When we look at our grief experience, we want to heal and grow from the experience, transcending from deep sorrow to what is next. But how?
To do this personally, I began seeking out and consuming podcasts and readings about a growth mindset.
What is a growth mindset? I recommend looking at the pioneering work of Carol S. Dweck of Stanford University for inspiration, and her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
Ms. Dweck describes her efforts: “My work bridges developmental psychology, social psychology, and personality psychology, and examines the self-conceptions (or mindsets) people use to structure the self and guide their behavior. My research looks at the origins of these mindsets, their role in motivation and self-regulation, and their impact on achievement and interpersonal processes.”
In this research-driven guide Ms. Dweck combined developmental, social and personality psychology to understand how our conscious and unconscious thoughts affect us and drive success in all aspects of our lives.
In the book, Ms Dweck talks about two primary mindsets, one which is Fixed, believing that knowledge is static and limited by inheritance and other factors. With a Fixed Mindset, you seek validation, wanting to prove yourself correct over and over rather than learning from your mistakes and growing from your experiences. The fixed mindset enthusiast looks for peers and friends to help boost their current belief system and their self-esteem versus challenging them to grow.
A more successful model, posited by Dweck is to instead implement a Growth Mindset, a belief that your mind, body and spirit can be developed and improved incrementally over time. A view that we are plastic, moldable and shapeable, versus steel. With so much emphasis today on achievements, success and measurement, a growth mindset focuses on improving and optimizing the pursuit and not the outcome.
Of great importance. according to Dweck, those who implement a growth mindset “… seem to have a special talent for converting life’s setbacks into future successes”.
And with the enormous setback of losing a partner, what better mindset to implement than one centered on growth, to convert this terrible life setback that we are experiencing into one that we can leverage for future success, and for good.
Leveraging her framework, my own take on what a growth mindset consists of includes the following key characteristics, which spell out GROWTH:
- G – Gravitate to the challenges placed before them (as opposed to avoiding the issues)
- R – Retain a positive outlook, despite struggles and challenges in the near term (instead of focusing on the negative)
- O – Operate in a space just outside their comfort zone (rather than avoiding discomfort)
- W – Work diligently, taking self-disciplined steps towards improving mind, body and spirit and enjoying the process and journey and not the end goal (versus avoiding the effort and focusing just on the outcome). As improvements are made and the healing occurs and you become an improved version of yourself, a growth mindset knows there is no success great or big enough that you can stand in its shadows forever. Success once you get it is usually a fleeting feeling almost like candy once you get it you crave more but in the end are left unsatisfied nutritionally. So it is important to focus on the work and the journey, wherein the happiness is the progress
- T – Take lessons from setbacks mistakes and criticism (as opposed to striving for perfection and not accepting feedback or acting on negative experiences)
- H – Help others to succeed, and find lessons and inspiration in the success of others (as opposed to feeling threatened by others’ success), especially following the mantra whereby you should: “plant trees under whose shade you may never sit”.
If you have a growth mindset, you grasp the challenges placed before you and know that there can be a positive outcome from your loss and grieving experiences. That the pain of the experience, rather than breaking you, can help to actually strengthen your mind, body and spirit. For me, I needed to change perspective – from asking Why Me, to What Next.
You realize that your mind, body and spirit all need to be exercised for strengthening, and that any and all of these might have been weakened leading up to and through your loss. I started the day after my Judy passed focusing first on getting my body back to health first. I had been drinking heavily prior to her passing, and took my last drink the day she died.
That there will be struggles and setbacks on your path to address the grief, but you push forward through. For me, this meant pushing through injuries to maintain an intensive exercise program, and prioritizing my own development of mind over work, shifting that balance dramatically compared to years past.
You seek the inspiration and help of others to gain perspective and to help guide the healing and growth process. For me, this meant consuming growth mindset podcasts every morning, during my morning walk with my pup Ruby, and seeking mentorship to guide my spiritual journey.
And finally, a person with a growth mindset also seeks to help others in their own healing process, even as you traverse your own journey and gather learnings. For me, this meant grabbing a few other widowers in my community, the brotherhood, and making sure we met every three weeks.