Carol Dweck is a research psychologist at Stanford who has studied what she calls the growth mindset. Some people think they are naturally good or bad at something, like math, or naturally healthy or naturally talented. And some people think they get good at it as they try and practice and learn. She says people who understand that you get good at something by working at it do better over all and she says that you can learn to approach your life with a growth mindset.
And this works all over the place. It turns out that there is a part of your brain, deep behind your thoughts and emotions, that regulates your body function: your heart rate, breathing and so on. It’s kind of a reptilian part of the brain. And it turns out this part of your brain determines if the system, your body, is in a growth stage of life or a decline stage of life. It regulates your body based on this decision. While everyone ages, we can see that some people seem to age with more difficulties than others. Even though we cannot control that process completely, our lifestyle choices go a long way toward determining how that aging process unfolds.
And here is what is interesting: you cannot affect that reptilian part of your brain with your thoughts or your feelings. You affect it by what you physically do. If you are physically active, that part of your brain figures you are probably still in a growth phase and if you are sedentary, it takes that to mean you are in a declining stage of life. In other words, physical effort equals physical growth. Just like mental effort equals mental growth and psychological effort equals psychological growth.
Ultimately, the interesting thing about organic life is that it generates and regenerates. You don’t use it up like a bar of soap and you don’t wear it out like a car engine. It’s not like a computer in a machine. It creates itself. If you lift a weight a few times, your bicep generates more bicep. If you read about new ideas, your mind starts turning them over and thinking about them and connecting them with other ideas and generating ideas of its own. In other words, if you make any effort, physical, mental, emotional, whatever, you can activate that particular part of you to build more better, stronger parts.
Okay, what’s better than that? The creativity that is life generates more new things we cannot even imagine before we experience them. Our effort creates movement in the direction of generation. The problem with understanding things only with our past experience and the metaphors we create is that it limits our imaginations. We are not like computers. Computers are a little bit like us. In some ways. We are not like engines or hydraulic systems. We are like flower seeds and puppies and penguins. We are pure potential looking to continually create ourselves. And effort motors this growth.