”Am I smart or dumb?” “Am I a success or a failure?” “Am I a hard-working individual, or a lazy person?”

Nope, none of these questions are candidates for what I mention in the title of this post. However, the reality is that we spend our whole lives constantly asking this type of question. Maybe many of you — as has certainly happened to me — have been asked similar questions by others. We are being judged by ourselves and by others for what we are, placing labels coming from who-knows-where.

The problem with this type of questions is that they simply do not push us towards growing, maturing, nor moving forward. By the way, it doesn’t matter if these questions paint us in a positive or negative light, the result is the same: Stagnation.

For example, if I’m labeled as a failure, making an effort to change won’t matter, because it’s useless; I am who I am. But in the same measure, if I’m a success, it’s also not necessary to make any efforts, because I’ve already reached the top of the mountain, the goal in the race, and there really is nothing left to do.


So we see that, negative or positive, those questions that seek to establish us into a static state often achieve that very result: an inert state, one which binds us until there is no space to grow.

The Wrong Framework

In her book Mindset, psychologist Carol S. Dweck proposes two distinct mental frameworks in human beings: the fixed mindset, which we have already illustrated, in which the person settles towards one or more static definitions of their being; and the growth mindset, under which the person at absolutely all times considers themselves in the midst of a changing process.

The growth mindset will not recur to labels. Rather, it will ask questions that will allow it to examine itself, in order to continue along the process of change. The point is never to “know what I am” as a final objective, but rather a constant state of metanoia, or mental transformation.

Of course, this process will be towards a certain orientation. It is precisely called a growth mindset because in the majority of cases, the person who abandons the fixed mindset, as the person is aware of the process in which he or she is at the moment, often re-directs their sight toward a beneficial orientation.

A Better Question

Knowing this, which question is more conducive towards supporting a positive growth process? I propose that the next time we find ourselves facing an opportunity to change — be it positive or negative — we ask the following question:

What can I learn from this situation?

We’ve established that the wrong answer from a typical fixed mindset is to try to learn what I am, based on my actions and results. The preferable idea, instead, would be to maintain each category in its own place. In other words, we learn about actions through actions, we learn about results from results, and then we can evaluate potential causal connections between them.

For example, in a scenario in which a successful result is attained, a typical fixed mindset would think, “What can I learn from this situation? Because of my recent success, I’m a lucky person,” or something along those lines.

The preferable response, however, would be, “What can I learn from this situation? That the recent success was due to the efforts A, B, and C, and actions 1, 2, and 3. It would probably be worth it to continue said actions and efforts in order to replicate the success.”

The same options arise in failure. A person with a growth mindset will not call themselves a personal failure, but will evaluate the efforts and actions that gave way to the failure, and will modify them to achieve a different result.

Even if our answer to this question is honestly incorrect, the mere act of asking the question is an appropriate exercise that can leave the doorway towards positive change wide open.

Once again, the question that will help us grow — aside from keeping us more humble and far from depression, which never hurts — is:

What can I learn from this situation?

Do you agree or disagree? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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