Ditching New Year's resolutions in favor of a learning agenda
It’s February. How are you doing on your New Year’s resolutions? Conventional wisdom
suggests most of us have probably abandoned our resolutions and slipped back into old habits.
For 2019, I decided to try something new. I ditched New Year’s resolutions all together. Instead, I set what I’m calling a “learning agenda.”
Let me explain.
As an educator and a parent I have spent the better part of the past 12 years trying to instill a growth mindset in young people. Then sometime last year it dawned on me that my own mindset was often squarely in the “fixed” camp.
If you don’t know much about fixed-mindset and growth-mindset, I highly recommend reading Carol Dweck’s book Mindset or watching her TED Talk. Here’s the abridged version: people with a fixed-mindset believe basic abilities, intelligence, and talents are innate characteristics that are unlikely to change much. People with a growth-mindset believe their abilities and intelligence can be developed with effort, learning, and persistence.
Here’s the thing. I believe wholeheartedly that people can develop and get better at things. But, I have another hidden belief that much more powerfully drives my actions. I believe that my self-worth derives from being smart, competent, and productive. And this leads me, more often than not, to approach life with a performance stance rather than a learning stance. I’m out to prove myself. Show just how good I am. Confirm for myself and others that I am, in fact, smart, competent, and productive. Operating from a performance stance, it’s very hard to make room for growth.
This past year, I struggled to balance full-time work in a relatively new role and motherhood. There were many times when I did not feel particularly smart, competent, or productive. The more I felt my self-worth threatened, the more focused I became on proving myself. For a while, I completely lost sight of the fact that figuring out this stage of life was going to require me to do quite a bit of learning.
This brings me back to the learning agenda. Rather than making New Year’s resolutions that will focus me on proving my worth, abilities, willpower, or self-discipline to myself and others, I am setting a learning agenda. I am pushing myself to embrace and embody a growth mindset. I am going to see myself as a learner, be intentional about where I focus my learning, and spend the whole year asking myself, “what did I learn from that?” I’m going to try things and then reflect on what worked and what didn’t. I will still set goals and get things done--after all, I have bills to pay and kids to keep safe and fed--but I will work hard to shift my self-image from someone who is “smart” to someone who is “always learning.” Instead of being embarrassed by and trying to hide failures, I will lean into them and be grateful for the learning opportunities they present.
So here are the topics on my learning agenda for this year:
Personal growth: How does one integrate what someone recently described to me as “the feminine”--values like empathy, compassion, and trust--and “the masculine,” which represents authority, honesty, and independence?*
Personal and professional coaching: What makes a good coach? How can I use coaching to serve the people and causes I care most about?
Growth cultures: How can groups and organizations create conditions that move people from a performance stance into a learning stance?
Of course there are other things I want to learn about, but these are my top three.
At the end of the year I don’t know what I will have accomplished or what I will have tried that didn’t work. But if I’ve maintained a learning stance that allows me to grow personally and professionally, I believe it will be a year well spent.
*The following set of values and descriptors come from the Hall-Tonna Values Inventory.
Empathy: Listening and responding to others so they see themselves with more clarity, seeing and feeling their concerns and issues as they do.
Generosity/Compassion: Being sensitive to the limitations of others and using one’s unique gifts and skills to help them without expecting something in return
Sharing/Listening/Trust: Hearing another person’s thoughts and feelings and expressing one’s own in a climate of mutual confidence.
Authority/Honesty: Exercise of personal power as the straightforward expression of feeling and thoughts
Congruence: Ability to express feelings and thoughts consistent with internal experiences in a straightforward manner
Independence: Thinking and acting for oneself without being constrained by external authority
Self-Assertion: Communicating one’s thoughts and feelings and the value of one’s point of view
Decision/Initiation: Starting projects and a course of action based on personal conviction without getting others’ approval.