In  March, we explored Stanford psychologist, Dr. Carol Dweck’s research on how to nurture a growth mindset in our children. As you recall, a growth mindset is based on the belief that abilities can be developed and cultivated through effort. On the other hand, a fixed mindset believes that abilities are innate and unchangeable. A fixed mindset holds you back from trying anything outside your comfort zone.  

Dr. Dweck’s research revealed that girls are more prone to a fixed mindset than boys. Her research also showed parents and teachers tend to give boys more “process praise”, meaning they reward them for putting in effort, trying different strategies, sticking with it, and improving, rather than for the outcome. In the absence of this kind of process praise, girls come to believe that if you can’t perfectly accomplish something right away, you are not as intelligent and often give up trying to accomplish the task at hand.

Dr. Dweck points out that no one is born with a fixed mindset. We are all prewired with a desire to learn and grow. It’s only once a child begins to evaluate oneself that they become afraid of challenges. As adult women, you can undo that long-ago wiring by taking on the practice of bravery in the present moment. Here is one strategy author Reshma Saujani in her book, Brave, Not Perfect offers to change the code by rewiring women for bravery, to become the empowered author of your own authentic life, one brave act at a time.

Strategy: Keep Your Tank Full:

1) Prioritize your health by saying “no more”. No more meeting a friend or showing up for a family engagement when you are not feeling a level of joy, positive energy in their presence, yet don’t want to let anyone down. You wouldn’t let your best friend postpone her mammogram because she’s too busy, so take an equally powerful stance for your own self-care. Consider prioritizing your health as your first official act of radical bravery.

2) Take that “me time”. A Family and Work Institute 2012 National study showed that women who make it a regular habit to set aside time for themselves are much more satisfied with their lives than those who are wired to think that prioritizing our needs is selfish. Especially for women who have been deeply wired for perfection by cultural belief norms, this habit is really challenging. It’s also what makes it brave.

3) Get Some Sleep – seriously. Perfectionism compels us to burn the candle at both ends. Research from the National Sleep Foundation indicates that persons getting seven to nine hours of sleep a night are better able to focus, get sick less frequently, experience fewer accidents, get along with others well, are less likely to be overweight. Being well rested won’t automatically make you braver, yet, not being well rested will seriously get in the way of creating a life that is authentically, joyfully, messily, and completely yours.

4) Learn to Meditate: Scientific studies have proven that meditation shrinks the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that is driving the bus when you feel threatened or scared. For a comparatively small amount of time investment of ten to twenty minutes a day, you can literally rewire your brain to respond to everyday life situations from a place of calm rather than react from a place of fear.

5) Schedule in gym time. Exercise has been proven to prevent everything from excess weight to stress to anxiety to disease. Each of these concerning issues influence whether you are feeling empowered or depleted. Remember though, as women who have a tendency toward perfectionism, we’re talking about exercising to feel healthy, inspired, and accomplished rather than to sculpt a perfect body.

There’s no set path to “becoming brave” other than taking actions repeatedly that reinforce bravery rather than fear.  Bravery is a muscle, the more you work it, the stronger it becomes. Bravery doesn’t guarantee that everything will work out, just that you will be ok if it doesn’t. Bravery sets you free. It gives you the power to claim your voice, and to leave behind what makes you unhappy while leaning in toward what sparks your soul.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage." – Anais Nin

For more bravery strategies to get comfortable with your own imperfections, read "Brave, Not Perfect" by Reshma Saujani.

Sandy Block-Hansen is the coordinator of St. Francis Healthcare Campus Family Footprints, a Catholic Health Initiative Mission and Ministry program created to support, inform, and offer resources to parents in the role of parenting. She can be reached at sandrablock-hansen@catholichealth.net or 218.643.0475

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