I can run, you can run, we can all run…
My motivation for writing this blog post stems from two things: the first is based on my regular exchanges with my youngest daughter, who is nearly out of the ‘terrible twos.’ Whether I ask her to do up her zip on her coat, take a plate into the kitchen, or put on her shoes, I am – without exception – greeted with a sulky pursed bottom lip and the killer statement, ‘I can’t’.
After I have counted to ten, calmed down and composed myself, I say the word ‘yet’. She stares blankly in my direction. I move away, busying myself with something else and within seconds I hear the triumphant, ‘Daddy, I did it!’ I turn and see that beautiful look of self-satisfaction, pride and happiness in having achieved something. Each achievement melts my heart, however big or small, yet it infuriates and puzzles me beyond belief that a child at such a young age can be so quick to leap into the clutches of defeatism.
The second thing was a blog post by Susie Chan that I read recently, entitled ‘It’s OK to be OK. I thought about this as I read the article and saw, in a nutshell, how one person transformed her thinking – whether knowingly or not – and is now more likely to be enjoying and succeeding in her running than before.
You say: What’s this story got to do with running though?
Well, it has EVERYTHING to do with running!
You have probably heard lots of people talking about ‘growth mindset’ but might not necessarily know too much about it. I’m not going to go into the fine details here. There are plenty of sources that do that already, both online and on book shelves around the world. If you would like to know more, then the best place to start would be with Dr Carol Dweck’s book, ‘Mindset: The new psychology of success.’ Alternatively, you could watch her TED talk or look elsewhere online for a vast array of resources.
In a nutshell, a fixed mindset is one where the individual believes they aren’t capable of improving, or developing their abilities. They spend their time recording their achievements, rather than developing their abilities. You know the type, and I know the type – of adults AND of children. You’ll often see them relying on talent alone, or – when things get tough – using that terrible word, ‘can’t’.
Those people with a growth mindset (spoiler alert: I am one of these people) believe that they are capable of getting better through dedication and hard work, don’t give up easily (or at all!) and persevere when everyone else has quit. These people are often found talking about ‘loving a challenge’ ad using the word ‘yet’, i.e. ‘I can’t do it yet’ or ‘I have yet to find the solution to my problem.’
What does this mean for my running?
Well, first of all, it means that people with a growth mindset don’t tend to beat themselves up if they have a shockingly awful training session or rubbish race. It means they tend to find ways of pushing and challenging themselves instead of coasting along, incentivising training for themselves by fooling their brains. They also tend to enjoy analysing their performances (including pre- and post-race preparations!) and can probably tell you in vivid detail about their worst training session. For mine, it took me a while to find it, but it is available here. And yes, I could talk it through in lots of detail.
It also means that people with a growth mindset believe inherently that they can go faster, further and longer if they apply their effort and perseverance to the task. What they don’t tend to do is rely solely on any talent or ability they might have.
You: OK. I can see I’m a fixed mindset kind of person. I guess I should just quit running now then, right?
No, no, no, no, no!!! As I hope you can guess, my point about writing this article was to encourage you all. If you are cloaked in the strain of a fixed mindset brain, take encouragement that it CAN be changed. As an adult, it will take effort as you have years of habit to break, but it is possible.
You: I knew you’d say that.
Of course! But the fact you’re reading this far down means I’ve got you interested. Watch Dr Carol Dweck’s video, check out her book, and talk more to your annoying friends that seem to be more positive about learning, progress and achieving (regardless of whether that is running-related or not).
How having a growth mindset can help:
- You focus on the journey, not the most recent performance.
- You see the learning curve ahead, including it’s highs and lows – you are less likely to quit when it gets difficult or progress seems hard to come by.
- You feel good when you make an effort, concentrate hard, make progress.
- You appreciate and empathise with others easily.
- You actively seek out solutions or alternatives.
Having a fixed mindset means:
- You’re likely to judge yourself on the latest performance or training session and your mood/enthusiasm will fluctuate massively depending on how it went.
- You feel good (about running) only when you’ve beaten others you perceive to be better than you.
- You find it more difficult to empathise with others. It’s all about you.
- You’d rather not try at all than try and not ‘succeed’.
I would be really interested to see whether you think you have a fixed or a growth mindset and how you’ve discovered this. How does it help/hinder your running?
Finally, are you the runner you want to be? Yes? No? Or not yet?!