A Growth Mindset

As I concluded in my article on Neuroaesthetics, our brain can tell us a lot about ourselves. The different sections control unique types of tasks and the whole is important for who we are as a person and how we behave. Reverse engineering our behavior then should make it easier for us to understand how to bring the best out of ourselves.

The movie “Limitless” toyed with this idea of unlocking the brain’s full potential by allowing it all to function at once. It made him able to complete supertasks with previously untapped ability and intelligence off the charts! This fictional movie is a fun watch, but it isn’t possible for us to ‘level-up’ in real life… right? 

There isn’t a drug that we can take that is designed to ‘unlock’ the brain and there is no quick fix. The real-life solution is a growth mindset, which sounds like a feel-good term used by professors from the 1970s. The term actually is only a few years old developed by Carol Dweck and used mainly by grade school teachers, but I would argue it holds water and can be applied to many other fields including the art of photography. Either as a profession or hobby, photography takes a technical ability and artistic intelligence which can be impacted by our fixed mindset.

Fixed Mindset

We are all born with split mindsets. Everybody has both growth and fixed mindsets that impact our development. This is why teaching growth mindset has become such a hot term in elementary schools recently! Learning at an early age what both are can be important in early childhood. So, what exactly is the fixed mindset and why should we try to avoid it in our lives as much as possible?

The thinking that we are all born with a natural talent and intelligence level is what fixed mindset is all about. While intelligence level is a real thing it doesn’t form naturally. There is nurturing of our knowledge and understanding of the world around us. As infants, we were all fairly unintelligent. Find me a ‘genius’ 3-month-old baby and I will find any 3-year old that is definitively smarter. 

Similar to our intelligence, our abilities don’t form out of thin air. Certainly, some people are going to be able to lift more, run faster, and swim longer. Everybody starts out crawling though! This fixed mindset which tells us that we are all set in stone where we are can be extremely harmful in our development. Documenting what our abilities and intelligence levels are instead of working to build them up is the wrong approach to take! Talent and having a natural ability are not the main ingredients in success.

False Growth Mindset

After you understand what a fixed mindset is there are still pitfalls that we can easily fall in. Don’t get rutted by a false growth mindset which stems from things we normally think of as positive! Open-mindedness is a great attribute in today’s ever more progressive society, but simply being comfortable with change isn’t always working towards a growth mindset. Chasing results is also negative in working towards a growth mindset because it focuses on the wrong piece of true development. Results only come from a successful application of work while the work and actives frequently won’t end successfully. Optimism is a third pitfall and false growth mindset component because it focuses on results again and places faith in the wrong objective.

Intelligence Development

Emphasizing the effort is the most important part of a growth mindset. Naturally, intelligence is typically thought of as a thing we have a certain amount of. However, in a growth mindset, we can understand that intelligence is a result of an equation that includes hard work multiplied by our ability to learn. Taking this into consideration, it is easy to see how an individual can supersede others through outworking everybody else. 

Working harder than anyone else keeps us moving forward. Doing the activities of studying other’s work, reading articles, and listening to experts we can build ourselves up. Focusing on the activities and how we have put the effort in regularly keeps us moving in the right direction rather than only seeing the results or lack thereof. Giving praise to any intelligence or otherwise using it as a cornerstone for success holds us back. 

In the world of photography, it is easy to see composition, post-processing, and location/weather as a part of a photographer’s natural intelligence. Rewarding ourselves for studying the art or seeing every opportunity to go out and practice these parts of photography should be the goal. Any images or accolades we get from the activity of being involved with photography should be peripheral. It is from focusing on doing the activities that we can further ourselves through our growth mindset, not the results that come from them. There is not a single photographer out there who became great from a single shoot and focusing on the things that they have done or will do. The best image that we have shot is the one we will take tomorrow because it is through doing the photography that we get better!

Nobody is born Talented

What I mean here is that there is not a single person on the planet that was immediately able to do anything other than eat, sleep, poop, and cry. There is nothing that I have against this other than those who live mostly with a fixed mindset. We need to be centering our lives around becoming better people than we were the day before. Our abilities should be moving forward and that takes hard work and dedication. 

Centering ourselves around the activities we are practicing in photography helps us become better photographers. Idealizing other’s work and saying to ourselves that “I wish I could capture something like that” doesn’t help ourselves out. No great athlete became that way by just watching others compete. You have to get out there and put the effort into your abilities as a photographer. Learning this lesson that effort is the main ingredient for ability and not talent will help you become a better photographer.

There is no quick fix to our images. One workshop, preset package, lens/camera, or other purchasable item is not going to make you a better photographer on its own. Regularly putting in the effort to get your gear out and take images makes us better. Sitting at the computer and practicing Photoshop and Lightroom techniques shows a commitment to performing the activities that matter. As cliche as it sounds “practice makes perfect” is the best way to put it!

Re-mapping Success

People tend to be very goal focused and this tends to lead us into the pitfall of focusing all too easily on the results. Re-wiring out minds to see how much effort we put in over a given period of time rather than the product of that work is critical in maintaining a growth mindset. If we don’t reward ourselves for doing the activities there will be no incentive to continue to do them. It is about the number of times we were at bat and swung at the ball, not the number of times we hit the ball! Getting out in the field with our camera, processing files at home to learn post-production, and making the effort to be involved in photography actively rather than passively.

Having and constantly developing a love of learning will help us keep moving forward. Educating ourselves on the things we are passionate about and investing the hard work back into ourselves. Fostering a tolerance for failure because it is a natural component of the learning process, and learning to fail forward as we develop. Failing forward means using your past experiences to learn what not to do because it is just a part of repetitively doing an activity and finding what can go right and wrong simultaneously. This is an awesome piece of maintaining our growth mindset because once you are comfortable with it things begin to ‘click’.

Final Thoughts

The art of photography is a skill that takes hard work and dedication. This isn’t anything new to be saying, but it is interesting to think about how critical it is to focus on that effort it takes. Applying these teachings from those in education we can better understand how our brain’s reward and learning mechanisms work. Using this to our advantage, we can start to build up our catalog of experience, abilities, and intelligence in photography and everything related. We don’t have to just document where our photography is now. 

Our intelligence level isn’t written in stone. We can improve our photography by working at it and making the effort to learn from our failures. Focusing on regularly completing the activities that we can assign ourselves to help build up and develop our abilities and knowledge around photography will help us to become better photographers. It is proven effective and the alternative path is much more arduous and excruciating. It is your choice, but I highly recommend focusing on your growth mindset rather than living with a fixed mindset!