Feeling stressed?

Listen to Kelly McGonigal (a health psychologist) share research studies that are changing the way scientists think about stress, it’s impact on the body, and how our mindset about stress in our lives makes a profound physiological and pyschological difference.

“The harmful effects of stress on your health are not inevitable. How you think and how you act transform your experience of stress. When you choose to view your stress response as helpful, you create the biology of courage. When you choose to connect with others under stress, you can create resilience…Stress gives us access to our hearts, the compassionate heart that finds joy and meaning in connecting with others and yes, your pounding physical heart working so hard to give you strength and energy. When you choose to view stress in this way you’re not just getting better at stress, you’re actually making a pretty profound statement. You’re saying you can trust yourself to handle life’s challenges and you’re remembering you don’t have to face them alone.– Kelly McGonigal

Growth-Minded in the New Year

growth mindsetAs articles, tweets, and status updates fly around the internet with all of the secrets, tips, and tricks to making and keeping resolutions and finding success and happiness…I ran across this article:

Growth Mindset and the Common Core Math Standards

It references a study in which two groups of students with comparable levels of math achievement were instructed in the same new math skills. One group was additionally coached to understand their mind as a muscle that becomes stronger with usage, practice, and even struggle. This is called the growth mindset or the expandable theory of intelligence. The control group was only instructed in the new skills (fixed mindset).  The results of the study revealed that the students who internalized the belief that intellectual skill can be developed through acquisition and practiced application of knew information and skills had notable improvement in grades and study habits compared to the fixed mindset group. Not only that, but their improvement continued on an upward trajectory over the next two years, diverging from the control group’s even further.

While the research in this article is focused on math instruction and performance, some of the take-aways regarding encouraging a growth mindset are applicable to adults and children alike. As we enter 2014 as educators, parents, and individuals hoping to develop new habits and skills in ourselves and others let’s remember:

  • What you believe about your own intelligence and skills (expandable or fixed) will inform what you believe about that of others, and thus how you interact with them. When confronted with struggle/failure, do you approach instruction/parenting with the belief that your students/children are just not sufficiently bright, talented or smart? How might children be better equipped for their future if they are consistently treated as though they are just faced with a challenge they don’t yet have the skills to solve, as teachable learners who need guidance and feedback on how to improve?
  • How you talk to (encourage, praise, redirect, etc.) your students/children about successes and failures can impact achievement and growth. Do you emphasize intelligence/skill/talent as a fixed trait? Or effort, perseverance, and resilience? Research shows that praising/encouraging the process (not the person) fosters growth mindset and greater long term resilience and success.
  • Fixed mindset individuals see struggle and failure as indicators of intelligence and aptitude. Growth mindset individuals see the same challenges as opportunities for learning, in which effort and mistakes are highly valued.

Whether it is in relation to your profession or your personal resolutions for 2014, consider how your inward thinking and outward language (both towards yourself and to others) can reflect the belief that skills, talents, and intelligence can be cultivated, honed, and learned with perseverance, grit, and determination.

Fear & Spanish Sausage in the Chilean Andes

chilean sausage

I have written at least eight different blog posts in my head reflecting on my recent experience skiing in the Chilean Andes, but this one today honors the beauty of how adventure – and the challenges and triumphs resulting from it – can connect to your everyday professional and personal life.

As I met with a colleague this morning we discussed hopes and anxieties for the year ahead. It quickly became an interesting discussion on the role of fear, which can either paralyze & consume you or fuel your change and growth. We discussed whether or not communicating about nervousness and fears was worthwhile or counterproductive. Similarly, we moved into a discussion about support and professional growth and how to accept both compliments and constructive feedback with grace and confidence. In both these conversations I found myself having one of those classic light bulb “A-HA!” style moments and sharing anecdotes from my recent skiing experience with PowderQuest.

Fear – Work With & Through It

It was not until halfway through my trip that my trip-mates and guides knew that I had never been off-piste skiing before. I was not actively trying to hide this information, but neither did I volunteer it. I stood at the top of varying levels of backcountry chutes and bowls with fear pounding in my chest. And I held that alone. I don’t think that made me brave. It made me isolated. It wasn’t until a particularly long and harrowing day that I finally said “I have never done this before, I am terrified.” It was only then that the women on the trip were able to more fully be the amazing women they are in support of me. It was only then that Ingrid Backstrom & Leah Evans could really put their expertise and coaching talent to maximal use. I was able to get the help I needed to become a better, braver skier because I wasn’t trying to hide what was going on inside. In our professional and personal lives I think we tend to connote fear with cowardice. Fear is neither brave nor cowardly. Fear is a rationale response to risk, to uncertainty, to the new. Whether you are standing at the cusp of a narrow snow-covered chute flanked by rocks or on the cusp of a new job, a changing relationship, or something else big or small….I am more certain then ever that if you find the right people to share your fear with that you will find yourself capable of more than you imagined.

Spanish Sausage – Love It & Yourself

Midway through our trip, Leah & Ingrid turned to our group of beautiful, smart, talented, and successful skier chicks who were ripping up the slopes and made the following pronouncement:

 “Here’s the deal. For the rest of the day if you say anything negative about your skiing or yourself you have to stop at the entrance to the lift, raise your hands in the air, do a dance, and yell ‘ME GUSTA LA LONGANIZA CHILENA!”

Meaning, “I LOVE CHILEAN SAUSAGE!” This certainly gave the lift operators a good chuckle. Many of us had to do this, sometimes multiple times, and even our superstar guides Ingrid & Leah were not exempt…going to show the pervasive problem we (and I think particularly women) have with two things:

  1. Accepting compliments without using self-deprecation or criticism to deflect them. Instead of saying an authentic “Thank you” we instead resort to the “Yes, but….” Or “Except for when…” We assume that compliments are just the sweet tasting, disingenuous preface to what someone else really means which is the criticism that is sure to follow (or secretly lurking within them).
  2. Absorbing feedback as a growth opportunity rather than a devaluation of our skills, talents, or self-worth. We are the first to say “Nobody is perfect, and I certainly am not” and so susceptible to crumbling inwardly upon receiving suggestions for improvement.

Sure, some people will compliment you in order to wound you. Some people will give feedback that is not constructive and leaves you feeling scraped out inside. But we all know how to differentiate between THOSE people and the allies and supporters around us who mean what they say.

So….whether on a ski slope, in your office, or at home….WHAT IF?

What if we chose to live with our fear instead fighting the impossible fight to live without it?

What if we chose to let fear propel us to new heights alongside those who can champion us along the way?

What if we chose to accept gratitude and compliments with a smile and earnest thanks?

What if we chose to hear feedback with an open mind and heart rather than disappointment and self-criticism?

What could we then be capable of – independently and together?