[Editor's Note: Romeo Cruz said this is a repeat from last year, but perhaps you missed then.]
When I was a boy, I idolized Bruce Lee. A poster of him adorned the door to my bedroom. Whenever I left the room, the last thing I saw was Bruce as he appeared at the end of the movie Enter the Dragon, poised, confident, and ready, despite the blood streaming from the wounds on his chest. Bruce Lee embodied everything I wanted to be – a strong man, capable of handling whatever life decided to throw at me.
Bruce Lee is remembered mostly for his martial arts movies, where hordes of enemies would very patiently wait their turn to attack him one at a time, and at the end, there would be a heap of broken people groaning in pain as he stood defiantly in the center. But he was much more than a martial artist or an actor. His philosophy, the code by which he lived, is what made him a legend. It was his mind, and not his body, that catapulted him to worldwide fame.
He said, "If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. "
This kind of thinking has served martial artists and elite athletes since the beginning of time, and today, it's backed up by scientific research. In her book "Mindset", Carol Dwyer examines how one's mindset affects development. In her book, she lays out two distinct patterns of thinking, foundational beliefs that, like Lee describes, spread into a person's career, education, and interpersonal relationships. The two mindsets, as she calls them, are the fixed mindset, and the growth mindset.
The premise of the fixed mindset is that a person is born with a specific set of talents and abilities, and any attempt to work outside of those abilities is destined to fail because one cannot rise above his or her own shortcomings. This mindset is so common that we see it every day without even noticing it is there, like litter on the sidewalk. "I'm no artist. I have no talent for it," one might say, or "Math is not my thing." People in the fixed mindset believe that in any endeavor, a person has a fixed capacity and cannot go beyond it.
A fixed mindset allows an individual an avenue to protect themselves from the pain of failure. People who subscribe to it tend to limit themselves to that which they can do well. The problem with this is the tendency to avoid taking risks or pushing beyond one's known capabilities, because it would call into question whether a person really had any talent or skill at all. The fixed mindset is a soft, comfortable room, safe as long as a person doesn't venture outside.
The opposite of the fixed mindset is the growth mindset. People who take on the growth mindset aren't satisfied with mere competence, because they believe that their capacity to improve is limitless. While the fixed mindset whispers, "you can't do that", the growth mindset shouts, "you can't do that yet." People with the growth mindset welcome challenges, enjoys the struggle that comes before the breakthrough, and understand that failure isn't an end, but a beginning, a chance to learn what doesn't work and use that knowledge into the next attempt. (Unless you happen to be skydiving. When skydiving, you only have the one chance to get it right.)
It's easy to allow fixed mindset thinking to set in, building walls and setting limits on our lives. It's up to us to allow ourselves the opportunity to fail at things other than skydiving and use our struggles to move beyond our own plateaus. If we do this, we too can stand victorious in the end, looking down on our challenges lying broken on the plateaus we've left behind.