Is contentment compatible with a growth mindset?

I am quite a fan of the growth ‘not yet’ mindset which focuses on a belief in the ability to do and achieve more through persistence and hard work. I have previously written about this mindset in What do you have in mind? and in The power of not yet.

I wonder how compatible a growth mindset is with a complacency or acceptance of the way things are; a “This is it. I can’t do anything about it.” attitude.

When I think of contentment, I think of serenity, tranquillity, a feeling of peace and acceptance. I think of it as a positive state of mind. The dictionary defines it as:

Does this imply that there is no wish for things to be different?

I often talk about the importance of imagination and creativity to inspiring innovation and invention. But do they also require a certain degree of disequilibrium or discontent with the way things are? Is it necessary to find fault with something in order to improve upon it? How many gadgets do you use regularly, accepting their imperfections without a thought of how they might be improved? It is not necessary to have the ability to improve them in order to imagine how they might be improved.

A fun thing to do with children is to get them to think of an easier or more enjoyable way of conducting a routine activity. How about an alternative to the traditional, in Australia anyway, emu parade which has children criss-crossing the school grounds, bobbing up and down to pick up rubbish? How about something to carry their heavy back-packs home? Or something to do their homework? (Oh, that’s right, they’ve already invented parents for that!)  I’m sure children, and you, can imagine far more exciting improvements.

Imagination is the driver of innovation and change. But it also requires action. It is the action that gets us into the growth mindset; perseverance, hard work and repeated attempts. As Edison is oft quoted,

 “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

He also said,

“To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”

I wonder how my friend Pauline King The Contented Crafter would respond to my title question. While I know she has reached a certain stage of contentment in her life, I also know that she strives to better her craft, and does what she can to make the world a better place. How much need for change or improvement can contentment tolerate?

Charli Mills of the Carrot Ranch and her flash fiction challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about feeling content  got me wondering about this. Charli talked about moments of contentment sprinkled among frustrating events and dreams of change.

It helped me realise that, while they appear to be in contradiction, we need a little of both. We need to be happy with who we are, what we have, and what we have achieved; while at the same time, we need to be aware of what can and should be improved, and some strategies for action. Questioning is important to stimulate imagination, and when paired with creative thinking, innovation can occur. We need the inspiration of just one forward-thinker to lead us into the future.

The same balance between contentment and growth can be seen in children’s play. I have used it as my response to Charli’s challenge. I hope you enjoy it.

Purpose in play

They worked furiously as if with one mind; digging, piling, shaping, smoothing the sand.  As if on cue, two began to tunnel through from opposite sides, meeting in the middle. Others carved into the surface, forming window-like shapes. Sticks, leaves, and other found objects adorned the structure. Then, simultaneously, the work stopped. They glowed with collective admiration. But Than was not yet content. Something was missing. He swooped on a long twig and stuck it into the top, antenna-like. “For communicating with the mother ship,” he declared. Soon they were all feverishly adding other improvements to their alien craft.

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

 

29 thoughts on “Is contentment compatible with a growth mindset?

  1. Bec Colvin

    I love your FF! So much fun. The contentment and improvement question is really interesting. I wonder if we need to find some sort of healthy balance? Accepting problems, but always looking to solve them?

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  2. Pingback: More Than a State of Mind « Carrot Ranch Communications

  3. Charli Mills

    Your thinking has my own wheels turning, Norah! I’m not sure I have a complete response, but somewhere between imagining and satisfaction with what was created is that brief moment of contentment. Afterwards comes the urge to build more. I think we can become too contented, that is to sit back and not continue. But we can also be driven to never stop and enjoy the moments in between. It also makes me think of the digital changes authors can make to books. I don’t mind updates to evolving technical information, in fact I think that’s great to get the latest updates. But authors who continue to tweak a published work makes me think either it wasn’t ready to publish in the first place or it needs to be left alone and lessons learned applied to the writing of the next. Perhaps to be content is that moment when we are still, like the children in your flash coming to a point of completion before getting inspired by the next level of possibility. Great thoughts, as usual! And thank you for compiling, creating an easy path for my whirlwind visitations in between research, family and tonight’s last event at archeology field school.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Charli,
      Thanks for adding your wisdom to the mix. I think I like your suggestion that ‘to be content is that moment when we are still coming to a point of completion before getting inspired by the next level of possibility”. It definitely has merit. I’ve really enjoyed hearing everyone’s perspective. I found it difficult to define contentment, as it can exist for certain aspects, while conflict is occurring in others.
      It was my pleasure to compile, while you were gadding about having fun. 🙂 Just kidding.

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      1. Charli Mills

        Ha, ha! Well, in a way! Gadding about as Indiana Jones, playing archeologist. Now comes the serious work of the last 1,000 miles of a 3,700 mile journey. Ugh, and in high heat and humidity. Heading out and appreciate the help!

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        1. Norah Post author

          Gadding about was meant tongue in cheek. I know it’s not desirable travel. Only about 25% of the journey to go – and counting. I don’t envy you the heat and humidity. I think you previously mentioned no air con. Argh!

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  4. roughwighting

    Great questions here and good answers too! If contentment is not found, then a person will be unhappy. But laziness and inaction also lead to unhappiness. I need both. But I can enjoy neither contentment nor constructive work without imagination. Creativity and imagination makes life so much better. 💚

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  5. TanGental

    If you believe in the title then Aren’t you confusing contentment with indolence? I’m content with my life but part of that is having the time and freedom to learn more and develop. Part is writing books, which is probing a challenge but immensely satisfying. Overarching contentment as Pauline has it is not passive at all which is what the title appears to imply. And within that contentment there will be bits to change since that to me is the only way to stay content, by constant improvement. I’m sure you’ll put me right!!!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for putting me right, Geoff! The title was a question, intended to be open-ended rather than imply a position. I hoped it would stimulate thought and discussion, which it has! I’d never have thought of indolence as contentment. I can’t imagine I’d be too content in that frame of mind over a long term. An hour or two maybe, but as you say, there’s always more to do and learn. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and challenging mine!

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        1. Norah Post author

          You’re never rude, Geoff. I love that you share your ideas. That’s the whole point, isn’t it? If no one shared their ideas for fear of being rude, we wouldn’t have much of a conversation, would we? I appreciate hearing yours!

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  6. Annecdotist

    Good question, Norah, and I agree with you that we need a bit of both, although it can be a challenge finding the right things to be content about (very pertinent here right now as we face another general election this week).
    I think the kids in your flash have got it right in that they recognise their achievement before going on to make it even better. I think we can sometimes confuse wanting to do better for the sheer joy of it with a sense of needing to do better because what we’ve done isn’t good enough. Sometimes too much anxiety about our own contribution can block a genuine growth mindset.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Anne, Thanks for your comment. The results of your election are in and I’m not sure they’ve brought too much contentment, or indeed a growth mindset, to your nation.
      I like the way you summed up the importance of recognising achievement before improving on it. We do need to see the value in what we’ve done. Anxiety does block many things, including a growth mindset.

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  7. robbiesinspiration

    I really enjoyed this post, Norah. I giggled at your comment about parents doing children’s homework for them. Is that what I am doing wrong? I sat with Michael for 90 minutes last night until this stubborn boy did his homework (more or less) on his own. I need a parent to do it for him [wink!].

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Robbie. I’m pleased you enjoyed the post. I don’t know about doing anything wrong. I think many parents assist their children with homework. My Dad used to love doing our homework for us. I think he missed the opportunity for having an education himself and enjoyed being challenged by maths problems and creative with English homework. 90 minutes for homework! It’s far too long, isn’t it? Particularly when they’ve been at school all day. I think it’s great to have homework that encourages parents and children to work together e.g. read stories to each other, play games, explore the environment, research various things in the home. When home work is a chore for both, it doesn’t do much for the parent-child relationship, and certainly doesn’t encourage an interest in learning and school. I think positive relationships and attitudes to learning are more important than any item of set homework. It’s worth discussing with the teacher.

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      1. robbiesinspiration

        He doesn’t actually get that much homework. It is his naughtiness that makes it take so long. He just won’t sit down and get the work done. He spends about 20 minutes fiddling around for the right pen, etc. I have spoken to the teacher about it – she is a wonderful woman and teacher. I am trying to use a stop watch and a reward system. Thank you so much for your reply and interest. Luckily, Michael loves reading with me every night so that is much more enjoyable and rewarding.

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        1. Norah Post author

          That’s sound great, Robbie. You’ve got it all in order. I guess the 90 minutes was an aberration rather than a rule. Reading together is fun and a great way to build relationships and progress learning.

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  8. thecontentedcrafter

    Shall I tell you how much I wanted to leave just a question as a comment when I read the title of this post? “What is a growth mindset Norah?” 🙂

    But then you went and asked yourself what I might think of it 😀 That ruined my ask and run fun! I’ve decided instead to offer up my version of the word ‘contentment’ and let’s see if that fits with being ‘growth minded’. Hopefully you’ll tell me honestly what you think.

    Contentment, in my thinking, does not hinder development, investigation, questioning, changing, searching or even wishing. Contentment merely indicates that one is not in a frenzy of discontent or dissatisfaction while doing so. Life is all about change – and I would rather see things change up than down ….. if you know what I mean. The dictionary uses ‘satisfaction’ as a synonym for contentment – yet I would not apply that word to myself as it denotes a certain level of completeness that ‘contentment’ does not. I wonder if you agree with this thought? Contentment is an inner stance of being okay with oneself and one’s life, not confusing one’s inner sense of equilibrium with having this or getting that; being there or being here. No matter what needs to be done, or achieved, doing it calmly and peaceably seems to me to be more productive than going at it hammer and tongs and being angry or upset that things aren’t perfect yet.. I am so in agreement with Einstein’s famous concept that imagination is more important than knowledge and I also think that contentment – or inner peace – is more important than material wealth. I am a work in progress and I know that – hopefully tomorrow I will be a better version of me, but if not, I’ll try again the next day. My personal growth is important to me, as an artist, as a human being and as an older role model. I’m the only person I can change. I’ll keep working on that!

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    1. Norah Post author

      I’m so sorry to ruin your fun, Pauline! Yes, indeed. What is a growth mindset? I guess it is one that doesn’t accept we are limited by “given” abilities, but can always work hard to improve. It is one that doesn’t accept that the first attempt is the best we can do, and that no improvements can be made. When I asked how you might respond, I was thinking of your recent series of posts about changes you made to a particular piece of art. Any one of iterations (except maybe the totally black), would have more than satisfied me, but you continued to stretch your creative powers until your finished product was absolute joy.
      I totally agree with your version of contentment, and find the idea of personal growth and improvement to be not incompatible with it, rather essential to it.
      Thank you for sharing your wisdom on this. I was hoping my title may stir a few responses, though I think I gave a similar point of view, if not quite so eloquently, in my post. Yes, I do agree with you! 🙂

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  9. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Your stories show you to be an accomplished “kid watcher”, an important aspect of being an effective teacher. Necessity and frustrations may be the mothers of invention, but don’t content people make more lasting, universal art? Like this beautiful sand space ship? Ode to the mothercraft!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you D. Yes, I have to say, watching young children is one of my favourite past-times. They are so amazing. I wish I could access just a little of their joy, energy, imagination, and creativity. You’re right. I think we need a little of both – maybe imagination more than frustration. Thank you for your kind words about my story.

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