I find that an important part of my happiness is living from a “white belt” or “learning mindset. I’ve been practicing the martial arts for more than 50 years, and hold the rank of eighth-degree black belt, but have always believed the belt simply holds up my pants. I stand by the philosophy, “Always a student and never a master.” I always have something to learn, right? I love to learn, and never really cared about appearing smart. The teacher could count on me to be the first in class to raise my hand and ask a question. I figured if I was a good learner, I would become smarter in the process. This philosophy promotes growth on all fronts, and I am dedicated to the process.
This learning mindset is based on the intent to be a better version of me each day. I do so with a clearly defined set of core values, such as integrity, discipline and respect. I apply these to any situation I face. My goal is not to be too set in my ways because it hinders my ability to learn what I need from that situation. It can stop me from gaining the right information that could lead me to a better me.
To cultivate the learning and growth to live to my full potential, my thinking must remain fluid, not fixed. A fluid mindset grows by choice, habit and action. It evolves from recognizing the bad habits that inhibit growth and replacing them with good ones. A Learning Mindset is about clearly defining my core values and realizing my purpose in this world. Again, this mindset is a way of thinking that is in a constant state of flux. It is ever fluid like water, with the disposition to learn, adapt and grow with life’s many challenges, to overcome them and become a better person.
That is why I make the constant effort to create and live in a mindset where I can always do better and be a better person. It promotes the desire to learn constantly, and is crucial to facilitating growth.
A mindset of complacency has the opposite effect. It narrows my vision into believing that my way is the only way, and that the world has nothing to teach me. This mindset is debilitating and inhibits my growth because it is fed by ego and insecurity.
A Learning Mindset also offers me the best potential to succeed. It lets me to see things from many perspectives, not just my own. It provides me with valuable input and varied information to help me form beliefs and make the right choices. This mindset promotes constant growth, which is in alignment with the person I aspire to be.
For me, making the change to a growth or learning mindset took peeling away several unhealthy core beliefs. It didn’t happen all at once. My peeling away of these beliefs and the behaviors that went with them happened over time—it was a series of life experiences that showed me the way to get to the next level of being a better me. I say it all the time, “I do some of my best learning and growing lying flat on my face.”
A growth or learning mindset is a choice. With every life experience, good or bad, I make the choice whether to be negatively affected by those experiences or to learn from them. What best facilitates this for me is to practice being humble. It encourages me to embrace all of life’s experiences as opportunities to learn and grow, which then helps influence the person I strive to be.
Having grown up with little, humility came easy to me. Some would call it “humble beginnings,” but we just called it “poor.” Having to wear secondhand clothing, not getting presents on Christmas most years, and never celebrating our birthdays, my sisters and I knew how to be humble. There was no room for ego in our impoverished environment.
Today, I have taken what some would view as the short end of the stick in life, and have worked it to my advantage. Because I grew up with so little, it is easy for me to be grateful for what I have. I embrace the simple pleasures in life and am easily appreciative of the smallest things people do for me.
My mindset is in a constant state of change, and I choose where it will sit from moment to moment. I accept that I am not responsible for what happens to me but I am responsible for how I choose to act on it. My desire is to base all my decisions on a healthy foundation of learning. That is why it is so important to commit to learning and practicing life skills for a healthy mindset. It enables me to live in balance consistently, regardless of circumstances.
A learning mindset is also a balanced mindset—founded on the equal enrichment of the mind, body and spirit; this is the only way to find sustainable happiness. This balance recognizes that the way to happiness is the journey inward, where my true self lives. This self is free of all the preconditioned beliefs and values fed to me from outside influences. My commitment to a balanced mindset is where happiness lives. It allows me to reach my full potential.
Consider the holiday classic, A Christmas Carol. Scrooge was miserable and disconnected from humanity because he was so consumed by greed and his past fears. “Bah, humbug!” was Scrooge’s response to everything positive. But then Scrooge was made to reflect on his past, present and future to help him learn that he was wasting his life and missing out on true happiness and the joy of giving.
A learning mindset is about living free from the past, without fear of an unknown future, and to be fully present in the moment. I remind myself constantly that the present is called just that because it’s a gift. Being grateful for every bit of life we are given, challenges and all, takes incredible courage and yields phenomenal results.
Someone who is learning is happier than someone who believes they have nothing left to learn. I believe that if I am learning, I am growing. If I am growing, I am living, and that makes me happy!