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E42. Growth Mindset and ADHD

Welcome to ADHD Crash Course! Today we're going to talk about the whole concept of growth mindset versus a fixed mindset.

If you're not familiar with these terms, a growth mindset is the belief, the operating belief, that your abilities and talents are not fixed, that you can grow, that you can build intelligence, creativity, athleticism, things that we tend to think of as something that you're born with, talent that you're born with, abilities that you're born with.

A growth mindset embraces that all of these things really can change and improve over time. Carol Dweck is one of the pioneering researchers about these concepts, about growth and fixed mindsets. She's a researcher at Stanford and what she found that was really noteworthy for parents, and even for yourself when you're working on goals and things that you want to achieve, is that when we're praising talent, or natural abilities, it's kind of counterproductive.

We want to be praising the process. Not just the effort in the process, the problem solving, the tenacity, the resilience. When we are looking at someone who is struggling through things, we really want to be praising, appreciating, recognizing the value of the whole process of the struggle.

They've had some studies looking at students who have done well and they're praising them on their talent, their intelligence, "You're so smart, you had a great outcome, yada, yada". In the other group, the focus is more on "Wow, you really stuck with this, you really kept at it".

What they tended to see was when the praise was really zeroed in on the outcome, people got nervous. They got an identity there, they didn't want to not be the smart person, so they stopped taking risks, they stopped problem solving. They kind of played it safe.

The kids who were praised for just their ability to dig in and stick with it and put effort in and adjust their strategies, those kids took more risks. They did more, they stayed at it longer. They were not necessarily attached as much to the outcome.

I can tell you, for me, I was someone who grew up with an absolutely fixed mindset. I just didn't know. I really believed that you were born with what you were born with.

Some people were talented, some people were smart, some people were athletic, and I just took it at face value. I didn't see that I had a lot of options for growing.

I went to elementary school in Florida and we had these yearly fitness tests, and I hated them because... I wasn't very fit. I was an art kid. I was an art kid who didn't realize that you could actually get in shape.

I just remember, I couldn't run the mile. I would be totally out of breath and get stitches. My mom would say, "Oh, you're just short winded. You're short winded like me". So here I was, you know, imagining the black lung in elementary school, "I'm just short winded, I have no options".

I really had no idea that this was something that I could get better at! We had three chances to run it within a pretty moderate time. (I can't remember what it was, but it wasn't like they were asking me to run a six minute mile).

But I never could do it. By the end, after three tries, they'd just give up on you. So, it'd be me, you know, and a little pack of kids who were also not runners.

By the end of it, it was like, "Okay, you are now released from your required mile run, this is as good as you're getting". This was a yearly anxiety-building experience for me, but what I never realized was that I wasn't short winded, I was out of shape.

That if I had been able to, little by little, work on running, I would have been able to run that mile.

I wouldn't have been the six minute mile guy, but I would have been able to run it the first time and not have to go back three separate times to just finally kind of give up on running this mile.

It wasn't until adulthood that I realized you impact this, you build cardiovascular strength and endurance like you build anything else. That it was an option for me to enjoy sports,to enjoy movement, to enjoy being more athletic.

I had a huge learning curve, because this is the way this works. If you're somebody who was always out there playing catch or joining pickup basketball games, doing all these things, you've had so much motor memory laid that will impact and carry over to your other coordination skills.

I was starting from "ground zero" when my third child was born, I was about 33. Some of us in the neighborhood thought, oh, we should start playing tennis. I was kind of late to the party with this; I didn't start right away. They had been at it for a while, a couple months. It wasn't a long time.

I thought "Well, I'll get a couple lessons with a coach just to kind of get the basics so I'm not dragging down the team". I remember after our lesson he was like, "You know, you can join the team now. You're not going to be the worst, you're not gonna be the best" and then he looked thoughtful for a second and said "Actually, you're going to be the worst, but that's okay. Because you'll get better".

I appreciated that. I appreciate a straight shooter, I really do. And I was the worst. I was absolutely the worst and I did get better, but it was slow. People who started at the same time as me got better much quicker.

It had the potential, (it certainly was, at times) to be discouraging. But that growth mindset matters so much here. Knowing, believing that if I kept at this, that I was going to grow. I was going to get better.

My goal, my objective was not to be the best on the team, not to be the "A" player, necessarily, but to enjoy the sport, keep at the sport, get better enough so it was actually enjoyable.

It was absolutely that growth mindset approach that kept me from giving it up years ago, because it would have been easy to give it up. It would have been discouraging to compare yourself and realize, "Oh, I'm never going to "catch up" with decades of coordination here".

But,the point wasn't "catching up". The point was growing to the point where I was enjoying it, and I certainly was. This applies to so many things in our lives with ADHD (and without ADHD).

This growth mindset is gold for us.

If you're somebody who has gone along in life and you haven't had the tools you needed, in a sense, you might be "catching up" and believing that because you haven't made progress in the past, using old tools, using misfit tools, using approaches that didn't fit you, believing that because you did not have success in the past, you can't grow and have success in the future. That's completely inaccurate.

It can keep people from meeting their potential, meeting their goals and trying new things. One of my core values is curiosity, always learning something new, growing, finding something else out. That's why I've done this podcast.

I had a lot of my own experience as a therapist, as someone with ADHD, and as a parent of kids with ADHD, but to be honest, it just kind of scratches the surface. There's so much more to learn, to know, ways to grow. I love having guests on this podcast because they bring topics that I've not even explored yet.

Having someone talk about hypnotism, auditory processing disorder, intuitive eating, EFT tapping or finances; it's so awesome when you can just embrace growing and get excited about growing and be excited about that process versus being super attached to outcomes all the time.

We definitely want outcomes. Obviously, I'm a coach, this is what I focus on; helping people get outcomes that they want. That's important, but if you don't enjoy the journey, if you don't feel that kind of openness to explore things and to learn and to grow, and instead you feel this intensity and judgment, it gets really hard to do that. It gets really hard to keep motivated.

I'm talking to you personally, what I think the benefits are with adopting this growth mindset versus a fixed mindset, but let's look and see what the research has shown us is more likely to be true of somebody with a growth mindset.

It benefits us.You're going to be more likely (to be) an embracer of lifelong learning. Whereas, a fixed mindset, it's not very motivating to look at lifelong learning. If you think "Well, this is what I got, this is what I have to work with".

With a growth mindset, you're going to believe that intelligence can be improved, so you're going to put in more effort to learn. You're going to avoid challenges with a fixed mindset because you don't really see that you can impact them.

Remember, we talked about the locus of control when we were talking about cognitive behavioral therapy? With the locus of control, this whole cognitive distortion goes two ways: sometimes people think that they have control over things that they don't have control over, like with anxiety, they're worrying about outcomes that they really can't impact and get hung up on this.

When we're looking at a fixed mindset, we're looking at the opposite of that. People who believe that things are entirely out of their control. When we look at something like a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset, we're looking at this cognitive approach, this cognitive distortion. Do I understand what I have control of? Do I understand what I can impact with my effort?

With a growth mindset, we understand that setbacks are temporary; with a fixed mindset we see this as a door closing, the end of story. This didn't work out for me, I'm done.

A growth mindset really encourages you to say, "Okay, what can I change? How can I approach this? How can I problem solve this? "

This next one is such an important difference between growth mindset and fixed mindset. A growth mindset sees feedback as a source of information, it sees it as helpful. When you have a fixed mindset, feedback just seems kind of mean, right? If you can't control what you're putting out there, feedback just feels like you're getting picked on. Right?

But if you believe with this growth mindset that you can make differences, you can change, you can improve, then feedback helps you. I do this all the time in my group coaching program, I ask throughout the program, "Hey, what will make this better? When you guys think about this?"

I ask it at the end, also, but I don't wait until the end. I ask as we go. There is an open door for "Hey, this is working for me, hey, this is not working for me". It's been a really good thing, because it's a gift to me when somebody lets me know a way that I can grow, a way that I can improve, a way that I can make this group a better group, it is very welcome input.

If I didn't believe that the group could improve and be better and I believed that I gave it the best I could and that's it, well, then that would not be welcome input. You really rob yourself if you can't accept feedback.

When I applied to grad school for counseling, I was waitlisted, and ultimately, I didn't get the spot. So, when that happened, I was bummed. I was really disappointed about it.

After I had time to kind of recuperate and lick my wounds, I had a choice, what am I going to do with this? Am I going to press deeper and get some more feedback?

What's the next move? I decided to reach out to the director and I said, "Thank you for your time, I'm planning on moving forward with this and applying to other programs and reapplying in your program and would really appreciate any feedback you can give me on how to be a stronger applicant".

Her response was lovely and really helpful, because everything that I thought I needed to do to be a stronger applicant was none of the things that she was mentioning. She gave me this really important piece of the puzzle if I wanted to go forward and do this and grow in this way.

It does, when it is constructive feedback, it does help you to be able to grow and go to the next level with the things that are important to you.

I really want to challenge you this week to take a look at growth mindset versus fixed mindset and how it impacts your life with ADHD. We have to strike this balance, this is always the balance that I strike with myself personally and in my practice with other people; It's a balance between accepting the brains we have (understanding that there are some differences, innate differences and those are okay) and then the other side of that is there's definitely areas we can grow.

Take executive functioning skills, these skills are going to be impacted with ADHD. In certain areas you're likely to struggle, but skills can be strengthened, even if it's a relative weakness for you.

So, enjoy the process even if it's sloppy, especially if it's sloppy. If you are the worst one out there it is not a permanent situation and if you're the best one out there it is also not a permanent situation!

Enjoy the satisfaction of getting better at something you did not start out particularly good at.


Interested in learning more about my group coaching program, Embrace Your Brain? Considering 1:1 coaching or have other questions for me? Please feel free to contact me here.

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