Setting the occasion to DO something is what makes a growth mindset worthwhile.
Please don’t make the mistake many people often do thinking a positive growth mindset means if you simply stay positive, then positive things happen. Nor is having a positive mindset, or a positive behavioral approach for that matter, about simply ignoring bad things. Rather, having a positive growth mindset sets the occasion for defining challenging situations, not as static and unfixable, but rather as an opportunity. And by defining and approaching challenges as opportunities you set the occasion to THEN engage in behaviors that lead to success and fulfillment. By setting the occasion to DO something is what makes a growth mindset worthwhile.
...start with the deceptively simple-- yet challenging and essential-- first step to change of defining behavior and our goals.
As Steven Petrow discusses in his January 23, 2021 Washington Post article, “What’s known as ‘mental reframing’ can help us with all kinds of physical and psychological challenges“, how we frame challenges is the starting point for successful behavior change. That is why we use the 5-Step Competing Schedule model (Smith, 2001) as a starting point for much of the behavioral change efforts we support in schools, homes, and businesses. The model starts with the deceptively simple-- yet challenging and essential-- first step to change: defining and teaching our behavioral goals. As we shared in other posts, the old adage of “power to those who define” is indeed true and critical to behavioral change.
If one mentally frames a situation as static, out of one’s control, and unchangeable (a fixed mindset), then solutions tend not to be considered. They are then, at best, defined by avoidance of those situations. A fixed mindset then, with its rigidity often leads to a lack of fulfillment.
Petrow writes about his experience in Finland during the cold Winter season. He finds how mentally framing a situation can have a big impact on approaches to solutions and one’s overall satisfaction. If one mentally frames a situation as static, out of one’s control, and unchangeable (a fixed mindset), then solutions tend not to be considered. They are then, at best, defined by avoidance of those situations. A fixed mindset then, with its rigidity often leads to a lack of fulfillment. But if one frames or defines a situation, such as the bitter cold of winter, as an opportunity (employing a growth mindset), one is more likely to see potential for satisfaction. When Petrow, taking the cue of his Scandinavian counterparts, embraces the cold not as something to avoid, but rather an opportunity to use the right gear to maintain his warmth (he set himself up for success), he enjoys the unique experiences only possible during the cold dark months of winter.
Similarly, years ago when I moved to a very cold part of this country, I was surprised to learn how many folks complained often of the long cold winters. It seemed like a terrible situation for them. Why live, where you don’t like? I, being a outdoor “gear head”, took the opportunity to buy even more base layers, jackets, gloves… because they allowed me to feel like I accomplished something to be out in the cold. It is a great feeling to be outside when its 5 degrees and be perfectly warm. Even more important, I defined the opportunity to engage in new behaviors, like snow shoeing and cross country skiing, that led to their own reinforcers. I discovered how with a little planning and the right gear I could be perfectly warm as I snowshoed up to a mountain lake. The moving through snow and cold was invigorating and the destination worth the effort (and new behaviors). Seeing that mountain lake frozen over and the beauty of fresh snow on the surrounding trees can only be experienced if one creates the opportunity to be there to enjoy it. Similarly, finishing a 10k run through a storm of large snowflakes falling as the sun rises is just not possible on a sunny beach ( though that is also a reinforcing experience I would encourage all to try). Petrow and I were able to create meaning, and access fulfilling reinforcing experiences, by reframing the problem and using a growth mindset to define our situations.
Petrow also writes of another aspect of how reframing or re-defining has implications to one’s satisfaction. He introduces readers to the Scandinavian words, “kotoilu,” and “hygge” which he translates as, “coziness of home”. He suggests Nordic people -- experienced across generations to long cold winters -- define their Winters as an opportunity to embrace the, “coziness of home”. They did not define Winter as a negative time when it is more difficult to go outside. Think how that definition lends itself to many more opportunities for reinforcing experiences than simply defining the Winter as too cold to enjoy Summer or Spring activities. More time with family and friends and embracing indoor activities like reading and games, and more time for quiet reflection all are now opportunities the Winter offers. Petrow suggests the experience with cold Winter months has taught people of the region to define it as its uniqueness and opportunity, rather than define it for what it is not.
Our thoughts and beliefs set the occasion for us to...select behaviors that creates opportunities for us to access reinforcers.
There are many reasons a growth mindset lends itself to greater success in behavior change efforts. How we frame a situation or a challenge has a big impact on our willingness to embrace solutions. A positive growth mindset or approach to behavior change is not just putting a positive spin and being positive for positive sake. Rather a positive mindset, suggests, like the 5-Step Competing Schedule model (Smith, 2001) suggests, how we frame or define a situation is a critical opportunity to set the occasion for our success. Our thoughts and beliefs set the occasion for us to see how challenges may actually be a call to change. By embracing that mindset we are more likely to select behaviors that creates opportunities for us to access reinforcers like a sense of accomplishment and pride (e.g. in being able to handle the cold), in finding new passions (e.g. like me snowshoeing), and accessing our most valued reinforcers (e.g. more time for being with family at home).
So I encourage readers to read the enjoyable Petrow article. Not only will you learn new words, but deepen your understanding of evidence-based practice. The importance of reframing our challenges, and the critical and essential role of defining in behavior change are all there. A growth mindset allows one to define things not as roadblocks, but rather opportunities. This critical first step allows us to then engage in behavior to increase the likelihood we access what we find reinforcing and brings meaning to our lives.