In the weeks before my son Died, I had been reading a book called Mindset by Carol S Dweck, a PH. D. and leading researcher of motivation she is a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University.
The book was brought to my sister’s attention through work related training, but after spending some time digging deep into the well-researched concepts, she wondered if the principals would benefit our kids.
In early April she introduced the book to me, and I began reading one of the very crucial tools in my recovery as a suicide survivor (one who lives with the loss of a loved one who died by suicide). Reading the book helped me to become aware of my fixed mindset.
Unfortunately, I was too late in understanding the role my son’s mindset played with dealing with his depression and anxiety.
I believe had I introduced these principals early on in my parenting style they could have aided my children in coping with challenges, helping to significantly change the way my son grew up and perceived himself and the world around him. Had I introduced them even later in my parenting I am confident there still could have been a significant change. I base this on the short term knowledge I have of Dweck’s insight on mindset and the enormous gain I see in my own life.
Dweck explains in the book there are two main types of Mindset in our brains, Fixed and Growth.
In a fixed mindset, people believe their qualities are fixed traits.
Intelligence and talent are what they are. Individuals with a fixed mindset spend their time documenting their intelligence and not developing what they could do. They see talent as the only indicator that leads to success. Effort plays no roll in achievement.
In a Growth Mindset, Dweck explains people believe their basic abilities developed through dedication and hard work.
Brains and talent are the beginning. A growth mindset creates a love of learning and resilience that is needed for great accomplishment.
Taking the mindset test found here ( Fixed or Growth Mindset? Find out here) I discovered I was a mix of a Fixed mindset with a Growth mindset wanting to shine. Why I have a fixed mindset does not matter unless of course, I choose to let the Fixed mindset take over my days and mind.
If I want the Growth mindset to rise to the top, then I will pass on dwelling on my hold ups and hangs ups and put the focus back on what next.
You see in a Fixed Mindset it’s the internal conversation that says each day I am not good enough. I cannot get a better job. I am not a good wife. My Job is terrible, and it is my bosses fault. My kids are always going to make poor choices. My wife and I will never have a happy marriage if she does not do – A fixed mindset can come with judgment and blame.
A Fixed Mindset is like a little monkey who lives on your shoulder whispering the negatives in your ear, reminding you that nothing more can be done.
For a teenager or a child, it looks like this. I am not popular. I will never have any real friends. Those kids are always doing things without me. What did I do wrong? I cannot get into that college; I am not that smart. I am not good enough for that team. A fixed mindset is one of judging oneself.
It is not just suicide survivors and children that mindset shapes, Mindset affects us all; in the work place, our kids in school, the way we work with in our relationships.
A growth mindset differs in that the internal conversation is still present, even sensitive to the negatives around but rather than judging they take the information and ask questions to learn and take action to make a change. A Growth Mindset is more solution based. What Can I learn from this? How Can I improve? What can my spouse and I do change where we are in our marriage. What classes do I need to take to get into the school? What steps are needed to get on that team at work?
Recently, I was sitting in a suicide survivor support meeting. Going around the room, I noticed that the mindset of many (not all) of the people was that of being in forever pain and loss. It seemed they were fixed on never getting past the deep hurt and loss they were in. Fixed on the death of their loved one paralyzing their minds and hearts.
I understand that pain and loss all too well.
Three months ago my eighteen-year-old son took his life. He died by suicide. He had a disease called anxiety. I know the raw feeling of hopelessness, physical heart pain, and self-judgment as I think of all I should have done for my child and did not. The real reminders come each morning when I wake. It is the first thing that enters my mind as I come out of sleep and see a new day ahead. The feeling of sorrow still the last thing on my mind as I fall asleep at night. In my sleep, my loss runs my dreams and nightmares. Pain and hurt are not going away.
My son is dead. I can not bring him back. I can not change our past.
I was fortunate enough to begin to see the concept of Mindset at play in my own life in the few weeks before my beautiful boy’s death. I had decided I needed to rewire my brain. I needed to change the parts of me that thought with a fixed mindset to one of growth. My internal conversations had to change, and that has that made a huge difference in the weeks following my son’s death.
I know too, that beautiful boy of mine could have benefited from this mindset change. I will write more about my thoughts on this in my future post PARENT PRESSURE AND SELF ESTEEM: A KILLER MISTAKE. I am not implying that one factor took my son’s life. I am in no way saying he did not have a chemical imbalance. There are many factors that led to his death.
I am saying I believe his mindset played a role in how he handled life’s challenges.
His Mindset was fixed. He decided he was not successful enough. He saw himself as disappointing those around him. His mind was set on what he was not. I wonder if he had the tools to change his mindset if to one of growth if I would be writing a different post right now. That, I will never know. I did know even in the moments soon after his death that I had a choice to wither up and be parlayed by the loss of my precious boy or move in the direction of healing, helping and hope.
My mindset had already shifted toward the fixed side in my first forty-four years. Age alone would have been a challenge in turning the parts of my fixed mindset to one of growth. Now I was facing the suicide of my son along with all of the grief, blame, the stress of helping my other children through all of this and the pure mental and physical exhaustion.
It seemed impossible unless this mindset thing worked.
I knew early on I could not take care of my kids, keep my marriage or my mental health if I became FIXED on the constant hurt in my heart. I would not survive my child’s death. I had to work hard to rewire my brain. I had to be intentional with finding my Growth Mindset. I knew there had to be a way to find Joy once again.
Here are the steps I took and continue to take to change my FIXED mindset to one of Growth
I have to listen to my inner voice.
I have to listen to what I am saying to myself. What was the monkey on my shoulder saying? Mostly it is saying “You are a bad mom.” “You did not do enough for your son.” “Maybe you are not good enough to be a parent.” There are a thousand other things that devil of a monkey is saying as he sits on my shoulder beating me up with self-doubt.
I have to recognize I have a choice
I have to recognize I have a choice, Fixed or Growth Mindset. A fixed Mindset would keep me in bed, under the covers, crying about all I have done wrong. A growth mindset would recognize my pain, my sorrow and decide I want to heal and turn the pain into more.
I have to use a Growth mindset voice to settle down the Fixed Mindset voice.
I have to remind myself intentionally with affirmations that I can take steps to heal, grow and help others through the loss of my son. No, the hurt would not leave my heart nor will the sorrow ever go away. Time will not heal my wounds or those of my children and my son’s loved ones. My son is gone. That is a forever pain. What I do with that pain is a choice.
I have to take action-
Writing myself uplifting notes about serving others make a daily difference and remind me of purpose. Sometimes Purpose is just doing one kind thing for one other person in my day. Often purpose looks like a prayer for those who need help as much as I do.
I have to take responsibility for these steps. I write myself notes of encouragement before I go to bed each night so when I wake up faced with the unbearable loss of my son I see I have a purpose and move towards growth and not stay fixed on the hurt I am feeling.
I recognize the grief I am in. It’s healthy to grieve. It’s healthy to acknowledge my forever loss. It’s healthy to say now what can I do with this pain? What can I do to forgive? What can I do to let go of the should have’s, what if’s and could have been?
Action means taking care of myself to better care for my family. It means eating well, sleeping more and finding stress reducing activities in my day. Sometimes because life goes on I have to work harder to add these simple things in my day but the payoff is great. Self-care keeps me sane.
Action in Mindset rewiring is also prayer. There are times that this Loss business is very isolating and lonely. I know my kids have felt the same way as they grieve the loss of their brother. Keeping God at the forefront of my day is the greatest action and support in my mindset change.
I am a suicide survivor. My son is gone and that is an incredible burden. Unexplainable pain. However, this mindset rewiring is not just for suicide survivors but for anyone who can benefit from moving forward. Don’t let my tragedy prevent you from seeing how MINDSET can change your life. Where ever you are in your journey, write yourself a few sticky notes and see the potential in mindset growth! It might just make a difference between joy and pain. Life or death.
I can do this!
What Can I do to make a difference today?
Lord How Can I bless someone today?
I will get up and find purpose in my day!
I am Thankful for ________