A fixed mindset almost destroyed my life
“Sindu, what are you waiting for? Finish it and go back to your seat.”
“Why are you looking so lost as if it is the toughest problem in the world?”
“It is very easy. You are wasting everybody’s time.”
It was a rainy day. But, the outpour of those angry words hit me louder than the thunder storm outside. I wanted to tell her that I did not know, but I could not. I was shaken from outside, but numb from inside.
This had become a daily affair ever since the new school year started a month back. I was twelve and we had a new Math teacher in our convent school—Sister Hakim. She was the teacher you didn’t want to mess with. Within a short period, she had built the reputation of a strict teacher. Sister Hakim used to get me to work on Math problems every day on the blackboard (there was no whiteboard those days).
I used to score average marks in Math. I had the belief that I was not good in Math, and I did not think I would be able to get any better than where I was. I found it difficult to understand Math.
Why are you so bad in it?
I grew up hearing how gifted my dad was in Math as a child. People used to tell me stories of how he helped high school students in Math when he was in middle school. Many would ask me “How come you are so poor in Math?”
My confidence in my Math skills was so poor that I used to make huge blunders even when I knew how to solve a problem. Hence, I managed to hear an earful of scolding from Sister Hakim on a daily basis. But, I was confused about one thing. Of all people in the class why does Sister Hakim have to pick me on a daily basis, that too to work out sums in front of the class? I started hating the Math lessons all the more.
She hates me
“Sister Hakim hates me. That is why she likes to make me look like a fool every day”, I complained to my friends. They looked at me with sympathetic eyes, agreeing with my point. I used to dread the Math period.
As I was struggling with that Math problem on that rainy day, other students in the class were laughing at me as they thought it was very easy. I turned my face away from the laughing crowd and stared at the blackboard. Sister Hakim started to say something and I closed my eyes waiting for the worst. She said, “Sindu has the potential to do very well in Math, if she puts some effort. But, I do not know why she is not trying hard.”
She does not think I am an airhead
I turned around and looked at her, she was not looking at me. I felt an unknown spark jolting through my body. I told myself, “Sister Hakim thinks I have the potential! She does not think I am an airhead!”
Sister Hakim continued, “I give her enough opportunities to show her that. But, she does not seem to get it.” I don’t think Sister Hakim remembers the impact those words had on me. For her, it was mere a comment about a lazy student, but for me it was a life changing moment.
Until then, I had thought my teacher hated me and was bent on troubling me. Until then, I thought I was not born with a Math brain. But, after hearing those words, I truly felt she saw something in me that I did not see myself.
She could see something that I could not
From that day onwards, I started working hard on Math. As I started putting more effort into it, I began understanding it better. After that, it was all about looking at each problem as a new challenge and finding ways to solve that problem. When I received the results of the exam in the following term, I realised that I had turned from an average scorer to one of the top scorers in my class. It did not take much time for Math to become my favourite subject. Later, that passion paved the way for me to study engineering and then MBA.
Those words of my teacher helped me to look at my life with a growth mindset, not just in solving Math problems, but in several other areas. What made that miraculous change within just two months? I realised that there were certain attitudes and habits that I unconsciously followed needed change.
1. I nurtured fixed mindset
I thought my intelligence was fixed. I thought I did not have the potential to improve my skills and more importantly I was ok with that.
2. I did self-labelling
I labeled myself ‘bad in Math’. I thought I was not gifted in Math. I thought only ‘gifted’ students were able to score high in Math.
3. I was looking at feedbacks as threats and criticisms
I was quick to think that my teacher thought the worst about me when all the while what she wanted was to make me realise that I have the potential.
4. I felt insecure instead of inspired
I used to feel insecure when people compared my Math skills with my dad’s, instead of getting inspired. Comparison is not good. At the same time, you can’t completely stop other people from comparing you with others. Other people often have clear expectations from us. But, what matters is how sincere is your expectations from yourself. What I could have done was to reframe my thoughts to get the best out of myself.
5. I did not ask for help
I was happy inside the little label I had created for me and hence did not think it was necessary to ask for help.
6. I overlooked the concept of hard work
It is the efforts that lead to mastery.
When I realised that my teacher thought I had the potential to improve my Math skills, I started believing that truly I had that potential. The result of that was, I put in more effort, came up with study plans and started asking and seeking help from others to learn better. As I started thinking with a growth mindset, I started seeing the results in my marks.
Growth mindset as a term was not coined at that time. But, the growth mindset that I started developing then, guides me to take on new challenges even today. Though learning and following a growth mindset early in life helps, you can adopt it any point in your life.
Start your growth mindset here
Take an area that you feel you need to develop. Think about these.
- How often do you label yourself as not good?
- How often do you ask for feedback? How open are you for those feedbacks?
- Who can you ask for help?
- What adjustments can you make to plan your day to improve that area?
- Do you know anyone better than yourself in it? Get inspired by them, not insecure.
For our workshops on growth mindset, please visit Growth Mindset Camp.
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