006A. The Positive Growth Mindset: Learning How to Learn

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Key Quote:

“This is the basic skill – learning how to learn. Adopting a positive growth mindset, believing that your potential can be altered, believing that you can change and become better.” – Andrew Gilley

Episode Summary:

In this episode, we sit down with co-host Andrew Gilley, who shares his personal battle with depression that started when he was just a teenager. He reveals how his struggles affected his self-esteem and created feelings of worthlessness that lingered within him.

As Andrew stepped into the adult world, moving from high school to college, the weight of his responsibilities and the symptoms of depression started to bear heavily on him. Stuck in what he calls a ‘fixed growth mindset’, Andrew felt that his potential was capped by his mental illness.

But his story takes a turn in a surprising place – a physics class. Here, Andrew began to see potential differently, not as a pre-determined destiny, but as something that can be shaped through dedication and hard work.

Armed with this empowering shift in mindset, Andrew discovered a new passion – philosophy. His love for this subject played a pivotal role in helping him navigate life’s obstacles and challenges.

So, join us for this engaging episode, and witness how Andrew’s journey from despair to resilience can inspire all of us to rethink our own potential.

Full Transcript:

[00:00:00] Andrew Gilley: Picture this: you’re depressed and heading to college. You’ve been told you’re smart a lot, but you don’t feel like it. Some things come to you easily, but a lot of things don’t. There’s tension between who you feel like you are and who you’re told you are. You’re worried as you’re as good as you’re gonna get.

You’re stuck inside yourself. In today’s Self-Help Podcast episode, I’m going to describe the conflict between my self-image and my potential that started with my journey from high school to college. And then, talk about how this story opened up a larger journey into mind shifts and the impact this had on my life.

And then, I will reflect on why this story is a valuable lesson on adopting positive growth mindset and a large of a role that mindset can play in our lives. Welcome to Surviving Humanity: A Self-Help Podcast, where we shift your perspective to help you overcome the obstacles in your life. We are Wesley Jackson and Andrew Gilley, and we hope to foster a sense of connection and community over our common struggles while providing you with the tools to overcome them.

As always, our FacebookSubreddit, and Twitter are the best places to go over community, connection, and support. Links to these are in the show notes.

Now, let’s get started.

So, as I’ve mentioned before, I began to struggle with depression as a teenager. Before that I was always a good kid in school, not straight A’s, but I was pretty good.

But I began struggling dramatically when symptoms hit when I was 13. I was dealing with issues of thoughts and depression, and I had never encountered anything like that before. I started having failing grades in some of my classes, which is when my parents started to notice. I went to therapy, which helped. But I never got that excitement about school back.

You know, I had this diagnosis now. I had something different. And, you know, depression really reeks traffic on this sort of thing. I never really thought that I would get back to where I was going to be. Or where I used to be.

And given that depression just causes low self-esteem, I was ready to believe that just how I was now. I was a bright kid, who had his capabilities ruined by mental illness. I thought it was over for me. I felt scared, alone, confused. I didn’t think anyone would help me or could even. You still see the sentiment today.

A lot of self-described formerly gifted kids feel very burnt out and a lot of people, when they have mental illness, when they figure out what’s going on with their mind, they really don’t know how to go forward. And I didn’t know how to go forward and I just felt like I was broken and flawed. I finished out high school with good grades, not great.

Then, I got into college. It wasn’t really the academics that got me though. I struggled a little with it. It was that I had to take care of myself, which is not really something I’d never done before. I never had to self-organize, you know. Now, living on my own, in a dorm room, I had to get myself up.

That’s not easy. I have chronic insomnia and, you know, sometimes I would just not sleep. I had to get myself to class, feed myself. Again, I had low appetite. I didn’t naturally get hungry. I would forget to eat a lot. I was struggling with a bunch of new responsibilities I’ve never had before. And these are all very basic things, and that just made me feel worse because it made me feel even less capable because, you know, I saw all the other students having an easier time with this than I was.

Some of them might have been having a difficult time that I couldn’t see, but I was not really able to get where I needed to be because I was so depressed. And because I had a fixed growth mindset, I assumed that this was all that I could do. And a fixed growth mindset is when you adopt an idea of your own potential, that you have an X amount of potential.

And that’s all you’re going to have. You know, there’s a little bit of wiggle room, but certain people are better than other people at certain things. And that’s just how it is. And your, you know, your potential is capped out. And I sort of had just accepted this for a long time because I’d seen it all around me, you know.

It’s like, “Oh, I’m just not a dieting person.”

Or, “Oh, I’m just not a reader.”

Or, “Oh, I’m just not, you know. I am not a smart person.”

You hear people say these things all the time. You hear people resign themselves to the stereotypes they’ve been dealt. Whether that’s from themselves or from family or from the media or anything like that.

People just assume that their growth is fixed, that they’re just the sort of person they are, and that’s it. I’ve heard from many people, “I’m not the sort of person who exercises.”

This is a fixed growth mindset that your potential is limited in that direction. Some people can exercise, some people just can’t, and that’s the way it is.

This is a very limiting mindset, and when trapped inside depression, it made me very afraid and it made things very difficult for me. I didn’t think I could get organized. I didn’t think I was ever gonna be able to get it together. I thought I was just permanently saddled with this, without being able to do anything.

And the transition from high school to university is tough for anyone, but it was particularly tough for me. And I’m just going to read a list of depression symptoms here to give you an idea of how this would intensify the struggles I was going through.

Feelings of sadness.

Emptiness or hopelessness.

Angry outbursts.

Irritability or frustration. Loss of interest or pleasure. Sleep disturbances.

Lack of energy.

Reduced or increased appetite.


Slowed thinking.

Speaking and body movements.

Feelings of worthlessness or guilt.

Trouble thinking.


Making decisions and remembering things.

Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death and unexplained physical problems like back pain or headaches.

These are all never ideal things. You never really want any of these, but transitioning from high school to college in a competitive academic environment really makes a lot of these hurt more. Loss of interest when you’re supposed to be finding your life goal is rough. Lack of energy is difficult when you have to take care of yourself and spend more energy doing that than ever before.

Trouble thinking and concentrating. Well, if I thought my potential was lowered before, this only exacerbated it. I thought I was really never gonna be able to focus on anything, and these weren’t tanking my grades or anything, but I felt lethargic all the time. I felt slow. I felt kind of incapable and I was breaking down kind of all the time.

Not just because I was so stressed out, but because I thought I was always going to be. Because I thought this was it, I thought I was just going to be miserable for the rest of my life because that was just how I was. I mean, there’s only so much I could do. I began going to my university’s counseling center, which was really helpful but the thing is that at that time, counseling, what we were doing was just focusing on my immediate thing.

That was the priority. I needed to get to class on time. I needed to eat. I needed to sleep. We weren’t talking as much about growth or mindset or anything like that. We were going on my immediate issues and the medication I was on was okay at best.

We were treating my depression there. We were treating the acute symptoms, but as a chronic symptom, I still felt like a fundamentally broken person. And beating your head against a wall, you know, doesn’t really work in real life. That’s what I tried. I’ve tried to force myself to be better, and that’s a frustrating thing to try to do with mental illness because you can’t just muscle through everything all the time.

You can’t ask for somebody with no energy to run a marathon and mental exhaustion blocks are just as formidable. The body and mind influence each other. They form a feedback loop where your mental fatigue from depression or any other sort of mental illness will make your body more tired and vice versa.

The worse your body feels, the worse your mood is going to feel. So these things feed into each other, that make. I had some coping skills that helped, you know. From my previous therapist, and, you know, my friends were very helpful. They were getting me to eat and sleep and things of that nature ’cause they had a more normal schedule.

I had some semblance. I wasn’t drowning. And I think that’s important because you can feel like you’re drowning even when you aren’t. And I think this fixed growth mindset as part of that, because you sort of trap yourself because you think you can’t do any better. I felt like I just had to survive college.

It was a tough time. I felt as though I cheated my way in. It’s very in vogue right now to talk about “Imposter Syndrome”, but it came out really heavily with depression and there was intensified by the difficulty I was just having with the trials of daily life – laundry, showering, eating, sleeping, et cetera.

Not being able to do basic things very well took a real toll on my mental health and like I said, it forms that vicious cycle.

I wasn’t having the college experience the movies told me. I wasn’t discovering myself. I wasn’t going out and having a good time partying. I was partying, but sadly. And independence wasn’t giving me newfound self-discovery.

It was making me miserable, and I thought it always would. That misery felt like a dead end.

So in this particular point in my life, there’s an inflection point that got me to start changing my mindset, and I remember the day things changed. I walked into a physics class my second year of college, which I didn’t actually even end up finishing. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in my life. It’s a big question and even harder for somebody that’s depressed and I had been since I was 13, so it’s been a long time.

My first year of classes didn’t help out that much. They were good and interesting for the most part, but nothing really grabbed me. But they gave me the insight to what I wanted to do with the world, or do for the world. I wasn’t really enjoying things. As I mentioned earlier, in depression and psychiatry, it’s often called “Anhedonia”, lack of enjoyment.

So I couldn’t really follow my passion because I was depressed enough that I couldn’t pick out a passion. I kind of stopped before I started because I also, you know, was very down on my own potential and growth, so what did it matter? So sophomore year I kind of had to start figuring this out, so I picked a bunch of science and math oriented courses to try those out.

I did Mathematical Logic, Physics 105, and C alculus 2. The physics course had a reputation for being hard, not impossible, but sort of the weeding course. You know, you didn’t take this one casually. The professor was very smart and a very good teacher. But the most important thing he taught me wasn’t physics related at all, it was about, potential.

And what he showed us was a graph, a very basic graph that showed potential on one axis and work on the other. And he showed us that a person with so-called “Low Potential”, who worked very hard, achieved the same thing as a person with so-called “High Potential” that didn’t. But that’s not what either of us are.

He said, most of us are average and as such, if we apply ourselves, we generate a lot more work than somebody very talented who doesn’t do that.

And sure, there’s ones in a lifetime minds who work very hard and are very intelligent. You know, you got your Einstein’s and such, but most of us are average to some degree or another. And so our potential multiplied by our work has more relevance than anyone’s potential who doesn’t do anything with it. But it’s not only that revelation, it’s not a big revelation that you make more things or make more progress when you work harder. But hard work is what makes your potential. The more work, the more you realize your true potential. And starting that work is the important task.

And this is when I started to think of different mindsets; surrounding potential and growth. I just sort of assumed I was stuck like this, that my depression put a hard cap on how smart I could be, how hard I could work, and how well I could take care of myself. And this broke that a little bit for me. It took a long time, but this was the introduction to positive growth mindset, though he didn’t call it that. But the malleability of potential, the fact that our potentials aren’t fixed, that in this example we can move up or down on the axis, this let’s me know that potential wasn’t what I thought it was.

The consequences of this realization came kind of slowly. If everyone can immediately implement all self-improvement advice, there would be no self-help podcasts. So this wasn’t a life-changing bolt from the blue moon and at the time. But it started a journey for me to figure out what I could do to be in that larger box, to improve my potential. And I talked it over with the professor after that.

He was very kind, but suggested I took a slower approach and it wasn’t worth the time to invest in a difficult physics course to figure it out. Looking at other math and Science courses to figure out what I wanted to do was the way to go, he suggested. And what this led to was dropping my mathematical logic class for a normal logic one.

That along with the ancient philosophy course I was taking for general education led me down the path of philosophy, which was a pretty indirect route from considering physics and learning, not physics, but something I that could apply to every aspect of life. And when I felt better, when I felt philosophy matched me better.

It didn’t cure my depression or make everything easier, or not all at once. But it made me realize that there were some things I could do and felt good doing, and that I could get better at these things. That there wasn’t a point in giving up. It was about learning that, “Obstacles in the way of growth don’t define you, and they don’t define how you can grow.”

We can all grow. And the limit on that isn’t something innate, but something we can try and something we can encourage at others. So I didn’t realize the significance of this lesson at the time, but I remember it very well, 11 years later. It wasn’t a physics lesson, but a lesson in a physics course that taught me, three basic things.

The first is that, potential isn’t destiny.

A worker among workers gets more done than a genius who doesn’t work. We think of genius as this innate thing that we come with when we’re born, but more often it is forged. And people with so-called “High-Potentials” can squander it, and people with so-called “Low-Potential” can take things further than we ever thought possible.

And this is because of the process of development. If you don’t use your potential, it goes away. If you use your potential, it grows. Potential is not an innate characteristic of us. It’s a malleable thing that we can change and develop, and that’s what we grow with. That’s our second point. That, potential is alterable.

Potential in physics to use this example, is the amount of an energy stored in a stationary object. A boulder on top of a cliff has a lot of potential, whereas a small rock on flat ground doesn’t. So if we’re the rock here, the nice thing about being human and instead of a rock, is that our potential doesn’t have to stay the same size.

It’s inside of us to grow and develop, and that’s a messy process too. We’re working on contradictions in ourselves, trying to make ourselves the best we can be. It’s not an easy thing to do, but we can develop ourselves. Our exercising of our potential in the form of working hard is the development itself – the act of writing or artistry or carpentry, or really anything – becomes better when you do it for longer.

This is the basic skill: learning how to learn. Adopting a positive growth mindset, believing that your potential can be altered, believing that you can change and become better. That’s when you develop a skill through practice. And learning that, means you can learn anything. When you learn how to learn. It doesn’t matter whether it’s personal development or a video game, or sport or a hobby.

It’s a matter of developing our potential through practice, and while all the skills are different, the mindset is the same. And lastly, I want to emphasize that positive growth mindset isn’t something we have to limit to ourselves or should. When we see our own potential, we can see it in others. And once you adopt a positive growth mindset, once you learn, you can alter your potential, then you can cultivate your environments to help other people flourish and develop.

We can cultivate this not only in ourselves, but in others. And when communities band together to teach each other and boost up everybody, adopt a communal positive growth mindset. When communities band together to teach each other and grow together, the possibilities are endless.

Thank you for listening. Please tune in next Tuesday, where we’ll be talking with Wes about how this story is just one part of a bigger conversation on mind shifts. We’ll be talking about positive growth mindset next week. And if you wanna support us, please join our exclusive monthly book club on Patreon. Share the podcast with others, and don’t forget to follow, rate, and review us on your Radar platform.

And before you go, you feel like you could use a boost to your morale, well then why not give our “Seven-Day Self-Confidence Challenge” a go? For seven bucks, you’ll get exclusive access to content that will help you determine your core values and strengths, reframe negative thought patterns, and break old habits to build new ones, all while setting realistic personal development goals.

Links to our Patreon and the challenge can be found in the show notes, and we will see you next week.

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