Watching my daughter Shiri learn to walk was a little humorous and a little frustrating all at the same time. As she demonstrated when she started to crawl, she’s the kind of kid who waits to get really excited about something until she can master it. She took her first real steps without any help at fourteen and a half months. But as soon as we’d start to cheer her on, she’d lose her confidence and plop down and revert back to crawling. Walking was new and scary, but she was an expert at crawling, so the second she’d feel a wobble or a moment of imbalance, she’d simply give up. In her mind, this was a sign that she wasn’t ready yet.
It is human nature to be concerned about doing something “the right way.” Even if I’m trying something new, I want it to be perfect. But because change is difficult, it can be a long, hard path to full confidence.
So much of the struggle is mind over matter. Often what it comes down to is getting into the right mental space to create the confidence; adopting the right mindset is critical for completing a task.
Dr. Carol Dweck is a leading researcher at Stanford University in the field of motivation. Dr. Dweck studies the brain and our thought patterns and posits that there are two mindsets we all have: “Fixed” and “Growth.”
Fixed Mindset: A Fixed Mindset occurs when people believe that attributes such as intelligence are unchangeable. This mindset is based on the notion that talent alone creates success, and effort is a sign of weakness rather than a way to reach one’s fullest potential.
Growth Mindset: A Growth Mindset is one in which people believe that these attributes can be “grown” through learning. With this mindset, people believe that their abilities and talents can be developed over time. This view fosters a love for learning, a drive for growth, and the resilience essential for great achievement.
This week we read parshat Shlach Lecha. The parshah begins with Moshe sending 12 spies, one from each tribe, into the land of Cana’an to bring back an accounting of the land. The spies return with their report, and it’s discouraging. Two spies report back with a positive message, but the negativity of the other ten reports instills so much fear into the nation that they decide they do not want to make the journey into the promised land after all. This infuriates God, who then decrees that anyone who went out from Egypt at age 20 or older will not be allowed to enter the land of Cana’an. This generation will purposefully die out so that a new generation, unfettered by the destructive mindset of their predecessors, can start anew.
This is a crucial chapter in the narrative of the Israelites. At this point we’ve already heard their constant complaining about life being better in Egypt, but this complete lack of faith in themselves and in God is a considerable blow. The distinction couldn’t be clearer between the fixed mindset of slavery exhibited by most of the spies and the growth mindset of Joshua and Caleb, who do believe that they can conquer the land. The simple fact that they believe in themselves means they are more likely to try. For the rest of the spies in the fixed mindset, it’s a lack of faith in their own abilities and a fear of failure that holds them back.
We hear a lot about the concept of self worth, but we don’t tend to talk as much about self trust. This week, parshat Shlach Lecha reminds us that a growth mindset doesn’t ignore our current abilities; it simply allows us to trust our mental capacity. May we accept and rise to the challenges before us, confident that personal potential is the most incredible strength we possess.