An important lesson I have learned from my journey – a journey I hope you’ll never have to take – is about mindset. Making the right choices in life comes down to having the right mindset. With an injured brain, this was extremely hard to understand at first, but at the same time it was essential for me to come to grips with what it meant for my life day to day.
I’m going to talk about two different mindsets that I’ve experienced and learnt a lot about. These mindsets are called Fixed and Growth.
Let’s start with a fixed mindset. A fixed mindset is unchanging. You believe that you are either born with a gift or you’re not. Let’s say that you’re no good at the guitar. I’m terrible at the damn thing. Perhaps the first time you picked it up, years ago, you strummed the strings and sounded as bad as me. You scared the cat, made the baby cry, and you decided that you ‘weren’t cut for that’. After that, you never looked at the guitar again.
This is what we call a fixed mindset. You believe that it doesn’t matter how hard you try, you will never become good at it. We’ve probably all been there at one point in our lives. Maybe not playing a musical instrument, because I know there are some very talented musicians out there, but with at least something that we have tried and quickly given up on.
For much of my life I’ve had a fixed mindset. I gave up on so many things as a kid because I ‘wasn’t cut out for it’. Well, after my accident this got worse. I spent a total of six months in hospital before they let me go. When I became an outpatient from the rehab hospital, life on the outside was different for me because of the person I now was. While I was an inpatient, I was a little bit blind sided to my new life. I didn’t quite see how ‘disabled’ I now was.
Being ‘disabled’ meant that I couldn’t live the same life as I once did; the life that all my friends could still live. My new job was to fit back into society with all the ‘normal’ people and, this might be hard to imagine, but getting out of hospital was the start of a very dark time of my life. When the days became dark, so did my attitude, and when my attitude became dark, so did my mindset, and when my mindset became dark… I fell into depression. My mindset at that point was so fixed and immoveable that I imagined being incapable of doing anything because of my disabilities.
I struggled through depression for over a year. This was the ‘rock bottom’ point of my journey.
During this time, I became my own best friend, choosing to spend most of my time alone. That way I wouldn’t embarrass myself or offend anyone. It meant that I was on my own stewing on own thoughts. This was extremely unhealthy but I was addicted to it. I would crave the time that I was alone so that I could think, and best of all I didn’t have to face my situation. I didn’t have to show my lack of capabilities to the world. Being alone meant that I didn’t exist and when you don’t exist, nothing can go wrong.
The good thing about hitting ‘rock bottom’ is that there’s only one direction you can look, and that’s up. The good thing about hitting rock bottom in a place like rehab is that you are surrounded by professionals who see this quite regularly. I was battling my way through the disease of loneliness when one of my therapists changed my life. She was volunteering with Disabled Winter Sports Australia (DWA) at the time and she asked me if that was an avenue I’d like to try. DWA is a group of volunteers that go up to the snow and help people like myself have fun. Disabled people like myself have fun. I said no because my mindset was so fixed that I couldn’t see past my disabilities.
My thoughts were that:
I couldn’t have fun – I only have one working arm.
I couldn’t have fun – I have a brain injury.
I couldn’t have fun – I am DISABLED.
So I said, ‘No.’ She came back the next day, I said, ‘No.’ This went of for the next day and the next and the next and the next. I said, ‘No, no, no.’ ‘Yes.’ Ahh bugga, I was meant to say, ‘No.’ She tricked me. I got sucked in.
I’ll tell you what, on the trip up to the snow with all these other ‘disabled’ people… like myself… I was in fact looking forward to the trip back.
Well, I’ll cut a long story short and say that this weekend changed my life. The fixed mindset that I had, but was always afraid to face, said that I couldn’t participate in life, because I am disabled. I couldn’t enjoy life, because I am disabled. Life was now over because I AM DISABLED. Well this weekend changed this view because I could now see my true capabilities that weren’t clouded by my mindset. This meant that I could start setting some personal goals that I had the capacity to achieve. I started setting the bar a little higher and started challenging myself I little bit more.
I now started to develop a growth mindset. A growth mindset is opposite to a fixed mindset. People with a growth mindset believe that learning and intelligence can be acquired. They believe that effort can make them stronger. I NOW BELIEVE THAT EFFORT CAN MAKE ME STRONGER. I saw that it actually WAS possible to improve and that I WASN’T stuck in my disabledbody.
The growth mindset that I developed had the potential to expand. I began to go out again and try things, such as snowboarding. I suck at most things I try at first, but now I understand that most things are just going to take a little bit longer for me to achieve. After my accident, I knew that I couldn’t snowboard so I didn’t try. I knew that I couldn’t wakeboard so I didn’t even try, and I knew that I couldn’t play golf, so I didn’t even try. With this newfound growth mindset, I realised that I could snowboard; it would just take a bit more effort. Wakeboarding? A bit more effort. Golf? More effort but I could do it.
My injured brain created a massive wall in my mind that I had to climb over but I have done it. Having a clearer understanding of how the mind works, of fixed and growth mindsets, has changed my life.