Growth Mindset & Emotional Regulation: Easier Said Than Done

I just wanted to give up.

May 11, 2019

I’d like to tell you a story where life was frustrating and tough.

I’m an educator who has to teach my sixth-grade students about growth mindset, emotional regulation, and optimistic thinking (many times a day I may add). This past April, I found an experience that made it very difficult to practice what I preach.

Over Easter weekend, I had the opportunity to go skiing in world renown Jasper National Park, located about 4 hours outside of Edmonton, Canada. When my cousin inquired if I was interested in the ski trip, I couldn’t say no. Skiing in Jasper was an opportunity I couldn’t resist. This was a big deal, as it would be my first time skiing in two years! I had some slight nerves, as I’m no professional skier, but I was excited.

We had a beautiful day to go skiing and our first few runs were wonderful. It had been a while since I last skied, so there was some wobble in a couple of areas, but for the most part, it was like getting back on a bike.

However, “getting back on the bike” did not quite go the same way when we decided to go through a run of trees.

If I’m honest here, I had very little business going into these trees, but of course, Adventuring-Riley rummaged through the trees.

At approximately three-quarters of the way through the trees, I had a moment when I realized how fast I was going. From the perspective of an avid skier, I was probably not going too fast, but I felt like I needed to slow down.

Using my intermediate skiing skills, I attempted to slow down in the narrow set of trees. This attempt to slow down ended up in a minor crash with the spring snow on the forest floor. Dazed, I got up and noticed that one of my skis had fallen off my foot (a normal occurrence in a day of skiing for me).

However, it was not until I got up fully that I saw my ski had not only fallen off, but the ski binding had completely broken off of the ski.

Completely. Broken. Off.

Since I broke this ski, many people have asked why it broke, and to this day I have no clue. Perhaps it was old? Perhaps I fell in the wrong place at the wrong time? And perhaps it was something completely different? The fact remains that the ski broke.

This was devastating news for me, as the skis weren’t mine, and they weren’t even rentals. They were borrowed from a friend of my cousin. This was frustrating. I fell and then broke the belongings of someone else. It was safe to say that I was very embarrassed.

That was my word of the day. Embarrassed.

In addition to this embarrassment, it was not until I exited the trees that I remembered that I was still halfway up the mountain with a broken ski that I didn’t own.

Do you see how the frustration might have been piling up? I was no longer frustrated, I was infuriated.

This is where my first piece of emotional regulation needed to kick in.

I was truly ticked off. I knew I had a choice, as I often remind my students. I could choose to be outwardly ticked off and let my emotions control my actions. I could have thrown my ski out of anger, yelled or used profanity.

I had to take a deep breath and choose to not to let my anger take over my actions and my ski day. I had to choose to regulate my emotions to put myself into a place where I could first, get off the ground, and second, get down the mountain.

This was tough. Really tough.

I want to recognize that I believe there is a place for every emotion. I have a Mood Meter in my classroom to help teach this to students. However, all emotions, even manic, need to be regulated into a place where we can continue with our life.

In my skiing case, I believe I was rightfully angry. However, there was a larger task at hand, and I needed to, somehow, continue with my ski day.

Once I got back onto the slope, my cousin graciously offered to carry my broken ski to the base as he snowboarded down. Meanwhile, my job was to get down the mountain on one ski.

I am very familiar with James Bond, so I knew for a fact that he was able to ski on only one ski (see 2:40 of the video) with no problems. How hard could it be?

Turns out it is very difficult. I wasn’t really able to ski with my intermediate expertise. Instead, I had to shuffle down the mountain, pushing with my right ski boot, bracing myself with my left ski pole, and occasionally falling and bruising my tailbone.

Again, this was frustrating.

At many times during this adventure down the mountain, I was ready to throw in the towel. I just wanted to give up, walk, and go home. These thoughts are a pure fixed mindset, according to Carol Dweck, the growth mindset guru.

Instead of being afraid of my mistakes and embarrassments, I needed to embrace them.

I needed to stop worrying about what people saw when they saw me shuffling down the mountain, and I needed to see me falling on my butt to be a way of learning how to shuffle properly.

I had to be optimistic.

I hadn’t hurt myself, which is good and in fact, a skier with a badly injured knee had been transported past me in a sled while I was shuffling. I had to be thankful that I was not hurt. The broken ski was a minor problem when compared to an injury.

Since I was on the brink of anger and embarrassment, this was much easier said than done. This is where I realized that what I’m teaching my students, although in a less intense situation, is easier said than done. This is not to say that it shouldn’t be taught, it should, but it should also be practiced by teachers in their own lives.

It was actually the thought of my students that motivated me to keep going. I kept telling myself, “if I can teach growth mindset to my students, I can do it too.”

In the end, I made it down the mountain on one ski, and I’m darn proud of it.

But the story goes on…

Once at the base of the mountain, the ski rental people deemed the broken ski unfixable.

Great. Another hiccup. This meant splashing out some more cash to rent, which was not my number one choice. However, it was really our only option. Again, this needed some emotional regulation.

After a hectic hour of falling, breaking skis, and renting skis, my cousin and I decided to take a much-needed lunch break.

Food makes everything better. I think we should teach this in our classes also.

Finally, we made it back to the top of the lift and we were ready for a new fresh run at the slopes. I was on my recently rented skis, our spirits were renewed, and we were off.

Again, I was not quick down the ski hill, as I was still getting used to being on skis again after two years of hiatus. My cousin, on the other hand, is much faster than me, and he zipped down the mountain.

While he waited for me to ski down, he went through some scenic routes with trees.

As I got nearer, I saw him in the trees and I heard a loud “ahhhh, that’s not good, that’s not good.”

All I knew was that whatever happened, it was not good.

20 minutes later, we were in our car driving to the Seaton Medical Centre in Jasper. We were accompanied by the clip-clop of other ski boots that had walked in requesting injury treatment.

So we began the Canadian Emergency Room waiting game. My cousin’s wife and I waited and waited, and after 6 hours of patient sitting, 3 rounds of X-rays, we were finally able to go on our 4 hour drive back to Alberta Beach.

Even after the hospital took many X-rays there were inconclusive results, meaning the injury could be really bad. It ended up being a good thing that we stopped skiing that day, but it sure took a growth mindset, a positive outlook, and lots of deep regulating breaths.

To this day, I’m still convicted that we must teach our students a proper mindset and proper emotional regulation strategies. In my own case here, I found out how difficult it can be, but also how important it can be.

I’ll be sure to share this story with my students. I can share that I had to do exactly what I was teaching them.

Besides, you never know when you’ll break your skis, break your ankle, spend six hours in a hospital, and drive four hours home. These mindset tips may come in handy.

Thanks for reading @MrRileyDueck