There are many things as aspects of our lives that we care about: caring for our family, our performance at work, or even our physical fitness and health. But we can often find ourselves with little desire or in a struggle to improve. There are many ways we can strive to be better at what we care about. One of the best ways to begin a self-care or self-improvement journey is with mind, then follow with action.
Growth mindset is an idea wherea person can adopt a practice where their most basic abilities can be continually developed through dedication and hard work. Brains and talents are just a starting point, continually learning and growing is the ‘maintenance’ so to speak. This perspective often fosters resilience and a love of learning which can lead to success. This means that the brain is always growing, building new neural pathways, more resilient, as well as getting stronger.
A Tale of Two Zones…
In his TedTalk Eduardo Briceño breaks down how to get better at what we care about. He begins talking about two zones that we must go through to get better at one or more skills. The first phase, the learning zone is the desire for improvement and is where the growth mindset lies. To do this “… we do activities designed for improvement, concentrating on what we haven’t mastered yet, which means we have to expect to make mistakes, knowing that we will learn from them.” (https://www.ted.com/talks/eduardo_briceno_how_to_get_better_at_the_things_you_care_about)This is in contrast to the second zone called the performance zone. The performance zone is where we execute our task, exercise our skills, “…do something as best as we can…[and] concentrate on what we have already mastered and we try to minimize mistakes.” (https://www.ted.com/talks/eduardo_briceno_how_to_get_better_at_the_things_you_care_about) Briceño mentions that often those who are perceived as highly effect and successful deliberately set the intention to alternate between these two zones. The goal for getting better at what we care about is to be clear about what we want in each of these two zones: learning and growth followed by the maximum benefit and success during implementation. Rinse and repeat.
Seems simple, right? The struggle is that many of us don’t improve even if we work really hard. According to Briceño this is because most societies have the mindset that we must stay in the ‘performance zone.” We can see this in many companies where results are the way to be successful, or in classrooms where getting the ‘A’ or ‘100%’ is all that seems to matter. We seem to be missing the learning and experience of failure that makes it possible to get better at what we care about; “…this hinders our growth, and ironically, over the long term, also our performance.” (https://www.ted.com/talks/eduardo_briceno_how_to_get_better_at_the_things_you_care_about) The learning zone consists of what “…Dr. Anders Ericsson calls deliberate practice. This involves breaking down abilities into component skills, being clear about what subskill we’re working to improve, …giving full concentration to a high level of challenge outside our comfort zone, just beyond what we can currently do, using frequent feedback with repetition and adjustments, and ideally engaging the guidance of a skilled coach, because activities designed for improvement are domain-specific, and great teachers and coaches know what those activities are and can also give us expert feedback. It is this type of practice in the learning zone which leads to substantial improvement, not just time on task performing.” (https://www.ted.com/talks/eduardo_briceno_how_to_get_better_at_the_things_you_care_about)
Often we see a trend of our abilities plateauing during our first five years of an activity. This happens when we think and feel we have become ‘good enough’ and stop spending time in the first zone — the learning zone. We move on to the second zone — the performance zone — where we often remain. While in this second zone we are just doing to get things done as best as we can. If we are practicing mindfulness and taking notes (literally or mentally) we can then go back to the first zone and work on learning and strengthening in the areas that did not work out as well as we had hoped during the performance zone.
To set ourselves up for success we need to do four things according to Briceño: 1) adopt a growth mindset, 2) want to improve a specific skill, 3) have an idea or plan on how to improve said skill, and 4) “…we must be in a low-stakes situation, because if mistakes are to be expected, then the consequence of making them must not be catastrophic, or even very significant. “ (https://www.ted.com/talks/eduardo_briceno_how_to_get_better_at_the_things_you_care_about) If we are able to keep the stress and stakes low for a good amount of the time, we can develop an environment that allows for nurturing a growth mindset. A good take-away from the two zones and how they interact to help us get better at what we care about is to think about it like washing your hair: wash-rinse-repeat. (Click here to watch the full TedTalk video.)
Ok so we have a good idea about growth mindset and how to continue getting better at what we care about. But what is actually happening with the brain? The key is in how our brain has been evolving from the purely animalistic, instinctive and reactionary wiring that focuses mostly on survival even if our nobel goal is to emphasize the positive and intentional things today. How the brain remembers negative experiences is often through the body producing cortisol during a stressful event. (That T-Rex ate Bob, it was scary, and I remember that! I also remember my friend Bob. He was a cool dude.) “The bad feeling of cortisol has its own survival purpose. It alerts you to an obstacle on the path to meeting your needs so you can navigate your way to good feelings. But once you do that, your brain finds the next obstacle. You will feel bad a lot if you follow your survival brain wherever it leads.” (https://www.forbes.com/sites/womensmedia/2016/12/21/how-to-train-your-brain-to-go-positive-instead-of-negative/#66ccd9005a58) Fast forward to 2020 and we have a brain that is tuned into looking out for obstacles, and has become very skilled in remembering negative experiences.
It probably takes about three times repeating most positive experiences to make as deep of an impression in the mind as one negative experience. This is based on practices for building self-esteem and self-confidence such as through pep talks like repeating positive sayings to yourself multiple times while looking in the mirror. Doing this will ingrain a pathway and memory in the mind based on positivity, effectively training your brain to look for the positives and not the negatives. A suggestion is to “…spend one minute looking for positives, three times a day for forty five days…Any positives, no matter how small, will build the pathway that seeks and expects positives.” (https://www.forbes.com/sites/womensmedia/2016/12/21/how-to-train-your-brain-to-go-positive-instead-of-negative/#66ccd9005a58) This will create a healthy habit, and promote the development of a healthy brain.
Having healthy and learning minds helps us cultivate strong emotional bonds with others and ourselves. It feels good to be successful in endeavors we care about. Previous blogs we have written talk a lot about how positive feelings are good for our us, such as Caring Through the Gift of Time and Volunteering for Health. We see this when we achieve a goal — we and those who support us often are smiling. We feel the positivity. When a positive outlook is adopted a higher frequency of success is achieved. This in turn creates a positive circuit the feeds itself, and generates more connections during our learning time. An example of this is the saying ‘you’re on fire!’ when someone is just having successful achievement after successful achievement. The excitement is palpable and the momentum is fast.
From what we have been reading and blogging about, this is the ongoing goal of a growth mindset. Most of the time we are happy when we are learning and growing. And one thing is for certain: change is inevitable. This means that it is important to continue to get better at what we care about.
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