When I was co-writing The Straight-A Conspiracy with Katie O’Brien, I was obsessed with the growth mindset. If you read Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset, you’ll understand why. Growth Mindset (namely believing you have the power to change things through continuous daily improvement) is pretty much the bomb. You can bring a growth mindset to learning, fitness, relationships, money making, and see positive results in all of them. It felt like having #GrowthMindset was the answer to all of life’s problems.
Except living in LA, you brush up against a LARGE group of people who found the answer to all of life’s problems elsewhere.
Of all the classic lines Homer Simpson has uttered, I’ve always been especially fond of this one.
Shortly after moving to LA, I dated an alcoholic. Trying to understand her world and experience, I did what I always do: I read her books. (I actually don’t like alcohol. Inhibitions aren’t a problem for me and if I’m going to do something self-destructive it’s going to be done with food.)
I learned a tremendous amount, especially from the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book. If you’re not familiar with it, the Big Book is a giant book of people sharing their stories. It’s pretty freaking brilliant on a lot of levels. There is a story from every type of person from every walk of life, so no matter who you are there’s someone you can relate to. It lets you know that literally any person from any background can have a problem with addiction; it makes it okay for you to open up and share your story.
Alcoholics have often done tremendous damage to themselves and others. Moving forward without using alcohol or drugs to cope with the mistakes of the past is a challenge. Fortunately, they have a handy tool to help them navigate this challenge. It’s called the Serenity Prayer.
It’s easy to get hung up on words like “prayer” and “God,” but The Serenity Prayer embodies the core of what Carol Dweck’s research proved. There are things you can change like your brain. You should have #GrowthMindset about those. There are things you can’t change like the past. You should have #FixedMindset about those. If you’re a recovering alcoholic, it’s easy to get trapped in WISHING you hadn’t done certain terrible things. But you have to learn to accept the past and have #FixedMindset about it. Letting go and letting God.
However, that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. While you may not be able to change the past, you can make amends. And so, with the people still around and still alive, you should have #GrowthMindset. It takes wisdom to know the difference between what you should feeeeeeeel you can change and what you should feeeeeeeeel you can’t.
Alcohol isn’t all that makes you drunk. Science has been drunk on power and done things that it isn’t proud of, namely the eugenics movement. In fact, as Carol Dweck explained in an interview with Bryan Callen and me, her work is an attempt to make amends for the damage that a Stanford eugenicist named Lewis Terman did. It’s very much a part of why I co-wrote The Straight-A Conspiracy.
Science can learn a lot from the Serenity Prayer. We cannot change the past. We can only have the courage to change the present; make amends and stop science from getting drunk on its own power by checking it. On behalf of Science, I apologize to all humanity so that we may move forward together.