Building a Growth Mindset


The other morning, we sat outside on our porch and I gave Madi a notebook to write in. She sat down willingly but then began to shut down and I could see her anxiety building. Writing comes easily and naturally to me, it always has but Madi struggles with both reading and writing. Writing is an instant stressor for her and often creates feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. Knowing this, I decided to use soft music, a tool that has worked with her before, to help her feel relaxed and focused. At first she sat there stuck and frustrated then I told her that she didn’t need to write anything in particular and she didn’t need to spell everything correctly. I encouraged her to write whatever came into her mind and as an English teacher I once knew said, “throw up on the paper and edit later.” So she began to write …


She finished writing and handed this to me and I cried. I was so proud of her for processing her big emotions and not giving up. I gave her a hug and told her that I appreciated that she stuck with it even though it was hard. Then I said, “Look! Do you see how your mood changed as you wrote?” She smiled and nodded. Then we sat down together and edited the words she misspelled and she was open and receptive, feeling completely positive. It was a beautiful thing.

I have always found writing therapeutic, especially in terms of processing difficult emotion and anxiety. I struggled with anxiety from the time I was a child but did not know what I was dealing with until I was an adult. Because of this, I lacked the tools I needed to successfully and effectively process through my anxiety and this negatively effected many areas of my life and relationships. To this day, I am continually navigating this aspect of myself and learning to channel it in a positive way instead of allowing it to process through me as a destructive force.

Now as a parent, I have a child who deals with anxiety as well. Often, my own experiences with anxiety have helped me to model and facilitate the use of effective coping strategies for her. However, there are times that our anxiety bounces off each other and I struggle to maintain the calm composure she needs to learn how to process these heavy and challenging emotions. We have begun to refer to this as “crashing cars,” because sometimes when we are both struggling our emotional responses “crash” into each other.

Parenting has challenged me on every level of personal growth and development. It has made me aware of the areas in my life that are not so pretty and require intentional work to heal and create new path ways for negative emotions to become positive growth.

Recently, I’ve begun to use Carol Dweck’s Fixed vs. Growth Mindset research with Madi – the goal is to change the “I can’t” headspace to the “I can’t yet but if I keep trying, I will succeed.” In her book Dweck states, “For students with the growth mindset, it doesn’t make sense to stop trying … working harder was not something that made you vulnerable, but something that made you smarter.”

I am working to help Madi build a growth mindset while also giving her effective coping skills to help her process through the anxiety she experiences when things become challenging.  When challenges become a positive rather than a negative, it releases the pressure of perfection and allows for creativity to flourish. Fear of failure causes the brain to shut down and stifles the ability to process. We remove the fear of failure when we allow for mistakes and see them as stepping stones to growth and success. When we operate from a growth mindset, we can step back and take our anxiety for what it is – a feeling. No matter how genuine, difficult, and valid a feeling it is, we do not have to allow it to control us and dictate our life. We can simply sit with it, allow it, and know it will pass. Then move forward and tackle the challenge head on.

“If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.”
— Carol S. Dweck


Falling Down Girl

A couple of weeks ago, Madi and I were in the yard and she was running around in her own imaginary world as she likes to do. When out of her mouth came this phrase, “The power of falling down! It happens to everyone.” I was struck by the power of the statement itself and her ability to put such a deep concept into words. In some ways it was a proud Mama moment as I realized that all the times I have told her, “Its ok, mistakes happen, let’s try again…” has now become a part of her subconscious. What amazing strength we would all have if we were able to approach life like this on a consistent basis!

There is power in falling down – it means you were trying to do something bigger than you’ve ever done before. Even though you didn’t make it all the way, you were still brave for trying. You put yourself out there, you were “actually in the arena.”

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again … who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while DARING GREATLY.” – T. Roosevelt

As she continued to play, she started to chant to herself, “I’m the falling down girl, I’m the falling down girl.” Again, I was struck by the depth of this statement and her proud ownership of this title. Too often, we shy away from the raw and the real, we want to appear as if we have it all together and that everything is perfect. In reality, there is nothing perfect and put together about life, its one big, crazy, chaotic, beautiful mess and we’re all just doing the best we can with what we’ve been given.

The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising everytime we fall. ― Nelson Mandela

So in our house, we’ll proudly say, we’re the falling down girls,  but we’re going to keep getting up over and over again!

So fall hard, fall with abandon, fall wildly, fall gracefully, fall however you will … but whatever you do, don’t be afraid to fall.


Anxiety – It’s All in How You Look At It

I have always struggled with anxiety, but it took me a while to realize what I was dealing with. It wasn’t until I started having panic attacks after Madison was born that I finally realized what was going on. If you don’t understand yourself, your mind, and your body, it is difficult to move forward and develop the coping techniques that you need to live successfully.

I can remember simple things from when I was a child, such as the extreme case of “butterflies” I would get the night before an anticipated event. The feeling would carry over into the next morning and I would be unable to eat breakfast. My whole body would be physically affected. As I got older I had constant pain and knots in my shoulder; apparently this was where I was holding all my stress and anxiety. I am not one to open up and so I would hold things in for as long as possible and then usually lose it on the person closest to me. The teenage and early twenties me was one hot mess! 🙂

My stress and anxiety, more often than not, was based solely on other’s opinions of me and my inability to control a situation and its outcome. Control freak much? Yes, I am kind of the Queen of Control Freaks. I still am to a certain point; however, I am learning ways to tone it down and gain perspective on the WHOLE situation. There’s no rush! There’s nothing you are going to miss out on just because the details are a bit different than you expected. Trust the process.

This morning I was listening to something and was really struck by this concept: “There is a benefit to anxiety … it means you care about yourself and others.” The key to actually benefiting from anxiety is balance. Worry just enough so that you are safe but, not in a way that it inhibits your ability to live authentically. According to licensed counselor, Megan Sutherland, the benefits of anxiety are as follows:

  • Alerts Us to Danger – The “fight or flight” response is adaptive.
  • Improves Self-Knowledge and Awareness – Anxiety can alert us to things we need to change in our lives, or about ourselves.
  • Increases Motivation, Purpose and Quality of Life – Because it can feel so awful, anxiety can be the catalyst that causes us to do something meaningful about ourselves and aspects of our lives that we’re not happy with.
  • Improves Confidence – We realize our strength when we learn to move through it effectively.

So instead of seeing anxiety as a negative thing, learn to manage it effectively and use it wisely.

I have learned and am still learning, to manage my own anxiety by opening up to a friend, taking time to meditate, taking time for myself, and for me the most important way has been through exercise. Michael Hopkins, a graduate student affiliated with the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory Laboratory at Dartmouth, is part of a team researching how exercise effects the mind and emotions. He states, “It looks more and more like the positive stress of exercise prepares cells and structures and pathways within the brain so that they’re more equipped to handle stress in other forms,” I think that’s pretty amazing! When you exercise you are not only enhancing your physical strength but your mental and emotional strength as well. I always viewed my exercise as emotional release when in fact it has been building emotional endurance instead. Results are not instantaneous; but, like everything else that’s worth it in life, it requires patience and determination to get out of your own head and into your best self.

The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and to be greater than our suffering.   –  Ben Okri