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First Time For Everything

First Time For Everything

By Tania Tetrault Vrga

My son just came up to me and declared very matter-of-factly that the capital of Bhutan is Timphu.

I had no idea but I checked it out and turns out he’s right. He’s four years old. I’d say that’s impressive, especially considering he already knows all the Canadian provinces and capitals, all the US states and capitals, the countries and capitals of North America, South America, and Europe. He gets so excited to learn new things. The best thing about our little exchange isn’t that he actually learned the capital of Bhutan, it’s that it was something new for him, it was the first time he was able to commit this to memory. He clapped his hands and declared “First Time! First Time!”

Once again, I learned a valuable lesson from my toddler son.

He could have dwelled on all the countries of Africa he hasn’t learned yet, but instead, he’s focusing on the process of learning. Without even knowing what it is, he has adopted a growth mindset.  The term “growth mindset”, coined by author and researcher Carol Dweck, refers to the belief that talent and genetics are just a starting point and that basic abilities can be acquired through hard work and dedication. This is in stark contrast to a more traditional fixed mindset that assumes that our accomplishments come from some innate source of natural aptitude.

As a parent, it’s a challenge to maintain the growth mindset.

How do I refrain from telling my son what a whiz he is? Instead of complimenting some fixed trait such as talent or intelligence, which he has no control over, I strive to encourage the process of learning itself. I applaud and get as excited as he does every time he learns something for the “First Time”.

In the gym, a growth mindset can keep us from telling ourselves silly stories about why we can’t get the results we want.

There are a million different “fixed mindset” excuses standing between us and fitness. I can tell myself I’m not athletic. I can give up on running or rowing because I’m short. I can avoid lifting weights because I’m uncoordinated. These stories don’t serve me, and they hold me back from making progress. If instead of complaining about my limitations, I strive to change the things that I can control, I can expect to progress despite those limitations.

Progress is the name of the game when it comes to growth.

At North Star Fitness, we have a weekly practice called Bright Spots. Bright Spots is the adult version of my son’s “First Time” ritual. We celebrate everything from a first full range of motion squat, a first push-up or chin-up, to a personal best on a run or a lift. We also celebrate firsts like a streak of 5 days of workouts in a row, or accumulating 100 workouts over the course of the year. Bright spots are simply a way to implement the growth mindset in the context of fitness. This practice allows us to see role models all around us, and opens us up to the possibility of becoming role models ourselves. Fitness really is about everyday people doing extra-ordinary things.


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