“Out of your vulnerabilities will come your strength.” – Sigmund Freud.
I can edit essays, write poems, create slightly depressing short stories, and will happily accept any challenge that starts with ‘what would make this better?’
But if you ask me to solve a math problem without a calculator, I freeze.
Science is behind me on this one. I remember being a little girl, sitting on my Grandpa’s lap in his office. It always smelled like warm, dusty computers and leather. His chair would creak as he lowered himself down and I would worry that the gold rollers might squish my toes. Over the years, the same memory takes place: big hands pulling a flat carpenter’s pencil from his plaid shirt pocket, and scratching math problems onto the thick pad of yellow legal paper. He’d write things methodically in front of me, trying to engage my mathematical abilities. “So if we have this, and this, what’s the answer?”
Silence. My brain would try to stay there with him, in the room with the warm computer smell and the leather and the gold rollers. But it wouldn’t. It would go to every other imaginable place. He’d laugh and say “Oh, come on now” in his faded British accent. Teasing, gentle, encouraging. You can do this. Just think. Look at the problem again.
I’d look. And look. The pencil lines would blur together, the room would now seem too warm, and I’d dance around the actual question with words like ‘hm’ and ‘well’ and ‘I’m not sure.’ We did this through the years; the huge office chair became smaller, the warm computers became newer computers, Grandma’s singing in the other room was replaced with silence, but the answers were still the same: “I don’t know. I’m not good at math.”
I came across this TED Talk today while I was doing my makeup. The Power of Yet. If you decide to skip past the link, this is the footnote version:
There are two kinds of mindsets we can have when faced with a challenge: fixed, or growth. A fixed mindset sees a challenge and responds with lowered activity in their brain. It shuts down. Freezes. They think things like ‘I’m bad at math’, and see gaps in skill sets as an inherent lack of intelligence or ability. It disappoints them. Scares them. Shames them. So they shuffle that broken part of their abilities away and focus on the other stuff that isn’t quite as stressful.
The growth mindset sees the same challenge and engages it. Their brain activity increases, their neurons build new pathways, and that initial setback now becomes a platform for future success. The challenge fosters an environment to increase intelligence overall.
Best part of this?
Replacing ‘I can’t’ with ‘I can’t yet’ may be the difference between remaining stagnant or becoming your own ‘Better Me.’
What’s your kryptonite? Why did you first think you couldn’t overcome it? What would change if you could master that weakness?