“Learning to take first steps: Cultivating a growth mindset"
written by a member of the class of 2023

A toddler develops the ability to walk with little to no help. Or so it seems; as a baby, they begin by observing the world around them. Suddenly there is a drive to move around, rolling from back to stomach is typically the first landmark that a child makes. Next they begin to wear holes in their pants as they crawl around. The toy that once seemed impossible to obtain has now become second nature. A child does not achieve these accomplishments on their own. Although the actual movement is in the child's own capability, a parent creates a huge motivation and support for the child. This whole process that a child takes in improving their mobility is based on growth. It is the first of many improvements that a human is faced with. This fundamental achievement in the development of a baby becomes a mindset that is motivated and willing to try hard things. Children find excitement and approval as they are supported and pushed while taking their first steps, this support is crucial to showing children what success looks like from trying something that is hard.

The first time a baby stands up they begin to realize the importance of finding success, that this new level of life (from their feet) is something that once seemed impossible now seems very achievable. This first achievement in a child's life is really interesting. Not only in the support they are given by their parents but the actual ability they have to show emotions and try something new. It is seen in many toddlers that they are frustrated when they can't reach an object. Or even sometimes, when they make it to their feet and lose their balance, they throw a fit. Frustration is completely normal and is so funny to be seen in a child at such a young age, especially when it's before they can even talk. From a very early age, our minds are working and developing to be able to take on harder challenges and learn how to become better.

The capabilities of the mind are only what they are presented with. If you aren't feeding your body, it's not going to grow. Same with the way our minds process and interpret information. So what happens when humans are not fed? They grow weak and cannot stand on their own. Ultimately the body will shut down and not work properly or in some cases not at all. Although this is an extreme, the relationship that our bodies have with our minds is really important.

The mind of any human being is always working. Try to think about not thinking. It's impossible. The mind is so powerful and so often taken for granted. “We can go three weeks without food, three days without water, three minutes without oxygen—but we can’t even go for three seconds without thinking'' (Leaf, “Cleaning Mental Mess”). Have your parents ever asked you what you're thinking, and the simplest and most untrue answer you have is “nothing.” You just simply don't want to engage in a conversation and it's clear. Even if you're thinking about the fact that you can't remember what you were just thinking about, you were technically thinking.

Within the very broad and simple illustration of the mind there are so many areas of development to be researched. The area of a growth mindset is displayed as the toddler who takes their first steps. They are trying something new with efforts that keep them coming back and trying again. The illustration of the baby taking its first steps is the first take on a human's attack on forming a growth mindset, and it is only the beginning. With a lot of frustration, and many highs and lows, the brain will always be taking on challenges throughout life in efforts to develop that of a growth mindset.

The adoption of a growth mindset helps one to live out who they are called to be in Christ by equipping them with the physical, mental, and emotional tools to live free from fear. Every human being is living a life that is solely unique to themselves, a life that is changed by the environment and experiences around them. The adoption of a growth mindset is not always as easy as taking your first steps, and it most definitely is not something that can be done only on your own. With persistence, understanding and a clear goal, development will come.

The 21st century is faced with technology at the command of a voice. It is causing a comfort crisis in which humans are so used to the relaxed and comfortable ability to sit down and be watching their favorite show in seconds that they aren't going out in the real world and trying new things. Along with this, social media is sucking humans in, pulling them away from the world that was designed by God to be lived in and throughout. This is a simple understanding of the opposite of what a growth mindset is. This is a fixed mindset.

To understand the reality of developing a growth mindset over that of a fixed mindset, it would be helpful to give an understanding of both. Eduardo Briceno is a keynote speaker who has a Ted Talk on the “Power of Belief” and finding success. He described a growth mindset as “qualities that can be developed.” (Briceno). The growth mindset is what someone tells themself they are capable of. Looking specifically at a growth mindset, we think back to the toddler who is in its first few years of life. Toddlers are born with so much to learn, and their first experience with learning is crucial to how they will continue to take on problems throughout their lives. The ability to walk is a quality that the toddler doesn't just pick up one day without ever trying, but it is a quality, like Briceno said, that is developed.

The fixed mindset on the other hand is exactly what it sounds like. It is the person living in their comfort zone 24/7. A person who is afraid to put themselves out there or try new things because of past experiences, a lack of effort, or fear of failure and frustration. “People with a fixed mindset worry the most about how they are judged” (Briceno). It is not a healthy lifestyle to live. Being fixated on the limitations of life oftentimes has many negative downsides. While those who live in a growth mindset tend to thrive and find connecting to others easy, a fixed mindset limits a person's personality and experiences.

Thinking back on the development that comes with a toddler, there is a lot to be said about the support they receive from their parents. However as the child grows, there is more than just their parents who are involved in their development, specifically in the brain. The influences of the human brain connect well to the concept of political socialization. An article written by Avijit Biswas presents us with a picture laying out several agents of political socialization which have a direct impact on the development of human brains. Although not all of these agents will be discussed, there are several to be mentioned. These are family, educational influence, and friends. Each influence of life leaves a new mark on every human being, leaving everyone's view of the world a little bit different, “After a few years of age, the [children join] the educational establishment for education leavers and schools, colleges and universities became important as a means of political socialization of [their] life” (Biswas). Ultimately, the development of a mindset, whether it be fixed or not, in general is altered by more than what it seems. Along with religious organizations, mass media, and political parties, there is so much that is being fed into each and every human being starting from a young age.

Our world today has formed around an idea of fear and oftentimes laziness. Gordana Biernat’s take on fear is a really good representation that many can relate to. She says, “It grabs my attention when I least expect it, and like a dark creature that dwells in my future, it feeds me with images and mind games of what could happen, spewing out illusions of a reality that I don’t want,... that prevent me from being fully present in the now moment” (Biernat). This is exactly what fear is. It paints a picture in our mind, causing us to shy away from our full potential. Fear is the reality of the broken world we live in, while at the same time is something that can be learned to overcome. Striving to overcome and adapt to fear rather than letting fear control our world will turn one closer to unfolding a growth mindset.

The world has a different view of what a growth mindset is, and it is very present throughout the school systems today all over our world. Many of the problems that lead to a lack of a growth mindset are found in the flaws of the education system. American Psychologist Carol Dweck has done extensive research on the development of a growth mindset (specifically in kids) and says, “Public schools have and always will promote a fixed mindset. This is true because the foundation of schooling is based on force” (Dweck). Our school systems are a lock wanting to form and chisel each kid into a key that will fit through the lock at each stage of their learning career. Each stage of learning presents kids with information that they are told to remember to pass into the next stage. This take on learning does not promote a growth mindset, especially when many children do not tend to achieve from this type of strict and structured learning. Children are being forced to turn the lock when they don't believe that they can unlock it, or when they dont have the right notches to hit every bolt in the lock. This problem in the public school system does not prepare children for life. Many times it actually leaves them in a state of mind that begins to develop a fixed mindset. That all of the work they are completing will never measure up to the amount needed to turn the lock. This leads them to their adult lives and college years to deal with real life situations in a fixed state of mind. The schooling system will most likely never fit every child's needs and can teach kids that trying to do hard things will aid the development of a growth mindset.

Schooling is a huge opportunity at a young age for children to learn to adopt a growth mindset. In the book, The Power of Positive Thinking there is a section on the development of a growth mindset that says, “Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy” (Peale). Going to school and trying many new things and learning to ask questions starts at a young age. Even when memorizing math equations becomes hard and may seem impossible, putting aside any sense of fear or that of a fixed mindset will spark some understanding.

Through the study of a fixed and growth mindset, there is a lot to be said and unpacked about the early development of children and how each experience leads to the type of mindset they develop. “Not yet” are the words of Carol Dweck (Dweck, Developing a Growth Mindset). Carol Dweck has done extensive research on the schooling that kids receive and how schooling leaves a large impact on what type of mindset they will begin to fall into. Carol Dweck used two phrases to distinguish the fixed mindset from the growth mindset in children. The “Not Yet” describes the growth mindset of kids who take on a challenge and realize that this problem can be solved and that just because they don't have the capabilities to do something now does not mean that they won't be able to later on. Kids with a fixed mindset, Carol describes as, a “tyranny of now” in which their understanding of problems they didnt feel like was worth their time and that there was no point in even trying (Dweck, Developing a Growth Mindset).

Carol describes the hard work done by children to be best transformed into a growth mindset by praise. She says that the children after receiving praise for their efforts “understood that their abilities could grow through their hard work” and that they would be able to grow if they just keep applying themselves. You are not utilizing your brain to the fullest of its potential when you are not taking on problems to the best of your ability. Carol Dweck's studies on children show that praise enhances their motivation and causes them to feel more loved and appreciated. The lack of praise and competition created within schools is becoming a problem for many kids. Everyone takes on different problems, and even if the grading system does not change, the praise that children receive for trying something hard and putting all of their effort into doing well should become widely adapted and praised (Dweck). The praise is an agent to finding success and motivation. Being seen as accomplished, smart, athletic, or just feeling good about yourself when you are around others brings on a sense of growth and a sense of confidence to try something new and make an impact.

There are so many stories of people who have taken on what seems to be impossible. Solo rock climbs thousands of feet in the air without a harness. Dangling over the face of the earth. Things that shouldn't be humanly possible. A man by the name of David Goggins is a man who many would describe as a superhuman, whose mental toughness brought him to become a huge motivation to millions of people around the world. David Goggins stands out specifically in his ability to overcome his mind.

Growing up with a rough childhood, David Goggins faced many struggles. His lack of ability to learn always created a barrier for him and ultimately caused him to feel like he would never make it in life. He sets aside his lack of motivation for once and decides to put all of his effort into fulfilling a dream of becoming a NAVY seal. David Goggins takes on some of the toughest challenges both mentally and physically, including a previous world record in pull ups, completing 4,030 pull ups in a seventeen hour span. He completed this on his third attempt after two failed attempts. David Goggins stands out not only in his ability to stay focused on the task at hand but also in his true adoption of a growth mindset. He shows this in his motivation for wanting to grow and become the best at everything he does. One of his big things is overcoming failures. David says, “In every failure there is something to be gained, even if it’s only practice for the next test you’ll have to take. Because the next test is coming. That’s a guarantee” (Goggins). The ability and willingness to try again after failing is something that a lot of people struggle to obtain, but it is one that will bring about great success.

Whether it be in a school setting or even in the mundane day to day activities and experiences of life, there will be times when you have to do something a little bit outside of your comfort zone. Which will lead to times when anxiety and stress set in. Stress however is not as bad as it is typically thought to be. Yes, when your time to get on the roller coaster, or talk in front of the class or a large group of people arises there is a feeling that takes over your body. A feeling of numbness, a feeling of fear, or a feeling of stress. But is it a bad thing to feel stressed?

Alia Crum is an American psychologist who has a Ted Talk on the topic of a mindset leading into stress. Within her Ted Talk, Dr. Alia Crum gives a very in depth explanation through experimentation on how the human body and mind are connected. The way we think about the opportunities or obstacles in life determines how our bodies will feel and look. She leads into the topic of stress through the way our bodies feel based on how we respond to certain explanations. It takes over a lot of people's lives and is a turning point in the outcome of many situations (Crum). Dr. Crum’s studies relate well with another psychologist named Dr. Bill Crawford.

Dr. Bill Crawford has done research on two different categories of stress that can help with understanding what good stress v. bad stress are and how each one can relate to and show us what areas need work to improve our growth mindsets (Crawford). The first category is exactly what is described above; stress in the form of anticipation and excitement. This state that the body takes on is not a bad thing, as it's good to be cautious and feel stressed. While the second category Dr. Bill uses is distress, “Which is when it [stress] continues to go up and it throws us into a certain part of the brain” (Crawford). There are three sections of the brain all being used to send mixed signals all over the body. One of the parts of the brain called the amygdala is designed to deal with dangers. At this point, when we have perceived something as dangerous, our flight is typically triggered. However, sometimes distress triggers this part of the brain when it shouldn't be (Crawford).

If a driver does something we don't like and cuts us off, we may swerve or speed up in our anger. Eventually, this stressful event will pass by, however when a driver ends up rear ending you, a danger-like stress, which is totally normal, will be released. In this instance the brain is perceiving the stress, as making sure nobody is hurt and dealing with the outcome of a crash. When we are in an uncomfortable or unnatural situation and have to speak in front of people, the stress experienced during a car crash should not be displayed. Typically a fixed mindset is proven when the ability to speak in front of a crowd is held back or is dealt with in a distressed manner. Stress leads to a deeper meaning of who we are as humans and how we handle questions on a deeper level the way we do.

James Allen is the author of the book, As a Man Thinketh. It is a complete self development book that provokes a lot of in-depth thought. “A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts” (Allen). Within this book, James Allen explores many different understandings and developments of the human mindset mainly through thoughts. A major takeaway from this book was the development that humans take to find motivation. Our body requires actions; we won't just get up and do something if we don't see any good in it. Going back to the toddler who is just learning to walk, we ask the question why? Why does the baby want to become a toddler? Why is the parent supporting it? There is a reason; it's all part of the baby's development. The toddler needs the support of the parent. Failure is always the greatest struggle when it comes to attacking a new challenge.

So how is a growth mindset obtained? The answer to this question is not always clearly given to us. An article from Walden University puts a growth mindset in terms of comfort zones. “One of the most compelling reasons to push outside of your usual boundaries is to stretch your comfort zone” (Walden). We develop a growth mindset when we begin to realize the risk of trying new things is not always as detrimental as distress tells us it is. Unpacking a comfort zone unfolds the limits of a growth mindset. The development of a growth mindset becomes something that is desirable when our fears and comforts are put aside.

A growth mindset provides a lot of opportunity to see the world in a new light. A growth mindset is obviously not something achieved overnight. New skills take a lot of time and dedication and are learned with gained knowledge, late nights, and times when giving up seem like the best solution. Growth comes with time and a desire to become better.

One common comparison people use to understand one another and how they view and perceive the world is how they deal with problems. Which is typically simplified into two categories of pessimists, and optimists. These two categories can tell a lot about a person. How they take on challenges is the whole drive of how easy success may come for somebody. The Power of Positive Thinking (Peale). A book written by Norman Vincent Peale is a take on exactly what the title states, The Powers of Positive Thinking. What comes when a challenge is taken in a positive mindset v. that of a negative one (Peale)? It seems as though a positive and negative mindset come naturally the more they are supported. Think about the last time something bad or unexpected happened. Was the dog poop you stepped on something that put you in a bad mood for the rest of the day or something you cleaned off and forgot about even happening several hours later? A simple categorization of two attitudes that we each have is only a small fraction of developing a growth mindset, but it is a big step when it is realized and people choose to work on how they perceive the small things in life.

Jonathan Haidt is a social psychologist who has a podcast with The Gospel Coalition on the connections presented with growing up and living life with our parents the first eighteen years of our lives and then going out into college and struggling with how to interact and deal with common sense situations (Haidt). The podcast is titled, The Coddling of the American Mind. Schooling doesn't get any easier in the competition and rating that students give themselves based on grades. However there is much more to it in a world that lives in fear. Jonathan Haidt has a proven opinion on what children go through to find success, and sometimes it starts in parenting.

Fulfillment is a big part of what a growth mindset leads into. Growing up in a Christian home with a Christian environment makes it easy to find meaning and satisfaction in simple accomplishments of life. Without the presence of God, it is hard to understand what a life without meaning and an ultimate eternal life is really like. Just thinking about the absence of religious devotion causes one to question how humans can even find any sense of fulfillment or hope in their day to day. Fulfillment can be found in so many different areas of life, many of which aren't things that will last. One thing that stays consistent however are the truths and hopes presented throughout the Bible.

Fulfillment is a huge area of what growth looks like. Spiritually, as Christians, we all want to be more like Jesus. But what exactly about being more like Jesus will lead us to the development of a growth mindset? What will lead us out of the fixed mindset that the world seems to find acceptable? Spiritual Growth is a topic that will grow us in every aspect of what it means to act more like Jesus. Within spiritual growth comes understanding. Understanding who God is, and how we can grow closer to God using spiritual gifts, ultimately in hopes of developing a growth mindset and drawing nearer to Christ.

Growing into the development of a growth mindset has a lot to do with each person's relationship with God. Nicholas McDonald, the youth pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian, uses several interesting connections to help with the understanding and even promote the growth of a positive mindset. Spiritual growth is more than just the ability to grow through the Lord. Pastor Nicholas McDonald lays out several elements of what he finds spiritual growth to be, and it leads into a lot of what it looks like to believe you are safe. The three are different ways that Nicholas describes Jesus. He describes Jesus as, “Christ is our Priest, Prophet, and our King” (McDonald).

Each of these three titles that Nicholas describes connect with an attribute. The Priest is represented through safety, how what we believe in gives us the ability to feel secure and safe in the world around us. Feeling safe in our relationship with the Lord ties into fear and how having a dependence on a heavenly father can take away a lot of fear. Next, the Prophet represents honesty, as the prophet would speak truths about Jesus. Through spiritual growth there is an ability to struggle and connect with the Lord. Living a Christ-Centered life takes motivation and devotion. Finally, the third title for God is Christ as our King. Jesus is our King who has fulfilled his gifts on earth (McDonald).

While looking at a growth mindset through a Christ-Centered perspective there is an ability to relate many of these ideas that have been discussed to the formation of our faith. Developing our growth mindset and our faith go hand in hand and will enhance our functionality in the world around us. There are countless times in the bible where the mind and its ability to take on hard tasks are expanded upon. Several passages speak well to finding satisfaction in our faith while at the same time motivating one to work hard to develop a growth mindset.

Colossians 3: 2 starts out, “ Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Bible). There is a lot to be said in this passage. It covers a very overall concept bringing us back to knowing that in the end, our lives are being lived for Christ. The Lord provides us with all of the tools we need to be able to relate to him on a daily basis. When our ability to relate with a growth mindset comes in, we have to be able to know when and how to use each tool. Connecting with our heavenly father is another important step not only in one's faith journey but as well as in their ability to apply it to their mindset.

John 15: 5 says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (Bible). This passage speaks on expanding the reality of how present the connection between our minds and our bodies really are in the Bible. Christians have the ability to connect to the vine, whether that be at church or even through reading their bible there is a way for Christians to go back to what they believe in, and to be able to find a source of truth. There is a peaceful presence when it comes to abiding in our heavenly father. Our brains were given the ability to comprehend a greater presence in our life and when we turn that down we are not living out what it should look like to find hope and fulfillment we are preventing the development of a growth mindset.

Bringing all of this back to the development of a growth mindset, there is almost the sense of a piece of the puzzle missing. That this lack of knowledge and trust in a heavenly Father ultimately leads to a fixed mindset. Fear has a very large impact on many humans' faith. A fear of what a heaven would look like, or a fear of whether or not you are good enough.

Going back to the growth of children, self discovery is a huge factor in almost every element of life. Jackie Beere has a book titled, The Growth Mindset Edge. Self discovery: it's a lifelong journey that everyone faces (Beere). It is a journey that should not be done alone. Through relationship, environment, and a career this book is full of information to help find one's personal wealth and achieve set goals. Given choices in a world full of the unknown is never going to get easier, but when you can stay true to what you believe the choices become easier. There is no better way to learn how to do this than with the ability to understand yourself. This book can help with not only developing a growth mindset but also in adapting it well to new situations. Ultimately this will aid in the development of a more positive outlook on life.

Developing a growth mindset is the key to finding success and happiness. But what does it look like when a life is lived behind the blinds of someone who is fixed in their every day routine? A fixed mindset leads to so many problems within the human body and does not allow a human to unpack the human experience. Living a life stuck in routine and never being willing to try something new damages the human body that was created to be around other people and to be able to try new things.

Many true physical effects of a fixed mindset result in the lack of ability to communicate. When a life is lived holding back from new experiences or from being afraid of what may come of an opportunity there is no way to know how to deal with it when it comes again. While in the grand scheme of all of this being willing to fail is one of the most beneficial things to be able to achieve. A fixed mindset says we don't want to try this because there is a chance of failure. While a Growth mindset says, we will try this new thing and even though failure is a possibility, there will be knowledge gained, and understanding what can be done next time to prevent failure.

The overall growth of a fixed mindset will have many effects not only in our relationships with the Lord but also in the emotional and mental aspects of life. Looking at several articles a connection is that many related impacts of a fixed mindset revolve around anxiety, depression, and aggression. An article related to the impact that a growth mindset has on students, there is a 58% higher chance of depression present when kids are living in a fixed mindset (Schleider) This is a crisis. The fixed mindset not only is preventing people from exploring and trying new things, but it is also putting them in a mental state where they can’t take on simple life problems even like a simple drive to school becomes a form of anxiety (Schleider).

Coming out of a fixed mindset is not easy. The ability to change your perception and view of problems and the world around you is something that grows harder and harder the longer it is lived being fixed. So what do next steps into developing this growth mindset look like? Is my life representing a fixed mindset? And how can one come out of a fixed mindset while developing a growth mindset at the same time?

It is kind of similar to working out. Many people go to the gym because they want a change. If you are making it to the gym, many would say that is even a step towards seeking a growth mindset. The gym is a place where people work hard and get out of their comfort zone. Many people are stuck in a fixed mindset and aren't willing to even make the drive to the gym. They may have a membership or access to a gym but are too lazy or too busy to make it to the gym and never take the opportunities to grow. While some people are at the gym who want to gain weight, or lose weight and do so by working out. This is the development of a growth mindset beginning to flourish. The person is not only making it to the gym, but they have set goals to achieve an ultimate goal. Growing out of a fixed mindset is a little more tricky. If you have the motivation and are going to the gym to gain muscle mass, you are seeking growth. If you add onto that the drive to lose weight, or burn fat so to speak, you are maximizing your growth mindset experience and pushing yourself in brand new ways that enhance not only your experience at the gym but also how you feel and view yourself. Most of the time sticking to your new workout plan won't even make it through the month. Excuses may prevent you from going to the gym several times a week, and your lack of motivation and fear of failure, or what others think will keep you from pushing yourself. The very same aspect of working out can be applied to many different aspects of life.

Aristotle speaks a lot of meaning into what finding patterns and creating habits looks like. He said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit” (Aristotle). Such a simple and yet truth filled phrase. Our actions represent who we are. Setting goals help people to find who they are and give them the chance to work for growth. Seeking excellence is never something easy to do. This binds well with the example of working out. Our ability to go to the gym sparks more than motivation and tackling something hard. It sparks a habit and a pattern that is repeated over and over. “We are what we repeatedly do” (Aristotle). A habit begins to define us and begins to show not only us but also the people around us who we are and who we want to be. We begin to see the development of a growth mindset in small ways but ways that once were never present.

Throughout the course of developing a growth mindset, there is a lot to consider and remember. Through the extensive research and thousands of studies and resources on the understanding of the human brain and the functions related to forming a growth mindset, there are several key concepts. By understanding the mindset that you are living life through, you can start to find areas that need to be tweaked. Even when somebody is super easy going and doesn't let a lot get in the way of letting them find success, there are still areas of struggle and growth for them as well.

The overall study of the growth mindset and its connection to finding peace through our heavenly father is summed up well by St. Augustine of Hippo. “Our heart is restless until it rests in you” (St. Augustine of Hippo). The development of a growth mindset will not happen overnight. As Christians, growing and developing isn't always in our own ability, and it takes community and relationships with those around us and with God.

Practical steps to form a growth mindset start with a desire to do so. It can be found in how you respond to simple tasks presented to you in life, find excitement, express healthy stress not distress, and do everything with anticipation of success with the ability to adapt to and overcome failure. Psalm 37:23-24: “The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand” (Bible). God directs our steps, but the paths are ours to choose and be led into. The steps we take as a child are not the steps that define who we are as a student, a teacher, a teenager, or an adult. We all will take our first steps in many areas of life each of which will all lead to different places but as Christians one ultimate place. Heaven.



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