The Big Think

March 31, 2006

Fixed Mind, Flexible Mind

Filed under: Disclosure — jasony @ 12:24 am

Had quite the experience tonight. I recently ordered a few more X-10 switches for the house (Smarthome was blowing out a bunch of their high-end Switchlinc switches. These are the ones I’ve been slowly installing into the house as I can afford them. It’s taken almost five years, but I’m very very close to having every light, ceiling fan, small fan, fishtank pump, lamp, and outlet automated.

Last week I installed a couple switches on the downstairs fan/light and spent a few days troubleshooting. It turns out that those two switches are so far away from the automation computer that they don’t reliably “see” their control codes. I found a simple workaround (moved the wireless receiver to an outlet right next to the switches) and all is well.

Thinking that I was on a roll, I proceeded to yank the switches out of the wall in the master bedroom. I was going to install identical switches in an identical box (2 switches- one for the fan and one for the light). Unfortunately, it was only after I had cut the wires and yanked the old switches that I discovered that these weren’t wired up at all like the ones downstairs! Uh oh.

After much frustration and muttering under my breath, I started to fear that I’d have to call a very expensive electrician to undo my mistake. I even called one to check rates. Yikes! I felt really stupid for having done this and my old habit of cursing myself for making dumb errors crept back with a vengeance. I took several breaks and discovered that each time I would approach the problem I’d get a very small clue to how the circuit was wired. Keep in mind that there were 10 incoming wires in the wall and 8 wires on two switches, so it was a real rat’s-nest. I went to Home Depot and got a circuit tester and sat and pondered the wires for a long, long time. When I got frustrated I’d go away and list what I knew and what I didn’t know and try to figure out my next step. Slow, painful progress.

Well, it all paid off. Yes, I feel a little sheepish telling you that it took me five solid hours to change a couple of light switches, but if you’d have seen the mess you’d understand why. In the end, not only did I save over a hundred bucks because I didn’t have to call an electrician, but I really understand that circuit now! The sneaky part was that there was an extra bit of Romex that powers the bathroom and it was branching out of this box- but it was crammed into the box in such a way as to not look like a different piece of wire. Very tricky. The other confusing part was that whoever wired up our house didn’t follow standard color coding on the wires! It’s probably still up to code since you don’t technically have to follow the color coding, and the wires they used aren’t all three color wire bundles, but instead alternate between three and two color romex sheaths. It was confusing real mess.

But when Erin flipped the breaker for the hundredth time and everything worked, I felt like I could fix anything. Success!

We have been listening to a very interesting podcast about “fixed-mind” versus “flexible mind” (the woman in the podcast calls it a “growth-mindset”). Fixed-minded people tend to say “I can’t do that”, or “I’ve never been good at that”, or even “I wasn’t born with the ability to…”. Growth-minded people say “I don’t know how to do that, but I can learn”, or even “oh good…a challenge”. I think most people are somewhere in between, but for the last 10 years or so I’ve been trying to cultivate a flexible mind. I’ve trained myself to ask lots of questions if I don’t understand something, and even to pursue questions if I do understand. You’d be surprised what you can learn when you don’t assume you know everything about a topic. Beware, though. If you decide to do this, some people will automatically assume that you’re a dimwit. Ironically, the opposite is probably true. The speaker in the podcast (Dr. Carol Dweck) talked about how fixed-minded folks are more concerned about looking competent than about actually being competent. Erin and I had quite the conversation about this the other night. Wish I could adequately explain it.

Anyway, just kind of rambling here. But I wanted to write about how great it felt to do something as simple (and yet challenging) as replace a lightswitch, and how it led to some real self-discovery about how I deal with challenges and problems and where I need to change.

Hey! Lucky you, I just found the 20 minute podcast. Go listen! Sit through the initial commercial and don’t worry about Dr. Dweck’s sleepy voice. It’s really worth it. Now aren’t you glad you read all the way through to the end?

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