Not ‘If, ‘When’

Phil Smith, Director of Snoworks Ski Courses talks about ‘Mindsets’.

As a race coach I’ve spent many days listening to racers chatting about their result after the race and justifying their performance. For some it may go something like this:

“I may have won ‘if’ I hadn’t been late on that gate”
“My time would have been so much faster ‘if’ I had not skidded out on that turn

Then others the chat may go something like this:

“I was late on a few gates, I’ll need to work on my line”
“I need to train harder on my edge control on ice”

I’ve also listened to athletes and coaches talking about the course during inspection and again for some it may go like this:
“This courses is too fast”
“The gates are too far apart”
“Who set this course, dreadful”
They end up dreading the course.

Whilst other athletes and coaches discuss how they are going to cope with ice, a fast section, a tighter gate. They’re looking forward to the challenge.

What brings about these types of comments, these types of mindsets and how do these different mindsets effect learning and personal development?

There’s been some great research on mindsets and learning. Dr Carol Dweck has devoted her professional life to studying mindsets and is a leader in this field. She classifies mindsets as either being of a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.

A fixed mindset is where the performer justifies their actions. Edges too blunt, skis too long, gates too close, too offset, slope too icy, snow too heavy. A growth mindset is where the performer sees future development. Sharpen edges, source shorter skis, practice skiing gates closer together, more offset, develop skills to cope with heavier or icier snow.

It comes as no surprise that those with growth mindsets learn quickly, enjoy challenges, are happy with failure and even see failure as a challenge, a means of development and revel in situations when they may be out of their depth. Fixed mindsets on the other hand look for things that they can already do, look for success, see failure as failure, defend actions, avoid situations, use excuses, blame and avoid being out of their depth wherever possible. That’s the extreme end. Some performers may find themselves somewhere between the two mindsets.

For young children it’s important from a young age to try to help develop a healthy growth mindset in order to help development and learning. We can help by rewarding effort rather than result, value trying ahead of success. We need to help young children understand failure is a necessity for development and to revel in adversity, dig deep when difficult and not shy away from challenge.

Imagine as a skier waking up and opening the curtains, it’s snowing heavy, the wind is blowing and visibility looks tricky. Do you close the curtains reset the alarm, go and get a good book to read or do you rise to the challenge, get ready to up your game and look forward to a tricky day ahead.

The easy option can often be to to stick with what you know, stick with what you are capable of and whilst sticking with the known and capable one somehow thinks they may improve. Some skiers will stay within their comfort zone believing that others may judge them or they judge themselves as being a failure, not very good if they do not succeed when trying something new. Those with growth mindsets develop an inward confidence that however good or so called ‘bad’ they may be, that’s ok. Being ‘bad’ or ‘not very good’ at something new does not make you a bad person it’s just an opportunity to get better. Those with growth mindsets are not worried about what others think and do not judge themselves. They just look at everything as a new challenge.

A simple way to develop a healthy growth mindset is to aim to replace ‘if’ with ‘when’.
‘When’ I learn to rotate my skis I’ll be able to ski moguls better.
‘When’ I learn to displace snow accurately I’ll have better speed control.
‘When’ I learn to get a better line I’ll get a better result.

‘When’ can be in a minute, an hour, a week, a year or more. But it’s definitely ‘when’. Everything has a future, a challenge, a solution.

We often see fixed and growth mindsets in teaching and coaching when we give feedback. Those with fixed mindset will often answer any advice with – but, because, if. Those with growth mindsets will generally listen – how, why, when.

If you are not improving as quickly as you would like, try to recognise if your mindset over the years has become a little stuck, hit a roadblock, got caught in a jam, a little rust may have set in. See if you can start to free it up a little, oil it and get it moving again. Change ‘if’ to ‘when’, begin seeing a challenge as an opportunity, failure as a means of success, enjoy working something out. Gradually any plateaus you may have hit in your development will suddenly begin to disappear, you’ll let go of judging yourself and will begin to let go of worrying what other people may think. You’ll begin to eagerly listen to feedback on how to improve. You’ll open those curtains on a snowy day and jump out of bed with energy and excitement ready to meet the challenge ahead no matter how tricky or daunting it may seem. You’ll look at a ski course with excitement however tricky, tight or awkward it seems and look forward to the challenge. You’ll turn failure into success and every day opportunities will present themselves.

‘If’ will gradually but surely turn in to ‘when’.