desire to look smart, give up easily, and believe that abilities are fixed. A fixed mindset correlates to feelings of overwhelm, anxiety, inadequacy, playing it safe, unworthiness, and insecurity. It creates the experience of always having to prove oneself because you either “are” or you “are not.”  It is like an on or off switch - you are either happy or not. You are worthy or not. You are enough or not enough. The idea that there is a fixed destination called “mentally healthy” or “happy” creates this exact same experience.

The destinations called “mentally healthy” or “happy” are destinations that do not exist! And because they don’t exist, they have a lot of people running around like chickens with their heads cut off, trying to find something that doesn’t exist. Focusing on these outcomes also results in a life of always “working on oneself.” In my blog, “Stop Settling for Health, Choose Vitality,” I talk about how the health paradigm creates a perpetual cycle of working on yourself.

The other way to orient to life and create outcomes in your life is to engage in a growth mindset. A growth mindset is the second principle of knowing vitality and is the experience of finding inspiration in others’ success, embracing obstacles as opportunities to grow, knowing that abilities are something you cultivate through effort, and is focused on progress, not perfection. Having a growth mindset does not look at arriving at some destination of achievement, like getting to the top of a staircase. Those with this mentality see life as an infinite spiraling staircase that offers countless opportunities to learn, grow, and evolve. It’s clear that they could live a million lifetimes and not fulfill and experience all there is to fulfill and experience in life. Individuals that align with a growth mindset reward the effort they put in effort single day. They celebrate the micro calibrations and learnings that happen every single day. They acknowledge that every day they live is unique and embrace everything life throws at them - even the painful ones.

When you set your target on achieving something you have never achieved,  cultivating a growth mindset is essential. Once you name something you want to do, own and embrace the fact that you have NO IDEA how to make that happen. Celebrate this and be relieved that you aren’t supposed to know exactly what to do. Acknowledge that you are ready to LEARN how to make that happen. Believe it is worth pursuing that goal because it is meaningful to you. Get excited about learning and expanding through the experience of pursuit, and know that there will be challenges, obstacles, and difficult moments.

If you are attempting to cultivate a new level of love and connection in a relationship in your life, it’s important to humble yourself and prepare to learn how to do that - accept you don’t know how, and that it’s ok. There is one phrase that will destroy the growth mindset, and I promise you, you have and will say it. This phase is “I know, I know.” As soon as this phrase is uttered, learning is completely shut down.  This phrase is an indication that you are headed in the direction of becoming a “tortured genius.” A tortured genius is someone that knows everything and is inconvenienced by everyone else’s stupidity. Yes, I’m sure you know someone like this in your life. Conversely, the opposite of tortured genius is someone who thinks they know nothing and are completely incapable. Both are results of a fixed mindset. The graph below illustrates this idea.


You will notice that the sweet spot, which is at the apex of the curve, is the zone of optimal growth. This area is where a growth mindset creates a space of humility, where we can own what we know or our capacity while simultaneously acknowledging there is a lot to learn. The ends of the curve are the two extremes of insecurity - “I know nothing” and “I know everything.” Each of these destinations being a fixed way of thinking.

When you embrace a growth mindset, celebrate progress over perfection, and embrace each and every opportunity to grow, a life of vitality and fulfillment are in reach.