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Learning how to 'train' the dragons in my life

Posted November 20

It was book club night, a night that I felt like staying home. We were to discuss two books: “Mindset” by Carol Dweck and “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brene Brown. I was too tired to talk about ways to improve myself. All of my previous attempts at improvement felt like failures, and I was sort of coming to the point of accepting the fact that I was never going to be who I was trying to become.

But at the last minute, I decided to get out of the house and show up.

I am so glad I did.

It wasn’t so much the main discussion that made me think so hard, but a private side conversation I had with my friend while things were wrapping up.

Sitting beside this beautiful woman on the couch who I have always admired, yet not known a whole lot about, I decided to go out on a limb and ask her why she seemed so happy lately. She just seemed to not get ruffled by life’s little stresses and messes as easily as, well, me.

“What have you done that has helped you?” I wanted to know her secret. In fact, I was desperate to find out how some women could flourish under stress while others seemed to be paralyzed by it.

“My husband used to call me a fainting goat,” she said with a smile. “Every time a major life crisis or challenge arose, I would freeze up. It was so overwhelming, and I would just want to curl up in a ball. One day, the name Brene Brown came into my mind, and I looked her up. Her philosophies and life outlook has helped me tremendously.”

She said it was a turning point. Instead of freezing up with fear, she said she “took it along for the ride.” And after reading several of Brown’s books, and then Dweck’s “Mindset,” she said she completely changed her outlook on change, downfalls and stumbling blocks. Having a “growth” mindset instead of a “fixed” one when things go wrong or when change comes is crucial to improving yourself and achieving success.

I don’t know why this idea hit me particularly hard, but it did. So many times when I’m overwhelmed, I literally sit down and cry. “I can’t” has become a sort of mantra in my life, one I am more than ready to get rid of.

After talking with my friend, I decided I was going to change that — change my mindset. The next time a challenge arose, I would say, “What can I learn from this? How can this help me grow?” Instead of, “This will consume me. I can’t do this.”

A few nights ago, I attended an author event with Cressida Cowell, creator of the How to Train Your Dragon series. It was incredible. Listening to this beautiful, accomplished woman talk about the inspirations for her books from her imaginative and unstructured childhood summers on an island off the west coast of Scotland was fascinating. Her enthusiasm for creativity was contagious.

“How many of you think if you had a dragon, you would be able to train it?” she asked the children in the audience.

Almost every one of them raised their hand. So confident. So sure.

“That’s what I love about children,” she said. “They are so full of hope.”

I never thought of it that way. My boys having complete confidence in themselves that they can do and be anything they want to be has to do with them being full of hope. When they set out to do something, they don’t imagine all the things that can go wrong. They immediately think of all the reasons they will succeed.

“Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us dragons exist but because they tell us dragons can be beaten,” which can be attributed to the late British writer G.K. Chesterton or British author Neil Gaiman in "Coraline."

I cannot tell you how much this has helped me recently. So many times when I’ve wanted to curl up and cry, I’ve said, “No. I can grow from this. How can this help me be better?”

For the first time in a long time, I feel capable instead of crippled. And that is an amazing feeling.

My goal for the next little while is to try and grow from setbacks, have more confidence in my abilities and to be hopeful that one day I can beat — or at least learn to "train" — the dragons in my life.

Carmen Rasmusen Herbert is a former "American Idol" contestant who writes about entertainment and family for the Deseret News. Her email is carmen.r.herbert@gmail.com.

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