I was putting on makeup in my office, getting ready to go on TV, when I noticed sweat stains on my summer sweater.
“Uh oh,” I thought to myself.
I had less than an hour before showtime, and a decision to make: I could freak out and scramble to buy a new shirt, or I could decide not to worry about it.
I decided not to worry.
In that moment, I was leaning heavily on Carol Dweck’s book, “Mindset, The New Psychology of Success,” one of my favorite books that informs my coaching, my parenting and my self-care.
Dr. Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford, identified two core belief systems that shape our motivation and achievement. She found that people with a “fixed mindset” believe their abilities are set in stone and predetermined at birth. People with a “growth mindset” believe they can develop their abilities through effort and perseverance — that intelligence and talent is just the starting point.
I coach my clients to develop a growth mindset in themselves and their employees: to learn from mistakes, to welcome feedback. I ask clients when they tell me about a failure: “We get to make mistakes — that’s how we learn and grow. What are you learning from this one?”
Back to the sweaty sweater.
In the past, I would have felt shame; a sweaty sweater is visible and damning evidence that I am not effortlessly perfect (classic fixed mindset). I would have spent the moments before my interview desperately shopping for a new shirt. I would have arrived at the TV studio late, stressed and unhappy.
But as I looked in the mirror at those half circles of sweat, I caught myself in that “uh-oh” moment and thought about what I was learning:
Next time, don’t walk to work on a hot day in clothes that you’re planning to wear on TV.
I draped my sweater over a plant in my office to (maybe, hopefully) dry out, relaxed in my armchair and spent the last minutes before leaving for the TV studio quietly going over my talking points. “The kids will like this story,” I thought to myself. (My children love it when I embarrass myself.)
In that moment, I chose growth mindset.
“This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives,” Dr. Dweck writes, although she may have had greater adversity than a sweaty sweater in mind. “Even in the growth mindset, failure can be a painful experience. But it doesn’t define you. It’s a problem to be faced, dealt with and learned from.”
And I arrived at the TV studio calm and punctual, if slightly damp.
First published in The Seattle Times. Read my archive of Seattle Times Explore columns.