Stuck in First Gear?

coachecbychristine.comI have a confession to make that explains a lot about my choice of profession—I love witnessing growth in people. I know this pretty much drove my kids crazy growing up. Perhaps I watched them too closely, as if they were seedlings coming out of the ground. Later, as they got older, I marveled as secondary leaves, buds, flowers and fruits developed. Part of that fascination is because I truly believe everyone has potential; so a seriously eager part of me was on the edge of my seat watching in wonder to see what that potential could manifest in my kids in the way of self-mastery, such as a delightful experience or a fresh insight.

Maybe it’s because my own growth feels so darn good inside and surprises me left and right that I wish for others to have the same experience. It’s not unlike wanting to share a delicious piece of cake or a satisfying novel.  At some point I realized my secret agenda is, you must try this, it’s awesome!

Many times it’s not the process itself that feels great. Rather, it’s the attitude I’ve maintained during a difficult or challenging task and that I’ve kept focused on the very small, incremental experiences that yield insight or prove a measure of success that ultimately make me feel good about myself for trying. But the process is not always like that.

Take learning a new language. Learning Spanish has been on my to-do list for ten years. I’ve made very weak attempts at the process by borrowing CDs from the library, downloading apps, listening to Spanish channels, songs and pod-casts, buying language primers for travel and even spending time in Mexico. But each of those attempts fizzled out very quickly. I was so anxious about achieving mastery, I wasn’t in the moment with learning.  Clearly, I felt overwhelmed with the huge goal, and as a result, I felt bad about myself and let down that I didn’t seem to have what it takes to learn a language.

Fast-forward to now. I know I can enjoy learning, and have proven that to myself over the last ten years by getting a Master’s Degree. So I recently decided to focus again on learning Spanish. I committed to daily progress and promised myself I would enjoy each small success as it came along and reward myself each time I pushed past a challenge. I believed that I could ultimately learn a new language. Just a few weeks into the process I heard a few Spanish phrases said in public and then validated my effort. The words began coming easily as I put sentences together and I reaffirmed that my strategy was working.  Now when I get confused, tired and overwhelmed, I take a break. I don’t put myself down or blame anyone. My interest in the process began to be more rewarding than the goal.

Mindset affects our orientation to our problems

What’s occurring as I learn Spanish is called a growth mindset. According to Stanford University researcher, Carol Dweck, Ph.D., author of the book Mindset, The New Psychology of Success, there are two mindsets; one supports your expansion, and one limits your potential.

Dr. Dweck calls the helpful one the growth mindset. It’s characterized by open-mindedness about what a challenge may offer you personally and is based on a secure sense of self that can tolerate failure and translate the experience into an opportunity to grow. On the other end of the spectrum is the fixed mindset, which experiences challenge as a confrontation to one’s abilities or intellect and stimulates one to compensate by trying to appear better than they are, or to completely run away. Or they might avoid doing the task, or quit altogether.


I had definitely been functioning under the fixed mindset over the last ten years with the task of learning Spanish. I found all sorts of reasons why it would not work. Therefore, I stopped trying and blamed the problem on my aging brain, my lack of time, the poor systems of learning available and any other excuse I could think of rather than acknowledge my lack of dedication to complete a difficult task.

Growth and fixed mindsets occur along a spectrum for most people. You may have a growth mindset in many areas of your life, but be stymied by a fixed mindset when it comes to the relationship you have with your mate. Perhaps you have a primarily fixed mindset and get stuck in first gear on a lot of projects and ideas, but experience ease in taking great care of your diet and health. Either way is totally normal. Life often deals us tricky situations and we may feel defensive about our abilities or think we didn’t have a good experience in school or with parents during our formative years.

P1020161The good news is, the brain is capable of learning how to shift into a growth mindset. Carol Dweck’s research shows that simply coming to understand that the brain has the potential to learn at any age, and that applying principles of self-awareness and taking growth-style actions can turn a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.

Not that easy you say?

If you recognize you’re stuck in a fixed mindset, you may sense some bigger, limiting blocks lodged between you and the effort required to achieve an important goal. You are not alone. Many of us are managing limiting blocks with work-arounds we’ve devised. But if you are not satisfied living this way, take an honest inventory of the blocks and have a kind, compassionate talk with yourself about the messages those blocks are sharing with you. Then begin the process of negotiating a new operating procedure for your life. Begin taking small steps to start experiencing and enjoying mini successes. Praise yourself for your process and validate your strategies, your engagement, and your perseverance.

Where in your life are you experiencing a fixed mindset? What could be different if you adopted a growth mindset? What is your strategy to be in a growth mindset? Tell us what works for you!


Christine Brodmerkel explores mindsets with her clients and helps them consciously adopt a preferred mindset to increase creativity, problem solving, intimacy, and fun. You can find her though her website


Author: Christine Brodmerkel

Transformational Life and Leadership Coach

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