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If it's hard to sustain a growth mindset, look around you

Circumstances, expectations, promises impact our growth mindset

I was reading a synopsis of the book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night by Mark Haddon which was featured in the Reader's Digest story, I'd Like to Help You Find Some Good Books by Ann Walmsley (yeah, a story within a story!). Back to Curious. The protagonist in the story is Christopher, a 15 year old boy with autism spectrum disorder. He lives under a strict routine in order to avoid sensory overload. However, one night, he found his neighbour's dog impaled with a pitchfork, and he goes well beyond his comfort zone to try to solve the crime using skills he picked up from the Sherlock Holmes books he had read. This led to a journey of discovery for Christopher, who found that adult life seemed deceptive and irrational when viewed from his highly factual autism lens. The book leads one to reflect that perhaps all of us are living under our own strict regime to keep out the sensory overload of life, preferring to shape the outcome from the comfort of our own little world. Perhaps we, too, are "autistic"? This got me thinking about how our viewpoint, our environment, our promises, our circumstances, affect our thinking, our mindset. I have come to realise that some people are more fixed because of the expectations that their surrounding have on them, despite themselves! Let me elaborate...

Expectations from our family and friends

I am very fortunate to have a very supportive wife, who allows me to fly off on my entrepreneurial jaunts. It takes one who has a growth mindset to support another with one. I know of several people who have been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug but were held back by their spouse, their parents, their children, their good friends, even their pastor. Sometimes it is not what they say, but what they don't say. And other times it is not what they don't say, but what they do. "When are you getting a regular job?" "Haven't you had enough fun goofing off already?" "Isn't it time you actually contributed something to your family?" "When are you going to take care of your own children?" When your family and friends expect you to be someone other than who you are making yourself to be, it can put a real damper on your growth mindset development.


Many people want to make the switch to experiment with their life, to experiment with their career, but circumstances hold them back. They have a huge mortgage which needs to be refinanced soon, they have a car loan (maybe even two!), they have to maintain their two overseas vacations a year, and the monthly wine club dinners in posh restaurants. After all, we need to keep up with the Joneses, the Tans, and the Lims, right? So one's lifestyle, one's circumstances, have put a lien on the person's ability to move, to re-create or to grow.

Promises made

Before I married my beautiful wife, I promised that I would take care of her and our family always; she would not be in want of anything. There was another episode in my life when we were running our fledgeling training business in the early 2000s, when we met a friend who was running a catering business. He was driving a Mercedes S class. She remarked that if a business dealing with the stomach can provide one with a big Mercedes, how about ours, which was dealing with the mind? (The statement made was not in judgement of the catering business, but one of prodding me to do better! ) I promised her that we too will have our Mercedes. Such promises sometimes hold us down and shackle us to the fixed because we might well need the surety of the pay check, than the uncertainty of profits, to meet them.

Changing landscape

How many of us late forties and fifty-plus people know what our children and their generation is up to? Do you know how they think? How they work? The reason why we need to have inter-generational workshops in organisations is simple - we don't! The issue is that many of us are set in our ways of thinking (fixed!) and even when we realise that we need to change, we have no idea how to do that. Imagine Captain America waking up in the 2012 and finding out the world is so different. Well, the same thing here. Except that we are living in the real world, and we now find ourselves the relics! We need to take steps that will be uncomfortable for us; like Christopher, in the story, and to find out how the world really works. We will come to understand that ours is just a tiny microcosm of the real world, and it takes lots of courage to break out of our comfort zone and uncover just how much the landscape has changed. Perhaps that is really too big a task for many of us, and we go back to the cocoon of the fixed, because it is very comfortable!

Growth within the fixed?

Our surroundings affect our growth mindset development quite significantly because it can be nurturing or it can be stifling. But we have heard many people exhort, "You either allow your environment to manage you, or you manage the environment." But that is easier said than done, of course. No man is an island, we are not a hermit. We have a family to maintain, we have expectations to meet, and promises to keep. Others come with their own concept of how things are supposed to be, and they influence ours. So, sometimes, we are not leading the life that we want to but one that we have to. I suppose there is always that important question to ask ourselves, "What is most important in my life?" and if you agree that it is better to keep familial peace, friendly cordiality, and community respect, then we may need to let our growth mindset blossom within the fixed.

Perhaps Haddon is matter how we try to run away, we are pulled back into our own reality. We live within the life that we have built, and we make the best of it. Perhaps we shouldn't try to build a new one, but push the boundaries of this current one a little further? That would be growth within the fixed, wouldn't it?


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