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Copyright: 2012 Australian Institute of Professional Counsellors

Institute Inbrief - 03/02/2016


Welcome to Edition 240 of Institute Inbrief! Nearly four decades of research has shown that intelligence is not fixed as scientists used to think; rather, people can develop their brains like a muscle if they put in the effort. People who do that – persisting despite obstacles – can be said to have a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset and they enjoy significantly more success than their fixed-minded peers. In this edition’s featured article, we define and compare these two kinds of mindsets, and outline the benefits of developing a growth mindset.
Also in this edition:
  • Latest news and updates
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  • Wellness tips
  • Social media review
Enjoy your reading!
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Our 2016 Semester 1 intake for our Bachelor and Master of Counselling is about to close. Places are strictly limited in both courses, so please express your interest early. The programs are all government Fee-Help approved, so you can learn now and pay later.
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Imagine Being Passionate About Your Work
And Assisting People Every Day Lead Better Lives
It’s rare these days to hear people talk about their work with true passion. You hear so many stories of people working to pay the bills; putting up with imperfect situations; and compromising on their true desires. That’s why it’s always so refreshing to hear regular stories from graduates living their dream to be a Counsellor. They’re always so full of energy, enthusiasm and passion. There’s no doubt that counselling is one of the most personally rewarding and enriching professions.
Just imagine someone comes to you for assistance. They’re emotionally paralysed by events in their life. They can’t even see a future for themselves. They can only focus on their pain and grief. The despair is so acute it pervades their entire life. Their relationship is breaking down and heading towards a divorce. They can’t focus on work and are getting in trouble with their boss. They feel they should be able to handle their problems alone, but know they can’t. It makes them feel helpless, worthless. Their self-esteem has never been lower. They’re caught in a cycle of destruction and pain.
Now imagine you have the knowledge and skills to help this person overcome their challenges. You assist to relieve their intense emotional pain. You give them hope for the future. You assist to rebuild their self-esteem and lead a satisfying, empowered life. As a Counsellor you can experience these personal victories every day. And it’s truly enriching. There is nothing more fulfilling than helping another person overcome seemingly impossible obstacles.
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Fixed vs Growth Mindsets
“A few modern philosophers assert than an individual’s intelligence is a fixed quantity, a quantity which cannot be increased. We must protest and react against this brutal pessimism. ... With practice, training, and above all, method, we manage to increase our attention, our memory, our judgment and literally to become more intelligent than we were before.”
(Alfred Binet in the early 1900s, translated by Heisler, 1984)
Nearly four decades of research has shown that intelligence is not fixed as scientists used to think; rather, people can develop their brains like a muscle if they put in the effort. People who do that – persisting despite obstacles – can be said to have a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset and they enjoy significantly more success than their fixed-minded peers. In this article, we define and compare these two kinds of mindsets, and outline the benefits of developing a growth mindset.
So what is a mindset? We define it as a mental attitude that determines how you will interpret and respond to situations (WordNet Search 3.1, n.d.)
Mindsets are held together by beliefs: beliefs about yourself and your most basic qualities, beliefs about the world, and beliefs about what is possible to change and what is not. For example, when you think about your intelligence, your personality, or your moral character, do you believe that these aspects of yourself are fixed – “givens” carved in stone that you are “stuck” with for all your life? Or do you suspect that, with the right experiences and effort, some of these qualities could change?
Through her many decades of systematic research, author Carol Dweck has been figuring out why some people achieve their potential and others don’t. The key, she discovered, is not ability; rather, it’s whether the person views ability as something innate (which must be demonstrated) or something flexible, which can be developed (Dweck, 2010b). Let’s look at the two contrasting types of mindsets generated from those beliefs.
The fixed mindset
“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
(Albert Einstein/Austin, 2015)
In this way of viewing one’s intelligence, potential, and other attributes, intelligence is static. People who hold a fixed mindset think, “Well, that’s the way I am, and that’s that”: seemingly “smart” or “dumb”, they believe that that is their lot in life; there is no “wriggle room” for change, growth or development. A belief that you have a fixed level of intelligence leads you to certain ways of playing the game of life:
You have a performance orientation. If you think you cannot ever be smarter than what you are right now, but you still want to look smart (which just about all of us do), then obviously the name of the game is showing how smart you are: again and again, at every opportunity. Certain ways of behaving go along with this.
You avoid challenges. Obviously, the point of a challenge is that it’s something difficult. Success is not necessarily assured, so fixed-mindset players don’t generally take on the risk of failing and therefore negatively impacting their carefully-crafted self-image. If you are in this camp, you will stick with what you know for sure that you can do well.
You give up easily in the face of obstacles. Again, there is logic in this behaviour. If you think that, no matter what you do you will still be stuck with your, say, “average” brain, then you may very well conclude that the obstacle confronting you is not something your mind could undertake to solve. If you don’t have enough “smarts” to solve it at first glance, why waste time searching for a solution to a problem that you are ultimately going to be incapable of solving? Rather, you will look for excuses to explain why the external forces that got in your way were simply too powerful.
You do not put in effort. If the issue is around practicing something until you gain mastery, you are likely to think, “Well, if I were a ‘natural’ with ‘the right stuff’, I would be able to do this right away.” It seems there is no point in putting in effort, because even if you practice, you will still only be “ok” and not “great” if you have determined that you have a “fixed” level of skill. The night owls among us can be grateful that Thomas Edison, who invented the light bulb, didn’t take that approach; he tried around 2000 times before making the first successful bulb! Any bets on how good Lionel Messi or Stephen Curry, two of the world’s most skilled athletes (in football/soccer and basketball, respectively), were at controlling the ball when they started, compared to where they are now?
You avoid criticism. With a fixed mind-set you would tend to confuse negative feedback about a particular performance or capability with criticism of you as a person. Being criticised at our core is scary, so most people who cling to this way of doing life tend to ignore negative feedback, or else feel insulted by it. The problem is that feedback is the breakfast of champions, so once we have discouraged people from giving it to us, we become starved of the information – isolated from external influences – that could generate some positive change.
You feel threatened by others’ success. Subscribing to a fixed mindset means that others’ triumphs are cause for concern; their demonstrated capacity to prevail seems to make you look bad by comparison. What is the logical response? Such a player will usually try to convince him/herself that the other person’s success was due to “luck” or to actions which were somehow “bad”: lacking integrity, unfair, or an illusion. Some fixed-mindset proponents are known to tarnish the reputations of their rivals.
The combined result of this ego-protecting way of doing life is that fixed-mindset players often plateau early, achieving less than their full potential. They then use that result to confirm their deterministic view of the world, as in: “See? I knew I didn’t really have that great of a brain/tennis skill/musical ability/business nous, etc.” (Richard, 2007)
There is, we now know, another choice. You can subscribe to the growth mindset instead.
Growth mindset
“Don’t be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment.”
(Ralph Waldo Emerson/Austin, 2015)
Membership in this mindset means that you believe intelligence can be developed, that the brain is like a muscle that can be trained. The consequence of that belief is that you will have a desire to improve. You will typically do this in several ways.
You grab onto challenges. Where your fixed-mindset peers are terrified of challenges (which might show them in an unfavourable light), you embrace them, knowing that – when you come out on the other side of them – you are stronger, an improved version of yourself.
You keep on in the face of setbacks. You aren’t discouraged by external obstacles because your sense of yourself and your self-esteem is not tied to how successful you look in others’ eyes. Because you see “failure” as an opportunity to learn, you win no matter the outcome is: whether the setbacks are overcome or not.
You see effort as necessary to master skills. Rather than avoiding effort as pointless, you realise that it is necessary in order to grow towards mastery of the skills you wish to have.
You take on criticism and negative feedback. You have a sense of who you are, so you know: criticism and negative feedback is “just information.” When comments are useful, you integrate them, know that through them you can change and improve. You don’t generally regard criticism as a reflection of the essence of you. Rather, it is a statement about your current capabilities – which can change.
You find inspiration and information in others’ success. Rather than feeling threatened or diminished by the success of peers and others, you celebrate it, seeing what you can learn from it. Others’ gains are not your losses (Richard, 2007).
The benefits of a growth mindset
When you believe that your abilities are malleable and can be developed, you experience these important advantages:
You can forget about how smart you are. You become oriented toward actual learning rather than trying to look like you have learned stuff. Think about it: if you know you can be getting smarter by putting in effort on some challenging problems, why would you waste time merely trying to look good? When you have a growth mindset, you realise that putting in the hard yards on actual tasks – not on contriving to look smart – will get you smarter.
You are encouraged to try things, and to keep on trying. In taking on a growth mindset, you allow yourself to be challenged by some meaty problems. You come to enjoy the effort of applying your resources to a problem and feel smart when you are involved in something. Putting in effort is a natural and enjoyable thing to do.
You embrace mistakes and setbacks. You come to understand that errors and setbacks are an inevitable part of learning, so instead of fearing them, you welcome them, capitalise on them, and grow from them. You know that they do not reflect poorly on your intelligence or ability (Dweck, 2012).
With a growth mindset, you get better at doing things, which generates positive feedback to you. Getting that, you are encouraged to learn and improve still more. With the growth mindset, you can make dynamic strides in performance.
The impact of growth mindsets
Carol Dweck and her colleagues have done much research examining the differences between people who adopt a growth mindset and those who have a fixed mindset. Here is some of what they have found.
With a growth mindset, you are predicted to be more motivated and have greater achievement
For two years, Dweck and her colleague Lisa Blackwell and others followed some students beginning Year 7. They found that, although all the students had experienced similar past achievement in maths, those who had been determined to have growth mindsets were more motivated to learn and exert effort, and outperformed those with a fixed mindset in maths. This gap continued to increase over the two years of the study period (Dweck, 2012)
A growth mindset boosts your motivation and achievement
Blackwell and colleagues also conducted a study with adolescents in which they divided the students into two groups for a workshop on brain and study. Half of the students were taught about the stages of memory. The other half received training in the growth mindset: that is, how they could grow their brains with learning to make them smarter, and how they could apply this idea to their schoolwork. Three times as many students in the growth mindset showed an increase in effort and engagement as those in the memory group. After the training, the memory group’s grades continued to go down, whereas those in the growth mindset group showed a rebound in their grades (Dweck, 2012).
Growth mindset training helps girls narrow the gap in maths achievement with boys
A third study of teenagers – again divided into a group who received growth mindset training and a group who received other training – showed that the growth mindset training group had significant increases in their math and verbal achievement test scores. Even more interesting, girls don’t normally perform as well on maths tests as boys, but the growth mindset training girls narrowed the gap in maths, coming closer to the boys’ achievement (Dweck, 2012).
Austin, A. (2015). Practical savvy: Solutions to everyday problems. Retrieved on 23 December, 2015, from: hyperlink.
Dweck, C. (2012). Motivate students to grow their minds. Mindset Works, Inc.. Retrieved on 23 December, 2015, from: hyperlink.
Richard, M.G. (2007). Fixed mindset vs. growth mindset: Which one are you? Retrieved on 23 December, 2015, from: hyperlink.
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Unconventional Productivity
There isn’t a productivity guide in the world that will solve the problems that pretty much all of us face daily. I’m the same as you — I face these obstacles to getting stuff done:
  • Doing busywork, instead of important work.
  • Going to distractions instead of doing difficult work.
  • Being tired and not feeling like tackling hard tasks.
These are all really the same problem: when you have important but difficult tasks to do, you run to distractions, or do busywork, or just goof off because you don’t have the energy.
I deal with this every day, and I don’t always solve it. But what if we could dive into this problem, and figure out what was going on? We’d be masters of the universe.
Pause Training
In truth, we face this problem of running from discomfort all the time, but we just don’t normally see it happening. This is why meditation is such a great training ground for the mind — you sit there and have nothing to do but notice the mind running from the discomfort of the present moment. Over and over. And in time, you learn how to work with this.
So I suggest you use your important tasks as meditation training, so that you’ll learn to work with the discomfort that arises. Here’s how:
  1. Pick one important task you really should get done today.
  2. Clear space in front of you to do this task. Close the browser, or all browser tabs except the one you need to deal with this. Shut off the phone, clear everything else away, focus your mind on this one task.
  3. Sit there and do the task.
  4. Watch your mind want to run.
Now we’re going to do “pause training,” where instead of running from the discomfort, you pause. Breathe. Turn your attention to this discomfort — it might be fear, frustration, uncertainty, self-doubt, tiredness. Drop your story about this discomfort, and just notice how it feels physically, in your body. Where is this feeling of discomfort located? What quality does it have?
You’ll notice that the discomfort actually doesn’t feel that bad, even though you habitually want to run from it. It’s just energy. It’s not actually good or bad, but just energy that’s in your body, one that you normally don’t want to have and normally judge as “bad.”
Try this pause training for yourself. It won’t work to just read about it, you have to work with it. Get to know it, become intimate with it.
Unconventional Productivity
Once you’ve started to work with the discomfort, you’ll see that it’s No Big Deal. Nothing to worry about. It’s just a feeling, just energy. You’ll relax a little around it. Try to develop a friendly attitude toward it, instead of being harsh on yourself. Just notice, just smile, just breathe, just be gentle.
How do you turn this No Big Deal into productivity? Here’s a system to try:
  1. Set your 3 Most Important Tasks (MITs) every morning, first thing when you start work. List a few other “should do’s” after that, but focus on the MITs first.
  2. Pick one of the MITs, and clear space to do it. Before you check email.
  3. Do some pause training. Notice when you want to run from this task, pause, investigate the physical feeling of discomfort with gentleness, friendliness and curiosity.
  4. Set a heart intention. When you relax into the discomfort, and see it’s not a big deal, set an intention around the task — are you doing it to improve your life, to do something good for someone else, to help the world? Find the heart in your intention — it’s ultimately coming out of love. Say to yourself, “It is my intention to do this task out of love for __” (fill in the blank: yourself, someone else, the world, etc.).
  5. Work with love. Open your heart and do this task with the love that comes out of your intention. Notice when you’re feeling discomfort and want to switch to something else, relax, do pause training if you need to, and then start again.
  6. Take breaks. Every 10-15 minutes, get up and walk around. Stretch. Drink water. Check in with yourself and see how you’re doing. Then return to the task or pick another MIT.
You won’t be perfect at this, so don’t expect perfection. Just work with it, gently, and you’ll get better and better with practice.
Written by Leo Babauta
This article was originally published on Zen Habits. Zen Habits is about finding simplicity in the daily chaos of our lives. It’s about clearing the clutter so we can focus on what’s important, create something amazing, find happiness. For more, visit
Counselling Sexual and Gender Minorities: Three Key Issues
To come into relationship with the notion that one is – and probably has always been – different from the “norm” of heterosexuality is for many individuals a terrifying experience, bringing with it a plethora of social, interpersonal, intrapersonal, employment, and sometimes religious and legal issues. Once the dawning of awareness has happened, however, few feel like it is possible to go back to the pre-dawn consciousness of attempting to engage life as before. Most wish to continue the journey of authenticity, finding out how to be in life as their inner identities dictate. Many will desire assistance from counsellors, psychotherapists, and psychologists for this journey. Yet how many mental health helpers are prepared (as in: qualified, skilled, experienced, and willing) to work with this population?
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Hard-wired to connect: Mirror neurons and empathy
Many people have suspected for a long time that we human beings are designed to be able to experience things happening for another person: in good times or in bad. So we see a stranger clumsily bump their head on a low-hanging branch at the park, and we flinch, too. We hear that a friend has gotten some good news about a medical diagnosis, and we are genuinely happier. Yet although we have suspected this – and even have words, such as empathy and clairsentience, to describe it – it was not until 1992 that science could demonstrate how it happens, and even then it was a serendipitous discovery.
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E-therapy: A Look at the Benefits
Most of us would not have pursued a career in mental health helping (broadly including here counselling, psychotherapy, psychology, social work, and psychiatry) if we were not aware of and keen to extend to those in need the many benefits that the face-to-face therapeutic encounter brings. Accustomed to this format, we can easily dismiss online technologies as a viable way of delivering professional health services. But let’s look for a moment at what we would be dismissing. Note: the following list of benefits does not include those emanating strictly from interactions with clients vis-a-vis social media sites.
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