Within the realm of Ayurveda there are three gunas or qualities that define the universe. These qualities can be considered to be the perspective that we bring to the events in our life. This perspective colors all our activities and leads us towards outcomes and behaviors that may be appropriate and beneficial or self-destructive. By understanding the three gunas we can choose to bring in more of the perspective or mindset that allows us to achieve our goals. The three gunas are:
- Sattva – Mature mindset
- Rajas – Growth mindset
- Tamas – Fixed mindset
I would like to thank Carol Dweck for coining the terms fixed and growth mindset as they fit perfectly with the Ayurvedic understanding of the mind. Let’s begin!
The fixed mindset is characterized by a perspective that you are one way and cannot change. If you believe you are intelligent and worthy than you must make the external circumstances fit that understanding. This means that you are constantly proving your worth and that anything that happens to you defines your level of competence. You are constantly engaged in activities that prove you are smart and talented and you are unwilling to expose your deficiencies. Every test that you go through has the power to define you. This means that if you fail at a test it defines you and instead of saying “I failed” you say “I am a failure.” They see themselves as an object or a fixed point in time that does not take into account trends or improvements that could be made over time. As this is how you view yourself you will also view others this way which may allow you to give advice in the form of judgement or feel the need to assert your strength when you are harmed by seeking revenge. As you can see the fixed mindset does not allow for much growth.
The guna’s are all present all the time and so the fixed mindset will always be present to some extent and cannot be eliminated completely. Sometimes the fixed mindset is related to the parts of us that take the longest time to change like our character and our values. Although there are aspects of the fixed mindset in these our character can be one of flexibility, self-development and motivation which are counter to the fixed mindset. If you have a fixed mindset that does not provide you benefit and makes your relationships strained and difficult then the next step is to bring more Rajas in to your mind
Rajas is the growth mindset and it is focused on growing and learning. The growth mindset is focused on challenges and the effort that it takes to overcome them. The characteristics of a growth mindset is that people with this perspective confront challenges, take risks and keep moving towards a defined goal. They are oriented towards learning and confronting their shortcomings so that they can improve. This means that they recognize their potential and realize that it will take time for them to develop the necessary skills and effort that they desire. This mindset values the process more than the outcome and is focused on learning and growing instead of arriving at a fixed point in the future. The growth mindset promotes curiosity and they are extremely inquisitive. The internal dialogue praises effort not ability. As long as a continual improvement over time is experienced then a sense of satisfaction is present for this mindset. The growth mindset believes that character grows and that if we are focused on developing ourselves that creates our character not the other way around. The process of self-examination is constant and they are able to understand, forgive and move on because they realize that we are all a work in progress.
Sattva represents the mature mindset. Maturity comes from wisdom and discernment. Whereas the growth mindset responds to every challenge with effort and the fixed mindset with defensiveness the mature mindset responds with wisdom. Sometimes effort and self-examination are necessary, but the process of constant effort can lead to burnout and continual self-assessment. The mature mindset is when the person develops a recognition that they can just be as they are. Which is someone who is focused on growth on all levels of their being physically, mentally, emotionally and beyond. The actions of the mature mindset may be identical to that of the growth mindset, but the difference is in the intention. Where the growth mindset is led by the desire to learn and spurred on by curiosity the mature mindset has found a natural state of inquiry and inquisitiveness that does not have the end goal in mind that does not strive towards a certain outcome but relates to the world as an awe inspiring place to be experienced. The mature mindsets primary motivation is not action oriented as the growth mindset is but is reflective and is able to be fully present, aware and awake to every situation as it is occurring without getting in the middle of things. I think of the mature mindset like an observer. They sit on the side of the road watching the cars pass by. The growth mindset goes with the flow of the cars, but is still in the road. The fixed mindset gets in the middle of traffic and hold their ground trying to direct traffic around them. The mature mindset watches the cars pass with enjoyment and experiences all the passing cars fully without trying to get in any of them or to direct them in a certain way.
Culturally it is the mature mindset that is the most foreign to us because we are well versed to be focused on growth and fixed achievement. We have not practiced the skills that allow us to be mature enough to choose with wisdom a full relationship to the situation without allowing our success in the situation to define us. Even the growth mindset defines us as either good or bad depending on the quality of effort that we put forth. The mature mindset allows us to be without definition and to adapt to the situations that arise.
Remember that we have all three of the mindsets and we need them to all work together as a team. Each one has situations where the effort of the growth mindset is necessary. The goal is to increase the proportion of time that you function within the mature mindset, but not to be in the mindset 100% of the time (this would be the fixed mindset’s goal).