"Uh oh, Elizabeth, be careful. You're sloshing it out."
My four year old stops her stirring for a second, processing my words. She sees where a small puddle of batter is now splatted on the counter top. She adjusts her grip, and then begins to mix again, slower this time.
"It's okay, Mom." She says in a confident tone. Then under her breath, more to herself than to me, "It's all a part of learning."
I'm pretty sure she got that phrase from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, and I'm completely in love with it.
God seems to endow little kids with a strong growth mindset to sustain them through all the little challenges of growing up. They fall a hundred times learning to walk, but giggle right through it, jump back up, and try again. All the while, their little muscles are getting stronger, their coordination is improving, and they're getting the hang of how to balance themselves to keep moving towards their target despite environmental variables.
Having a growth mindset is vital to sustaining an intentional lifestyle, because making mistakes is a vital part of the process.
And yet, as adults, we so often get annoyed at the process.
- We expect to go from inexperienced and naive to total masters of a new skill in one day.
- We expect ourselves to navigate unknown terrain with perfect foresight and preparedness.
- We expect ourselves to never, ever, trip or fall while we learn to balance determination with flexibility.
Have you ever watched a baby try to walk a few times, and then, before he masters it, he suddenly falls to his knees and crawls over to his snacks and sippy cup to take a breather? He seems perfectly satisfied in having done his "learning to walk exercises," spending the rest of the day playing toys, napping, and crawling around to get from one destination to the other. He's letting those around him who do know how to walk inspire him to believe that walking is possible (and even ideal!), but he's also usually pretty content with the process. He doesn't ignore his hunger and sleeping cues to hustle to master the new skill because he thinks it'll make everything better. He doesn't neglect his relationships, or forget to nourish himself in other ways (through playing toys or getting snuggles). In fact, he thrives on the celebration of every step that he does take, takes satisfaction in the positive effort, and goes on about his day until it's time to go at it again.
And once he does figure out how to walk, he's not immediately depressed that he doesn't know how to run. He just practices walking faster and faster until he gains that skill, too. Walking, running, climbing, eating, going potty, building, opening, learning boundaries, socializing, talking, counting, and reading are just a few of the things a child has to master in the first few years of their lives. Their natural growth mindset turns all of these complex tasks into the grand adventures of childhood. They have fun, take satisfaction in the process, stay fully present with others, and prioritize self-care (such as eating and sleeping). And when they do get frustrated, and the part of their human nature that loathes mistakes begins to kick in, healthy adults come alongside the children to assure them that the errors are all a part of learning.
Without a growth mindset, it's all too easy to become way too hard on yourself (and others), hustling non-stop to try to "make up for" hundreds of non-essential things that "need" to be perfected before you can be satisfied in your work. But if you never can come to an emotional stopping point, then you can never truly rest. If you can never rest, then you can never celebrate your own milestones or enjoy the fruit of your labor. Your life becomes a nonstop grind with the goal of trying to outrun your inadequacies.
This puts you on the fast track to burnout. Burnout is a headspace where meaningful productivity is virtually impossible. It's also a very low state, physically. Getting out of bed itself becomes a challenge (let alone producing excellence in your work).
A growth mindset creates space for progress, while a "fixed" mindset expects spotless perfection right out of the gate.
When you have a fixed mindset and run into a mess, you tend to be completely closed off emotionally to the process of bringing order out of chaos, skill out of naïveté, and maturity out of inexperience. You either get overwhelmed and quit at the gate, or you try to sprint your way through the marathon and end up too tired (burned out) to finish.
You neglect good nutrition and exercise, sleep, and relationships in the name of crushing your goals. Your time fills up with busywork, fiddling with perfectionism. You aren't respecting creaturely limits, so you aren't disciplining yourself to find creative ways to be more effective. You see the process as the enemy, so every failure and setback takes a toll on you emotionally.
The adventurous air of new goals and projects wear off extremely fast, leaving you to feel overwhelmed and caught between the decision to sprint or quit. So how do you return the spirit of adventure to your goals and embrace the process?
By adopting the 4yo's phrase, in the face of mistakes, errors, and uncertainty: It's all a part of learning.
So what does this mean practically for your life?
- Are you still struggling to adjust to the ways Covid has forced lifestyle changes? Is uncertainty getting at you? Take a deep breath. Get still, get real, get organized, and recognize that the uncertainty is all a part of learning.
- Are you making one mistake after another in your attempts to refine your home rhythms? Does it feel like every day exposes a weak part of your routine? Getting into good rhythms is a process. Take a deep breath. Get still, consider the pain points, brainstorm solutions, and recognize that missteps are all a part of learning.
- Is perfectionism keeping you from really finishing that really important domino project (like decluttering your home, or getting your papers organized)? Take a deep breath. Get still, get reconnected with your why, and recognize that putting progress over perfection is all a part of learning.
- Is your exercise program causing more stress than it's worth, or never getting done because it's so unappealing? Take a deep breath, and research a more fun way to get your movement in. Recognize that pivoting from the original plan when something better becomes clear is all a part of learning.
It's all a part of learning. So pause, evaluate, pivot, and move on. You can choose to do so with a cheerful attitude.
Take your own mistakes in joyful stride because errors are simply an opportunity to grow.
When you're in this headspace regarding the process that it takes to accomplish your goals, you model a growth mindset for others (especially your children and those closest to you). You tend to be more gracious with others as well. And you have the sustained energy to get your goals through milestone after milestone. Radical, positive change happens. Possibilities unfold everywhere. And that is the addictive part of the process.
Keep going, friend.
It's all a part of learning.