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What I’ve learned about growth mindset from binging British reality TV competitions

Lately, I’ve been working on unhooking from praise and criticism in how I evaluate myself and my work. I’ve been examining my own unhealthy relationship to praise and how I’ve chased “gold star stickers” as validation for most of my life.

This started in elementary school when I would get praise for doing well academically. There’s a meme that made the rounds a few years ago that was so spot on for me, it made me cringe in recognition. 

Oh yes, all of the above. 100%

The challenges that “gifted and talented” kids face later in life can be explained by Carol Dweck’s work on growth mindset vs fixed mindset. A growth mindset is where you believe intelligence is malleable and can develop and grow over time. A fixed mindset is one where you believe intelligence is fixed and static. It turns out that  when we praise kids for specific abilities or achievements (“That was a great essay!”, “You’re so smart!” or “You’re such a good athlete!”) as opposed to attributes or intrinsic qualities (“Wow! I’m impressed at how hard you worked on that!” or “That was tough but I’m proud of how you stuck with it.”) we inadvertently stunt their growth mindset and drive them towards a fixed mindset. 

Ability-based praise leads kids to believe that labels like “you’re so smart” are true for them and these attributes quickly become part of their self-identity. While this doesn’t seem bad at first glance, when we attach too strongly to something as part of our identity/ego, we then become terrified of it being stripped away. This causes us to default to a fixed mindset in order to preserve our precious identity and we learn to fear the inevitable failures that come as part and parcel of a healthy growth mindset. If trying something and failing becomes something that threatens who we think we are, then failure becomes a painful ego distortion rather than a normal part of learning and growing. The result is that the kids who were praised for abilities are much less likely to want to try challenging tasks than the kids who are praised for attributes, and are more often up for a new challenge. 

As one of the “gifted and talented kids” my parents praised me up, down and sideways for my academic achievements. They bragged about it to friends. They told me I had such a bright future ahead of me as a result. They pulled me out of one school and put me into another to better match my intellectual prowess. It quickly became part of my identity and a great source of my self-esteem. 

However, the problem with self-esteem is this — what happens when we can no longer do esteemable things? What happens when for some reason or another, we can’t perform at the level that we’ve come to expect? 

Let me tell you, it feels like crap

It feels like shame

It feels like existential failure

This became suddenly and abundantly clear to me when I lost a good deal of my cognitive function due to “chemo brain” almost overnight. My memory, information processing abilities, recall, vocabulary, and other markers of intelligence were all severely impacted by chemotherapy and I found myself unable to be the “smart kid” anymore. How could I be the smart kid when I couldn’t even process what someone was saying to me, let alone remember any information that would help me craft a response? 

Common words eluded me. Facts and figures and ideas that I’d known by heart were murky at best. And my auditory processing was shot — if someone said something to me verbally rather than writing it down, I had no memory of it. Which made me feel like an idiot when I couldn’t remember something they’d said to me mere hours before. “Don’t you remember? We JUST talked about this, Megan.” 

It was a huge slap in the face. And while I’ve recovered a good deal of my cognitive abilities, they’re still not what they used to be. But that sudden loss allowed me to look at my core identity as “the smart one” and how deeply it had been ingrained in my sense of self and ego. Only then could I look at whether that served me or not, and make some conscious decisions about what I wanted my self-concept to be. 

So, what’s the antidote to this relentless quest for the gold star fix? And what does it have to do with British reality TV? 

I realized after chemo brain hit me hard that I needed to shift my identity to be about attributes rather than abilities. For example, I have a thirst for knowledge and a love of learning rather than “I’m smart.” Or, I am compassionate, curious and open-minded about those in my life rather than “I’m a nice person.” Can I love reading and not be smart? Sure can! Can I be compassionate with someone’s suffering and still have good boundaries and say no? You betcha. 

During the pandemic, I’ve been binge watching two British reality TV competitions: “The Great British Bake Off” and “The Great Pottery Throwdown.” These shows touch me in a way that I couldn’t quite name until one recent episode of “Pottery Throwdown.” One of the contestants, Roz, was asked to do a task that was way out of her wheelhouse. She finished the task but came in last in the judging. As she’s speaking to the judges about coming in last she says she’s embarrassed. Keith, one of the judges, looks at her with tears in his eyes and says, “Never feel embarrassed, Roz.” 

What he’s saying to Roz here is that she should be proud of herself, she should be proud of her attributes of persistence, resilience and grit rather than be embarrassed about her abilities (or lack thereof) at this specific task. You can see the interaction here: 

 

My love of these British reality competitions comes from the culture on these shows of being proud of trying your best, going out of your comfort zone, and being resilient and gritty. These are valued more on these shows than whether you came first or last. It’s not about the gold star or the winner’s ribbon, that’s just icing on the cake. (Yes, I made a baking pun, just for you my fellow GBBO fans.) The core values of these shows are about how extraordinary it is for people to show up with uncertainty, put in the effort, and try something new without knowing how it will turn out.  

No wonder I love these shows, they’re models of growth mindset that I desperately need. They feed the part of me that wants to see this in action, the part of me that wants to soak up all of these examples of how to value attributes rather than abilities like a sponge so I can turn around and do the same for myself and others. 

Here’s my challenge for you this week — try to think of a time when someone praised you for your attributes rather than your abilities. What did they say? How did it feel? 

If you can think of one, please comment on this post or email me at megan@megancaper.com and tell me about it. Like I said, I need more models and ideas for how I can do this more for myself. 

Xo Megan

P.S. For more on this subject:

Tara Mohr “Playing Big”

Carol Dweck “Mindset”

Alice Miller “Drama of the Gifted Child”

Energetic body systems: how your hidden body affects your health

Did you know that you have a second, hidden body?

We’re all aware of our physical bodies and can name the various body systems: cardiovascular, nervous, digestive, etc. But you have a whole other set of body systems that affect your health just as much, your energetic body.

Your energetic body consists of systems that have energetic components but don’t have a physical form, such as your chakras, meridians, Wei Qi, and the layers of your aura. These systems work in tandem with your physical body to help regulate everything from hormones to your immune system to blood flow.

How can a body system be invisible and still affect your health? To understand this, you need a little bit of quantum physics (Just a little bit! I promise it will be painless.) What we think of as physical matter is just very small, sub-microscopic particles vibrating at certain frequencies that we perceive as a solid, physical matter. However, there is another type of energy, vibrating at a different frequency, which does not appear to us as physical matter. These make up your energetic body systems. They are made up of the same sub atomic “stuff” as your physical body, just vibrating at a different frequency.

Think of it this way, we can only see light that is emitted at certain frequencies, known as the “visible spectrum,” but there are many frequencies of light that humans can’t see. However, other creatures can. Did you know bees can see light in the UV spectrum (which we can’t) and are able see patterns on flowers that human eyes can’t see? In the same way, the energies of these physical body parts are vibrating at a frequency that most people can’t see or perceive. That doesn’t mean they’re not there, though, and they have been measured and validated, and can and do affect our physical bodies and overall health.

Since the basis for both the physical and energetic body systems is vibrating energy, they interact at a subatomic level as one holistic system. That’s how energy medicine works – if you change the energy of a system, you change the physical aspects as well. If you work with the energetic systems to get them back in balance, they interact with the physical systems and bring them into balance as well.

Traditional western medicine has yet to acknowledge these energetic body systems and only looks at the physical systems as the cause of disease. In doing so, they are missing half the picture, if not more. This is why traditional medical treatments only work for some people and some illnesses. Imagine if doctors only looked at patients from the waist up. They’d be able to treat many illnesses, but if you had a problem with your bladder or colon, they’d miss it entirely. That’s what happens when a traditional doctor tries to cure an illness that’s based in one of the body’s energy systems, they only look at the physical systems and miss the energetic aspects entirely.

As a medical intuitive with background in both western medical science and energy healing, I work with both physical and energetic systems to see what is causing a client’s disease or imbalance. Like most Americans going into medicine, I first trained in the traditional western modality: Anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, neurology, etc. However, once I found out about energy systems like chakras, meridians and body psychology, the “mystery diseases” I saw in my patients were no longer such a mystery. In looking at both the physical and energetic systems, many of my patients who were unable to get a consistent diagnosis or treatment from traditional medicine are now able to understand their disease and find reliable treatment that integrates both their physical and energetic body systems.

If you’re struggling to find the cause of your disease and you’ve been unable to get a consistent diagnosis from your doctor, it may be time to consult someone familiar with ALL of your body systems. Traditional western doctors mean well, but they’re often missing crucial elements that can cause disease. Your energetic body may be the key to finding your health again.