How a Growth Mindset Can Help You Beat Addiction
Beneath everything else, recovery from addiction is not about abstaining from drugs and alcohol but rather about improving the way you relate to yourself and the world. There are many ways in which our own minds can cause us problems. We have intrusive thoughts, we worry too much, we have inaccurate beliefs about the world, and we have unrealistic expectations of ourselves. One very common way we make ourselves miserable and limit our own progress is by having a fixed mindset instead of a growth mindset.
Growth vs. Fixed Mindset
A fixed versus growth mindset is a concept developed and popularized by Carol Dweck. In her research, she noticed that some children were more tenacious in solving problems and she discovered that the main thing that differentiated these children from those who gave up easily was that they had what she termed a “growth mindset” while the children who gave up quickly had a “fixed mindset.”
The difference between these two mindsets is simple: If you have a fixed mindset, you believe that you’re basically born with certain talents and capacities, such as intelligence or social skills or athletic skills and so on, and there’s not much you can do to improve your performance in any given area if you’re not especially talented in that area. A growth mindset, on the other hand, is the belief that with a bit of effort, you can improve your skills and grow as a person.
The reality is, of course, somewhere between these two. Talent is certainly a real thing. Few people will reach the heights of Lebron James or Elon Musk no matter how hard they work. On the other hand, many--perhaps most--of us have too little confidence in our ability to make meaningful changes in our lives. In other words, most of us would be much better off if we made an effort to adopt a growth mindset. That’s especially true for anyone recovering from addiction.
A Growth Mindset Reduces Resistance to Change
Resistance to treatment is a common problem. Many people have what AA people call “terminal uniqueness.” This is sort of the idea that “I’m not like everyone else here, so I don’t have to engage with treatment the way they do.” This typically stems from a need to protect your sense of identity. Everyone else is an “addict” while you are basically a decent person who hit a rough patch. To participate fully in treatment is like admitting that you got lost somehow and you can’t find your way back.
To a person with a fixed mindset, this is a serious threat. It implies that this edifice of self you have constructed has a faulty foundation. You want to reject any evidence to the contrary. However, to someone with a growth mindset, the idea that you might need help is much more palatable. You’re not broken on some fundamental level; you just have some weak points you need to strengthen and you know that you can get stronger with persistent effort.
A Growth Mindset Opens Up New Possibilities
When you’re first considering the possibility of treatment or just starting out in recovery, it can be very hard to imagine a better life. You are probably at a low point, or else you wouldn’t be considering a major life change. All of your future possibilities are colored by your present circumstances. This is especially true if you have a fixed mindset. That’s because when you try to imagine living a happier, more fulfilling life, you’re trying to imagine living that life as the person you currently are.
You may think, “How am I supposed to live a good life when I can barely get out of bed, when I can’t get through the day without drugs and alcohol, when I’m constantly tormented by anxiety, and so on?” It’s a perfectly reasonable question to ask when you don’t believe in the possibility of growth.
If you have a growth mindset, it’s easier to imagine that a better life is possible, even if you aren’t yet sure how. You may still be aware of all the obstacles in your way but perhaps you can also remember overcoming other obstacles that once seemed insurmountable. You may not be able to imagine living a better life as the person you are now, but you can imagine living a better life as the person you can become.
A Growth Mindset Turns Challenges into Opportunities
Perhaps the greatest advantage of a growth mindset is that it turns challenges into opportunities. There is no shortage of challenges in addiction recovery. In fact, every stage of recovery--detox, treatment, therapy, transitioning home, continuing with your recovery plan, and so on--offers a different set of challenges.
If you have a fixed mindset, every challenge is just an opportunity to fail. You have your little set of skills and qualities and if those don’t equip you for the challenges you face, then you’re just out of luck. People will see that you, as a person, just don’t measure up.
However, if you have a growth mindset, your model of challenges is completely different. Instead of seeing them as the rocks that sink your ship, you see them as weights that make you stronger. A challenge is an opportunity to learn something about yourself. It’s a chance to learn new skills and expand your ability to persevere. Every new challenge recovery presents is an opportunity for growth and will prepare you to overcome even bigger challenges down the road.
Adopting a growth mindset is one of the best ways to become more robust to the challenges that you will face in addiction recovery. It makes you less afraid of change, it makes you better able to imagine a happier life without drugs and alcohol, and it makes every new challenge into a chance to grow.
At The Foundry, we know that getting sober and staying sober is probably the hardest thing you will ever have to do. We also believe that abstinence from drugs and alcohol is only one outcome of a process that will increase your overall quality of life, including your mental and physical health, and your relationships. For more information about our treatment program, call us at (844) 955-1066.
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