One idea that has shaped my approach to cultivating courage is Carol Dweck’s concept of “growth mindset”. In her book, “Mindset”, Dr Dweck introduced the findings of her research into the effect of having a growth mindset rather than a fixed one.**
When I came upon Dweck’s work, I was also introduced to a diagram depicting one’s current position at the left-hand end of a horizontal line, with one’s desired position at the other end. In between, there is a chasm of sorts, with a ditch between the two points. Just like in the famous children’s book about going on a bear hunt, you can’t go over it, you can’t go under it, you’ve got to go through it. Being “in the ditch” is a necessary part of moving forward along the continuum to a new place. This is how we grow.
Of course, when you’ve been up on the lofty heights of that straight line, as much as you might tell yourself that you’re not scared, it is uncomfortable to be down in the ditch where you can’t see where you’re going, and you face all sorts of obstacles, and you’re taking it on faith that what you decided upon as your destination when you started out will still be there when you’ve hauled yourself up out of the discomfort. I have found it helpful to describe that period of uncertainty when I’m beginning to learn new skills as being “in the ditch”, with the hope that I will make it to the place of competence and ease that I imagine to be on the other side.
My daughter’s school combines growth mindset with an insistence that students include the word “yet” in any assertion that they can’t do something. Rather than this fixed state of affairs, a statement that they can’t do somethingyet acknowledges the potential for growth and the acquisition of new knowledge and skills.
I have disciplined myself to adopt a growth mindset about the limits of my capacity for independence as I find new ways to live with my disability.
Early in my recovery, I could not yet navigate my neighbourhood streets alone but, with support, practice and a very deep breath, I did. When I lost my sight, I could not yet read braille, or administer the testing and injections required to manage my Type 1 Diabetes but, with the right tools being put in my hands by engaging with the right professionals and with practice, I learned to do both of those things.
The thing about doing scary things is that it has strengthened my preparedness to do even scarier things. The tentative walk around the block cultivated my courage to venture on longer trips into less familiar territory. Like notations on a child’s growth chart, I have marked off solo walks to my daughters’ new school, the local shops, the slightly less local shops, the central city mall, my gym, the café on the other side of a main road, my inner-city office building and its surrounding blocks and businesses, and my specialists’ rooms at a major hospital campus. Not to mention the airports, planes and hotels I travelled through on a recent solo trip interstate. The list could go on (and I hope it will). I wouldn’t have thought it was possible for me to do any of these things blind but, with a growth mindset and a tolerance for conditions in the ditch I know I will pass through on every new journey, I have done far more than I thought possible.
These days, I’m pretty comfortable when I have to go down in that ditch, although I’m yet to cross a ditch that I’d be prepared to pass through for a second time, even if it was on a return trip to the comfort of apparent safety. Better hope I don’t meet that nursery rhyme bear just yet.
As a controversial aside, while I have embraced references to “accessible” bathroom and parking facilities, I am fairly comfortable describing my low vision as a disability. It is not that I am disabled, which implies a lack of ability in my whole person, but I do have a disability. Most others are able to see sufficiently to identify people and places in order to navigate and make sense of the world and those they meet when going about their business. I cannot. The state of my ability to see is, quite literally, a disability. Perhaps it is because, until a few short years ago, I was a member of the mainstream sighted community, oblivious to the reality that my capacity to see, albeit with the aid of reading glasses, was something that could be gone in… well, err, um.. the blink of an eye. If you are a vision-impaired reader with a different view on references to having a disability, please feel free to leave your views in the comments section below. While you’re leaving a comment, please consider sharing an anecdote about your descent into “the ditch” in order to get from a place where you couldn’t do something yet, to where you did that thing that was important enough to push aside your fear and move into the space where you could grow. What was it like down there and what did your climb back to a place of ease look like?
*We’re Going on a Bear Hunt is a children’s picture book written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury and published in 1989.