Recently I’ve been reading more about the concept of growth mindset vs. fixed mindset as researched by Carol Dweck at Stanford. It isn’t a particularly new idea; she originally wrote about it in the early 2000s. However, in coming across it again I began thinking about how it relates to many of the people I’ve worked with here in Shanghai. I have encountered many people who are working on getting past some sort of professional crisis, mistake, or challenge. Sometimes the situation is related to life in Shanghai, sometimes it could have happened anywhere, sometimes its professional, other times related to home or family. But in any case it means that I’ve given a lot of thought to resilience over the years – how do we get back up after a bump in the road. There are some methods that I utilize regularly for helping clients with this: CBT, hypnosis, EMDR. But I’m always on the lookout for more strategies or ways to think about this.

In reading recently about growth vs. fixed mindset, it has occurred to me how much our mindset: the set of beliefs that we have about what making a mistake or having something not go to plan, impacts the way that we cope and move forward. As explained by Dweck, in growth mindset we see our abilities and competencies as changeable, as expandable. We believe that our capacity to do something, to accomplish is not fixed, but rather that we can learn and grow in order to do more. Those with growth mindset see mistakes not as failure but as opportunities to learn.

It has also occurred to me how much this can be applied to living abroad in general. A slight tweak on growth mindset is what I’ve come to think of as “adjustment mindset.” Those who can approach life in Shanghai as a learning opportunity, as a chance for growth and expansion of abilities, will, in my experience, ultimately be much happier here. For those who can make themselves comfortable with the uncomfortable, to see the uncertainty that comes with life here as part of the adventure rather than something to fear, their experience of life abroad will naturally be more filled with enjoyment than with disappointment. So much of what we get out of our time here, and life in general, is about our expectations, about the mindset with which we approach our lives. Do we see it all as black and white, as fixed, or is everything a chance for growth and learning? As Dweck explains, the former will often leave us unhappy and stuck, while the latter brings us to a place of feeling hopeful and seeing possibility.

Which of course leads to the question of whether adjustment mindset be learned? To this I would absolutely and resoundingly say “yes.” In my years counseling I have seen many people make a shift in their thinking, and while it isn’t something that can be done overnight, instead it often requires a lot of effort and usually some outside help, it most certainly can be done.