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Two months ago, I started a new job.

It was a great opportunity, and I couldn’t say no, although if I’m being completely honest, there has been a time or two I sort of wished that I had.

I was comfortable where I was before. There were no surprises.

Now, by the time I head home every evening, my head is swimming from everything new I have been trying to learn—names, titles and quirks, practices and preferences, acronyms and terminology and all sorts of different tech.

The changes Covid forced on the workplace had already caused this old dog to learn some new tricks. Yet here I am, at the feet of lovely new masters, in an entirely different world than the one I had fought to know nearly every nook of.

Although I imagine others have felt this way during their early days in a new position, I have been beating myself up something fierce for not gliding into this role as smoothly as I have in the past.

I said as much to one of my new bosses, who asked if I had ever heard of the Not Yet Mindset.

“You’re being too hard on yourself,” she said. “It isn’t, ‘I don’t know this.’ It’s, ‘I don’t know this yet.’”

She told me about a TED talk she had watched on the concept, which I looked up later that day.

Author/Psychologist Carol Dweck spoke about a Chicago high school where students must pass 84 units to graduate. If they don’t pass, they are given the grade, “Not Yet.” They are viewed as still being on the learning curve.

The door isn’t closed. They just haven’t gone through it yet.

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Dweck talked about research she conducted where children were given problems to solve that were slightly too difficult for their age range. Some students got excited by the challenge, understanding they were expected to work a bit, while others simply shut down. Scans done on the excited group showed their brains were lit up. On fire. Scans on the second group — the ones defeated by the challenge — showed no fire. No spark.

The first group had what she called a growth mindset, while the second group’s mindset was fixed

I suspect I fall somewhere in the middle. When I have one or two new tasks to master, I’m excited. All in. But too much all at once gets me teetering toward shutting down.

But there was more to Dweck’s research. She determined that when a person is struggling to learn yet keeps pushing through, neurons in their brain will begin to build new and stronger connections that will, over time, cause them to actually become smarter and more capable. What began as a challenge becomes surmountable.

The growth mindset is a learned behavior that can be adopted at any age, although it takes more practice the older we become. In fact, as we age, it becomes even more important to push ourselves to learn new things.

“New brain cell growth can happen even late into adulthood,” said Dr. Ipsit Vahia, director of geriatric outpatient services for Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital. To reap mental rewards doesn’t require traditional academic courses. Learning how to paint, becoming more computer-savvy, improving your home repair skills — these can be equally effective.

“Something with a complexity factor because it engages cognitive skills, such as visual comprehension, short-and long-term memory, attention to detail, and even math and calculations,” said Dr. Vahia.

This dog might be getting older, but she’s not done learning tricks. Her newest involves a three-letter word.

The next time I catch myself saying, “I can’t do this,” or “I don’t know this,” or “This doesn’t work,” I’m going to add that one word to the end.

Yet.

Karin Fuller can be reached at karinfuller@gmail.com.

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