“Mom and Dad, we want to play ice hockey!” declared my two youngest boys after watching USA hockey star T.J. Oshie score several overtime goals during the 2014 Winter Olympics.
My wife and I said in unison, “You don’t know how to skate.” They didn’t care—they wanted to play ice hockey and asked if we would find a rink and sign them up for skating lessons.
My wife and I ignored their request. We thought they were caught up in the hype of the Olympics and that after a week or so they would forget about hockey and continue playing basketball, lacrosse, and football. We were wrong; they did not forget.
Every other day, for the next two weeks, they asked about skating lessons. Finally, we could ignore them no longer, so my wife found a rink 25 minutes away and signed up the boys in skating lessons.
I was thrilled that the boys were learning to skate. Growing up in Philadelphia, PA, I was always a hockey fan but never ice skated. I only played hours and hours of street hockey with my friends. I was excited to hear all about their first lesson scheduled for the following Tuesday at 4:30 p.m.
When I called my wife in the middle of the lesson to get a report, I immediately noticed distress in her voice. She said the lesson was awful—the boys kept falling over and over. I asked if they were getting back up or hurt. She said they got up every time and that they weren’t hurt. I asked her about the teacher. She said that the teacher was patient, upbeat, and encouraging. I asked if the boys looked frustrated or as if they weren’t enjoying it. She said, of course, they were frustrated, but they seemed to be enjoying it. After ending the call, I thought, at least the boys had tried something new even if they didn’t like it.
A couple of hours later, I walked into the house expecting to see two downtrodden boys, but as I entered the kitchen they came running to me saying how much they loved skating. I looked at my wife, and she smiled. I asked the boys about all of their falls. They said they didn’t care; they loved being out on the ice. Then they proudly pointed to their elbows, knees, and butt to show me the beginnings of bruises and scrapes from their first day on the ice. From that day forward, our sons have been hooked on skating and hockey. ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Carol Dweck, the Stanford research psychologist, coined the term “growth mindset” following decades of research studying the psychology of achievement across multiple industries—from athletes to musicians, artists, teachers, and businesspeople.
Here is a brief definition of growth mindset, according to Dweck:
- Having a foundational belief that a person’s skills, talents, abilities, and personality are malleable and can be developed through effort and time.
- Embracing challenges.
- Being persistence in the face of setbacks.
- Seeing effort as the path to mastery.
- Learning from criticism.
- Finding lessons and inspiration from others.
Dweck indicates that high achievers, regardless of craft, have this type growth mindset, and I am not here to argue with Carol Dweck.
However, I believe the growth mindset is not something we must learn, practice, or achieve. It is innate, within each of us from birth.
I did not have to give my boys a pep talk or tell them not to worry about falling or to ignore the younger kids who were all better skaters than them. I didn’t need to reframe their “failures” and give them a lesson on embracing challenges. They simply did what they had to do to learn how to skate and play hockey—they tapped into their inner passion, stayed in the game (thanks, Garret Kramer), and proceeded to enjoy the sport. Children learn how to walk in the same manner—they crawl, lean on furniture, fall down, and eventually learn to put one foot in front of the other. No external behavioral strategies are required.
Children who are learning (how to skate or how to walk) do not perform any breathing techniques. They do not try to control their thoughts, replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. They do not recite affirmations or use visualization techniques. They simply tap into their innate strength and do what they have to do.
So the next time you are tempted to use an outside technique or strategy to improve your performance, think about kids. And know that you have that same innate resilience and mental toughness. You just have to remember: when we are at our best, we are not engaging our intellect and manipulating our thoughts. We have an innate growth mindset. It is how we were created.
Thank you for reading.