Does what you think about your ability really matter?  If you had asked me that question a few years ago, my response would have been, “No, not really.”  But over the past two years, I've changed from the negative, stressed-out, perfectionist teenage girl I was my freshman year to the joyful person I am today. Now, my response is much different.  

What you think about yourself is the foundation of your perspective, your mindset, and your view of the world. I had the opportunity to share my journey and my thoughts on the power of perspective in April, when I gave a TEDx Talk at Burlington High School.  This is my story, and I hope that you will find some piece of it that you can apply to your own life.

During my freshman year of high school, I started off strong. But then my mood began to change.  I got caught up in the trap of perfectionism, and felt the pressure that came with it.  I grew tired and stressed out.  Of course, this was not every day.  There were the days when I felt on top of things, content, happy with my friends and my family and my life.  But other times, when the feelings of negativity crept in, it was hard to make them go away.  And I saw many of my friends going through the same patterns of stress and negativity.

We were not alone; teenagers across the country share similar experiences.  National trends indicate that among suburban middle and upper-class girls, as many as 30% have experienced anxiety related to “achievement pressures,” according to the National Institutes of Health.

I didn’t realize the reason for my outlook until I heard about the research on different mindsets.

Last year, I read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset, and learning about the different ways people view the world changed my perspective forever.  When I read this book, I realized: this is why.  I was stuck in the fixed mindset.  I believed that I was “naturally” good at some things, and forget the rest.  I had bought into a common result of the fixed mindset: the trap of perfectionism and the fear of taking intellectual risks.  Reading this book opened my eyes; I could put a name and a reason to what I was feeling, and, even better, I could see the solution: moving to the growth mindset.

It started with a decision, and, as I was looking back through an old journal, I found that it was the decision I made on the New Year’s of my sophomore year, 2016.  I wanted to have a more positive outlook.  I didn’t want stress to consume me anymore.  I didn’t want to have a happy facade covering negativity underneath. So I made a decision that started with shifting my mindset. I wrote down a simple goal in my journal: when I feel like complaining, I will find the positive in the situation instead.  And, I will focus on improvement, rather than perfection.

As most goals are, my goal to shift my mindset was much simpler and easier on paper.  The struggle was in the everyday situations.  And I was my own opponent.  It takes time to break habits—especially habits of thought.  Breaking my habit of negativity required not only a decision at the beginning—my resolution—but a million small decisions along the way.  No more complaining about difficult classes; embrace the challenge and work harder instead.  Start the day with an encouraging quote.  Reconnect with my faith and make time for prayer and reflection.  Take an extra minute to ask someone how his/her day is going.  Journal about my struggles and joys.  Stay positive.  Smile. 

I have come a long way since that New Year’s resolution.  Of course, I still face days when the struggle returns more acutely than ever—I feel the pressure and stress not only from school, but from the stuff that happens in life, relationships, the things we all face.  But the difference now is how I deal with those challenges.  My perspective has changed: no longer do I succumb so easily to the trap of negativity.  Positivity and growth are the lens through which I try to see my world.  With my newfound growth mindset, I now have a perspective that allows me to see challenges in a new way: not as obstacles that will defeat me, but as opportunities to grow.

If you would like to watch Gabrielle's TEDx talk click here