A Growth Mindset: What Flexible Thinking Achieves

A growth mindset shifts us away from our default of assessing situational risk at every corner, to a mindset of learning from our experiences.
Being flexible in the water

This is me, early 2023. COO of a bi-coastal US company on holiday in Australia. Diving, hiking, snorkeling and fighting off drop bears (if you know, you know) on the Gold Coast with my bud, who like the start of all good friendships, I met in the middle of the night in the dark in a hostel in Dublin circa 2007.

How 2023 ended: With three broken bones, surgery, and crutch dependent, not to mention, single, homeless, and jobless. Cue violin.

Here’s the thing. I’m actually crushing it!

Now hear me out. I ended the year on such an unexpected note, and I could have let those things I perceived as disappointments or failures define me and get me down. Instead, I chose to see all my collective experiences as opportunities for learning and growth, and a chance to gain perspective. The takeaway: It takes more effort to create positive neural pathways and have positive reactions, when our default is to assess situational risk. But learning to roll with the punches is a step toward changing one’s mindset from one of scarcity to abundance, and for the better. 

“It’s your reaction to adversity, not adversity itself that determines how your life’s story will develop.” – Dieter F. Uchtdorf

I am naturally the type of person who appreciates a decent plan, which is right in line with my newly discovered enneagram type as a Loyalist. It is part of my core personality that I need to feel prepared and ready to anticipate what could potentially happen, especially when I am traveling or outside my comfort zone. So when plans change or do not go the way I expect them to go, it does not always come naturally to me to just go with the flow.

But understanding this part of my personality has allowed me to develop more awareness around what motivates me, the values and behavioral patterns I have formed in the past, and the areas I would like to work on. 

Focusing on what I cannot do, actually accomplishes nothing. It is a limiting view for conceptualizing one’s life circumstances. Reframing my perspective, allows me to look at all that I can do, and opens up a myriad of possibilities. Sure, I can’t walk, which stinks big time, but now I have more time to work on my upper body strength. And yeah, I did not ring in the new year at Lake Atitlan, but I did get to spend it with my amazing nephews and niece. 

I chose to spend my recovery period working on my next career move, building my own company around something I am extraordinarily passionate about, blending my background and experience in nutrition with my love of travel. Spending quality time with family and friends, learning a new language, and trying out knitting have all been highlights on this journey of introspection and healing. I should also mention, I am incredibly fortunate to have the support of my family on so many levels. (Shout out to mom and dad for putting up with me and making this challenging time less challenging!) 

I do still have my moments where I become discouraged, like the other day when I dropped my boot in the bathtub. However, when we work through what is hard or inconvenient in the moment, and come out on the other side, we realize experiencing life is largely about perspective, making connections, and problem solving. 

Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” – Nelson Mandela

Sharing this is not meant to be a precautionary tale, as we all know stuff happens and things go awry, even with the best laid plans (that’s what insurance is for). Rather, my hope for sharing my experience is that it highlights the value in how we respond to unforeseen life events. In this new year, let us shine light on the power of perspective and how we choose to roll with the punches (not entirely unlike how a stunt double learns to fall without breaking themselves, something I should look into). Our ability to reframe our perspective is crucial to our wellbeing, be it in the physical, mental, social, emotional, environmental, or spiritual realms. And this life skill is absolutely transferable and necessary as a traveler.

Travel teaches us to reroute, to be flexible and to adapt. Travel is unpredictable, I would argue, mostly in positive ways. But sometimes even with the best research, itinerary, and plans, irregularities, strikes, black outs, delays, cancellations, weather out of our control, and so on will occur. These events provide us the opportunity to practice accepting very little, if anything, is in our control. Understanding this can be freeing and allow us to move forward and adapt in the face of adversity. 

Lets say your bag gets lost following a flight. Great. You now have the opportunity to decide if this will be A) a miserable trip because you don’t have the fabulous outfits you painstakingly picked out, or B) a more interesting trip and an opportunity to buy some new clothes (good thing you carried your money and ID’s in your fanny pack!). 

Living in the south of France in 2006 (pre-Uber), I remember the first time I encountered train conductors “en grève” or on strike, meaning the trains were not running. Initially, it was a stressful ordeal. However, I quickly realized, along with many others, I had to sort out another path to my meeting. After a few months and realizing strikes were a part of French culture, my perspective shifted. Instead of strikes becoming an upsetting event every time they foiled plans, it became more of a comedic thing where my friends and I would just shrug, declare, “C’est la grève!” in true French spirit, and sort out a new plan.

“Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.” – Marilyn Monroe.

Stepping into a new culture improves creativity, and opens us up to exploring new or different ideas. It can also affect the decisions we make. According to researchers such as Boaz Keyser, per the “foreign language effect” we make more rational decisions in a second language. In another study, Silvia Purpuri looks at how speaking in a second language may also affect our personalities and “tolerance of ambiguity”. An article in the Gaurdian notes, “by speaking a second language, we can even become more rational, more open-minded and better equipped to deal with uncertainty”. These experiences can impact our lives far beyond travel in countless ways, such as how we work with groups, deal with challenges, and so on.

Travel builds confidence in one’s abilities (self efficacy), and naturally moves us out of our comfort zones. It helps you to try new things and recognize your strengths, such as being able to navigate a new area on your own. It can also help you identify new ways to take care of basic needs. Experiences while traveling can help you to think outside the box or learn new skills. Maybe it’s something simple yet powerful, such as becoming comfortable with asking for help. 

Travel can improve overall happiness, which certainly impacts perspective. The study, Why travel prolongs happiness: Longitudinal analysis using a latent growth model notes “travel experience reduces hedonic adaptation, and especially, expectation and serendipity are important for prolonging happiness.” Another study, Would You Be More Satisfied with Your Life If You Travel More Frequently?, “found that frequent travelers are more satisfied with their life.”

Experiencing new cultures can affect perception of time. Something my stay in Senegal made me aware of is how I view time and why some may view it differently. Where I was, if an older adult speaks with you, even if you are running late, it is always more important to stop and have a conversation, even if it means falling behind on your schedule. I try to remember this in place of getting frustrated when I am waiting for a friend to show up. Though to be fair, I’m usually the one running late.

Finally, travel can be a humbling experience. You may notice that some unpleasantries, like having occasional poor cell service in spots maybe aren’t all that big of a deal after spending time in countries where cell service is much less frequent. Instead, you may find yourself spending less time on the screen and more time having fun! 

“Don’t despair: despair suggests you are in total control and know what is coming. You don’t – surrender to events with hope.” – Alain de Botton

We all have our own ideas and priorities of what it means to live life well and to the fullest. There is no right or wrong type of travel. And there is no one trip fits all solution. The key is finding what works for you, and what makes sense in the moment. 

Travel can make great impacts on our perceptions and how we choose to move forward and interact in the world. These kinds of experiences build resilience and provide useful tools to integrate into your well-being toolbox.

This week, I encourage you to, without judgment, check in on your perspective from time to time. Is that “thing” that is inconveniencing you, something you can let roll of your shoulders? Feeling pressed because of a perceived lack of time or because you are overcommitted, take that pause and experience how sacred that moment of grounding and reflection can be.

Now, I will leave you with the wise words of Chumbawamba from the song “Tubthumping”, “I get knocked down, but I get up again. You’re never gonna keep me down”. 

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