The Limitless Mind with Jo Boaler
In Episode 39 of Breaking the Bottle Legacy, Molly engages in a conversation with Dr. Jo Boaler, professor at Stanford University and White House presenter on women and girls. The focus of the episode is Dr. Boaler’s latest book, “Limitless Mind: Learn, Lead, and Live Without Barriers,” which delves into the science of brain function and the transformative power of self-beliefs. Dr. Boaler emphasizes the neuroscientific evidence that challenges the fixed mindset regarding learning ability, asserting that brains function differently when individuals believe in their capacity to learn. The discussion spans the six keys of learning presented in the book, addressing the impact of struggle and mistakes on brain growth, the value of slow thinking, and the importance of connecting with people and ideas for enhanced learning. Molly draws parallels between these concepts and the process of changing drinking habits, highlighting the significance of a growth mindset and the role of continuous learning in personal development. The episode encourages listeners to embrace a more flexible, multi-dimensional approach to learning and to leverage the limitless potential of the mind in various aspects of life, including the journey to change one’s relationship with alcohol.
You’re listening to breaking the bottle legacy with Molly watts, Episode 39. Hi, I’m Molly, after a lifetime living under the influence of family alcohol abuse, spending more than 30 years worrying about alcohol and my own drinking, believing I had an unbreakable daily drinking habit, I changed my relationship with alcohol forever. If you want to change your drinking habits than breaking the bottle legacy is for you. My goal is to help you create a peaceful relationship with alcohol, past, present, and future. Each week all focus on real science and using your own brain to change your relationship with alcohol. Nothing has gone wrong, you’re not broken, you’re not sick. It’s not your genes. And creating peace is possible. I’m here to help you do it. Let’s start now. Hello, and welcome or welcome back to breaking the bottle legacy with me your host Molly Watts coming to you from a pretty warm and sunny Oregon. I gotta say, I am enjoying it and soaking it up. Because from everything I’ve seen on the weather forecasts, it’s not going to last the rains on its way. And while I know we need it, I never really looked forward to it. So today on the podcast, I am just super excited to share with you my conversation with someone who admittedly is a different kind of idea and a different topic and a different expert than I typically talk to. I am speaking to Dr. Joe bowler. Dr. Bowler is the normal Leni and Olivier Professor of Education at Stanford University. She also has former roles that included being the Marie Curie professor of mathematics education in England, she was a mathematics teacher in London in several comprehensive schools. And she is the author of 18 books, numerous articles, and is a White House percent her on women and girls. So to say that I was thrilled to get to talk to Dr. Bowler would be an understatement. But what I really wanted to talk with her about is her latest book called limitless mind, learn lead and live without barriers. The reason I wanted to talk to her is because this book is really founded in neuroscience. And it’s all about the neuroscience of learning. And basically, it’s Dr. bowlers assertion that brain science has given us a very clear case for the importance of not only self beliefs, but also the fact that we can learn anything at any time. And we are, in fact, limitless. So this is super important. Because whether you’re trying to learn mathematics as a child, or if you are trying to learn something new about alcohol, or on learn an established habit, right. It’s all about believing that you can, and the neuroscience that shows us that we actually can achieve anything, if we believe in our limitless minds. So I think you’re really going to enjoy this conversation. Here is my interview with Dr. Joe bowler. Hi, Dr. Bowler, thank you so much for joining me today and being willing to take time out of your very busy schedule to join me here on breaking the bottle legacy. Thank you for having me. Looking forward to chatting. Absolutely, absolutely. Well, before we get into talking about the limitless mind and the the wonderful book, I want to know, I know because you’re not this is not your typical audience right here. Right. Is that Is that fair to say? That’s right. I’m typically talking to teachers and students. Parents are perfect audience. Yeah, yeah. So any adults really? Yeah. So tell me a little bit about what you’re currently working on right now, before we get into limitless mind. Currently, I’m working to bring data science into K 12. Mathematics. We know maths as its taught is very antiquated. And students are not learning the maths of the world. Yeah. And so that’s really a, like I said, a far departure from talking to adults who may be trying to change their relationship with alcohol. So let’s talk about I wanted to share with with my audience how I learned about you and why I thought that talking about this book, the limitless mind was something that would be so powerful for for us. So I actually learned about you from a friend who became a two who went back to school late and became a teacher. Well, she was working in an educational for environment, but actually went back and got her teaching certificate very late. And you know, is a is a did her first year teaching during all of this COVID, which is just amazing, right? But she, yeah, she became familiar with your work and she suggested your book to me. And then when I read it, I was blown away by how applicable it was, and really how much it correlated with things that I talked about here on the podcast all the time. And one of the reasons that I thought it was so important was because you’re you kind of talk about both. I mean, we talk about the fixed mindset, a growth mindset, but you talk about becoming unlocked and the ability to be limitless. And you talk about those the keys that we’re going to get to in the limitless in the limitless mind. But do you believe that really that we’re limit list, no matter what age we are, no matter what we’re trying to overcome? Are we all limitless? Absolutely. We all have limitless potential. Whenever scientists try and find limits, and they go in and study people and give them harder and harder tasks, they come away always saying there are no limits, really, people can learn anything. So if people are limited, it’s not because of they don’t have the potential to learn anything, it may be because of things in their environment, or other people that are limiting them, right? You have the potential to do anything. Right. So the premise of this book, and this is a direct quote from the introduction of the limitless mind is, when we learn the science in this book, and the six keys of learning, I will present our brains function differently, and we change as people. The six keys not only change people’s beliefs about their reality, they change their reality. So that’s a pretty big powerful comment. Right? So. But it for many adults, we have held on to kind of self limiting beliefs about our ability to learn new things kind of ingrained in our culture, right? Yeah. And what that quote is referring to is, we know now what you believe about yourself actually changes the way your brain works. Yeah. So if you change your beliefs about what you can do, it will actually change how your brain operates, and it will change your life. So I really believe this is extremely important for everybody to know, right? Doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about kids. I mean, really, honestly, it’s not just about kids learning math, it’s really anyone who’s trying to change anything in their unit to learn anything in their life or to achieve something different. And I talk a lot about on the podcast about neuroscience and about neuroplasticity. And that’s, again, why the book resonated so much with me, because you’re it’s very much a book that that incorporates the science of the brain, right? Yes. Yeah. In fact, the six keys I set out, are all based in neuroscience. What I do is take that neuroscientific information and figure out what it means for our lives and how it should change how we operate in our lives. Yeah, so you’re, you’re leading me right into key number one, right? So it’s really because key number one is really about that neuroscience and about neuroplasticity. And it’s at every time our brains every time we learn our brains form, strengthen and connect neural pathways. And we need to replace the idea that learning ability is fixed with the recognition that we are all on a growth journey. So this whole idea of neuroplasticity, so neuroscience really, you know, we’re still obviously there’s, there’s so much that we don’t know about the brain still, really. But this idea of neuroplasticity isn’t necessarily new. But it is relatively new in the field of neuroscience, but it’s also just hasn’t really filtrated through to society as much as maybe scientists understand it. Yeah, the lay people don’t. My cousin. That’s right. And neuroplasticity is really showing that our brains are constantly changing and growing. And there’s endless potential to learn. But if we look inside schools, or we look inside workplaces, there are many limits that are put on people really going back to the old ideas that you have a certain kind of brain and that’s the brain you live with. So yeah, I agree with you the knowledge we have about our brains growing, changing, strengthening, has really no Got into schools or workplaces in the, to the extent that it should. Yeah. And I think that it’s important because for me, it’s important in many, many ways. What I found was that for me learning the neuroscience, actually understanding the way that neuroplasticity works, realizing that my brain was capable of changing, helped form a foundation for me in self belief, right? Once you understand that a little bit better. And when you really try to, when you really embrace it, you go, Oh, okay, wait a minute, my brain can actually be rewired. It can literally be completely different than it has been. And I’m the person in control of doing that. If Norman Doidge, one of the neuroscientists I cite in the book talks about how every single day you wake up, your brain is different from the brain, you went to bed with so much changes happening in the brain all of the time. I loved in the book, you and your British. So of course, you shared some of this, about the London taxi drivers. And their I thought it was I mean that the science and the study that was done on these taxi drivers. Can you talk a little bit about that, about that study? Yes, so scientists, neuroscientists decided to study the brains of London black cab drivers, because to become what’s known as a black cab driver, you have to go through extensive training, it takes some drivers seven or more years, which is crazy. To me, I’m like, I mean, it’s amazing. You have to remember 20,000 streets in central London, and all the connections between them. So it’s very hard training and tests, they take a test, it’s just called the knowledge. And the knowledge, the average amount of times it takes to pass the knowledge, I think, is 12 times. So this got the attention of scientists, people are going through this intense training. And so they decided to study the brains of black cab drivers before and after this training and found that there you go, campus had significantly grown a really important part of the brain. And this was shocking at the time, because some people believed that children’s brains could grow, or maybe some people thought that, you know, up until adolescence, but adults getting this significant brain change really changed the way people thought. And then they did further studies and found that when the black cab drivers retire, some of that brain growth shrinks back down again, not because they’re older, but because they’ve stopped using those pathways. Yeah, yeah, so just more evidence of the flexible brain. Yeah. And a cautionary tale there, folks, because there is, I’ve talked about this before with neuroplasticity, there is definitely a bit of use it or lose it, you know, you’ve got to keep challenging your brain and keep alerting yourself to new things, which actually kind of takes us to key number two. And this was I this is something that’s dear to my heart, and something that I really want to hit hit on. Number two is that the times when we are struggling, and making mistakes are the best time for brain growth. So with regard to mistakes, I use the phrase compassion and curiosity a lot. It’s challenging for people to reframe mistakes in their life. And I think that’s largely because of something you talk about in the book, the performance culture versus mistake culture where we celebrate mistakes as a way of learning. But it’s important to us to be aware of how we’ve been taught that kind of structure for mistakes in our lives and, and tell me more about what, how what struggling really does for us as we’re learning. Yes, the neuroscientists are very clear on this, that if you’re not struggling, you’re not learning. It’s really the best brain workout you can have. And making mistakes, they’ve actually done studies where they can see brain activity. And what they see is every time people make a mistake, there’s significant brain growth more than when they get questions correct. So we actually want people making mistakes and struggling and I found over the years as I’ve been sharing this information that many adults have come to me and said, this has changed the way I live my life. And what a relief it is to see that it’s actually good for us to struggle and make mistakes. It made me open up in meetings and say, you know, I don’t know that but I’d love to find out more and stop pretending to be an expert all the time. It makes kids more persistent when they learn when I teach students I always say I want you to struggle to really important and best very big time for your brain and it causes them to keep going when work is difficult. I mean, there are just so many implications for being accepting understanding how great struggle and mistakes are for the brain. Right? It’s, it’s, it’s so powerful and for the conversations that I have with people in what we talk about super important because with a with a habit where someone’s doing something that’s, you know, a negative self, a negative habit, right, so a pack impacting health and just has negative consequences. There can be a lot of self reproach, and a lot of, of shame that they associate with making mistakes. And so being able to really understand that it’s, it’s helping us learn, it’s actually helping us move forward, is so critical to to enhancing that learning process. Alright, so key number three, when we this is, and this is interesting as well, when we change our beliefs, our bodies, and brains physically change as well. So this is really talking about self belief, and how and how when we believe in our ability to learn or don’t believe whether we believe in our ability to learn or not, it’s actually kind of becomes a self fulfilling prophecy and changes and changes are it changes us? Yeah. Yeah, the evidence that what you believe about yourself changes you is really expensive now, and it’s been collected across all sorts of areas. So we can start by thinking about the impact of changing your beliefs on health. I’ve done studies that have found that you that people who believe that they are healthy, actually more healthy than those who don’t believe you know, or don’t believe the exercise they’re doing is healthy, on multiple different measures. And they’re found that Whether people believe they’re they’re healthy actually predicts how long they live. So a huge impact on our actual bodies and our health. But in learning those people who believe that they can learn anything who believes that mistakes are good, actually experienced more brain growth every time they make a mistake. So it’s no wonder that that growth mindset and that belief in yourself actually predicts people’s achievement. And when they do interventions with people where they get them to shift from having a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, suddenly, their achievement spikes upwards. So it’s extremely important. We also know that when people change their mindsets, it decreases racism and aggression. So just amazing implications of that mindset work. And it’s, you know, it’s one of the things I talk about a lot here is because a lot of people when they’re trying to change in their relationship with alcohol, they’re trying to change their drinking habits, they’re focused a lot more on the action than they are on the thought behind it. And the the, the feelings that are that are happening. And so the mindset is so important to us. It’s important to us in general, I talk a lot about managing your mind, right? Because and that’s really just a mean mindset, a different frame of mindset. But being able to, to understand how your brain works, being unable to manage how your brain is, you know, going after things and how you view it is, I think something that’s really important is to work on banishing negative thoughts about yourself. Yeah, and we all have them. We all are very, you know, some people more than others, but we criticize ourselves. We’re self critical. We look in the mirror, we don’t like what we see. And I work on this myself. I’ve just not letting myself have those negative thoughts, putting them away, changing them being aware. Carol Dweck, who is this mindset guru, talks about how it’s really important to understand what triggers you what pushes you into that self critical thinking and thinking you can’t do something. And it’s really getting in touch with what triggers you and pushing those thoughts away. That is so important. Yes, absolutely. Another part to this whole keys to learning and being more mindful and being more aware of yourself is also becoming more creative and more flexible in your thinking. You talked in key number four, it’s really that neural pathways and learning are optimized when And you consider things from a multi dimensional approach? Yeah. So I think it’s really important to have a discussion about changing people’s drinking habits, because a lot of times we have we get very black and white about how we’re going to do things. How you know what I mean? It’s, you either do or you don’t you either are or you’re not. And so having a more flexible and multi dimensional approach to learning in any sort of scenario, yeah, absolutely. It’s so important, right? And that’s, it’s, it’s actually been proven? Well, I Yes. So one of the some of the neuroscientists showing that when we think about things, our brains have multiple brain pathways operating and the very best or highest achieving people in the world have more connections between different brain areas. And that comes about when we think about things in different ways. So if I can just give you an example, from maths, yeah. We think of maths problems as numbers. But if we think about a problem, let’s say 18 times five, if we think about that, visually, what would that look like? How could you draw that out, you can also think about it with numbers, you can write about it in words, you could think of a story that involves 18 times five, you could build something to represent it. And all of these, these are multi dimensional ways of interacting with that knowledge that will cause the brain to be having these great connections. So this really applies to everything in life, not just maths, of course, yeah. Think about it, and approach it in different ways. Maybe sit down and sketch it. I mean, that sounds crazy. But it will unlock different thoughts and different ideas. So we’re not always thinking I have to figure this out in my mind. And I, but actually engage in different ways with problems in life, and it will be great for your brain, but it was will also make those problems a lot easier to solve. Yeah, and I don’t think I mean, I totally understand what you’re saying, and using math in terms of an illustration spatially visually, versus just the numbers. But it really does apply to just about anything, and just like you said, up to, to like this, the this type of learning and when I’m talking about changing habits, I encourage people to write things down to write down their thoughts. So that’s one, it’s a different, you know, it’s a different dimension, right? When we’re writing our head and write it down. Yeah. And then when you’re, if you are taking in information, whether you’re taking that information in via podcast, if you’re listening to something, if you’re reading something, if you’re having a conversation with someone about something, these are all different dimensions of learning the same information. Yeah, and, and really, that’s just going to enhance the brain’s retention and growth on this subject. So it’s absolutely all applicable, whether it’s, you know, visualizing math problems, or just really wrapping your head around different ways of attack, I actually shared a lot of these ideas in a book for maths teachers a few years ago, called mathematical mindsets. And the biggest feedback I got from the teachers was, oh, my gosh, you have to get this out to other Yeah, right. You have to get it out to parents and to other non maths teachers, and just everybody needs to know this, which is what prompted me to write limitless mine to get the ideas out a lot more broadly. No, I absolutely agree. And that’s why it’s been so a such a great book for me, I, I shared with you in correspondence back and forth about setting up this this interview that, you know, I grew up in talented and gifted, right, I was a tag kid. And I I tease that I’ve been a lifelong No at all. And it’s, but what’s interesting about that is how limited I realized my thinking was and how it did cause me to, you know, get in my own way, with many of the things that I’ve tried to achieve or tried to do in my lifetime. And so this book has really opened up my thinking and saying, oh, okay, wait a minute, you know what this is? Everybody has the capacity to be it. It’s kind of a, you know, made me really think about that. Because, Gosh, what a what a commentary on our education system that we actually I mean, what do we do with that? I mean, these kids that are quick learners that are like, Well, how do you differentiate and not in it doesn’t really seem right to call them talented and gifted, and everybody else is, you know, it’s not. It’s kind of horrible actually. It is kind of horrible. And what we’ve learned over recent years is the damage it does to the kids who were put into it. Those programs and given those labels as well as the kids who get the opposite idea, like don’t have gifts or talents, because all of these are fixed messages, and nobody should be having fixed ideas about themselves. And we have a film on our website, which is called a you. Our website is called a u cubed.on. The website, there’s a film called rethinking giftedness, where I asked lots of Stanford students just to talk about being given that label. And it’s really interesting the way they talk about how it caused me to not ask any questions, there was an expectation that I knew everything. And the big problem is, once you tell people, they’re gifted or even smart, if you praise them for those fixed labels, it feels good at the time, right? But later, when you mess up on something, and everybody does, people start to think, Oh, I’m not gifted, I am not smart. And they start to doubt themselves. So we don’t want people thinking in those fixed ways, it turns out have lots of issues. Oh, absolutely. And it’s I, I have come to see and be able to see things in my own thinking that were fueling my own drinking habits. Because Because I never questioned you know, when you’re when you are a quote unquote, smart person when you are a quote unquote, no, at all. Right? You don’t question your own thinking, yeah. Which is also a problem. You, because you’re exactly right, you really, because some of the thoughts that my brain was throwing out, were completely run off, you know, and they were feeling this habit, but I didn’t hadn’t didn’t have the, the framework to be able to do that. Now I do. And it’s an you know, so that’s why I’m so passionate about sharing this work with other people. So key number five, and I love this, because when I really was able to change my relationship with alcohol, it really was a two year process. And you know, I had a 30 year daily plus drinking habit. And I grew up as an adult child of an alcoholic. So I had a lot of past stories and a lot of limiting beliefs. It took me time. And for somebody who’s smart, and who’s always pry, you know, prided myself on getting things quickly realizing that, that this journey would take time and being able to stick to it, and and really now realizing that that’s how that’s how I became more of an expert in this arena, was because of the slow process, and practicing it over and over again. And I know in the book, you talk a lot about people that are, you know, you share some of the science and some of the other researchers who’ve done work on overachievers, and what really is going on there. It isn’t because they’re super skilled. It’s because they’ve just stuck with it. Yeah. Oh, they may be super skilled. But they’ve worked getting super Right, right. Right. Right. They weren’t just born like that. And yes, the fifth key is really all about communicating the importance of just slow deep thinking. And not speeding through things and not valuing people who are speedier. We all know that there are people who are quick and thinkers, but sometimes, it’s the slow, deep thinkers that have the really valuable thoughts. And certainly our school system is not built to value those slow, deep thinkers, many mathematicians who we might think of as very high achieving people will talk about how they’re very slow with maths and one of them I like to quote Lauren Schwartz talked about when he was in school, he felt stupid, because he was one of the slowest thinkers in his class, he went on to win the Fields Medal, which is the biggest honor in math. But many kids who are slow thinkers are really put off from learning by a lot of structures in place. So it’s a very important message for learners, that slow thinking is actually very valuable, what we what we want. When I teach my undergrads at Stanford, I say to them, when I give them hard math problems, I’m not impressed by anyone who finishes this quickly. In fact, I am unimpressed by anybody who quickly because that’s telling me you’re not thinking about it deeply and creatively. So it’s true for all of us that I mean, it’s worse in schools. I don’t think there are many places outside of schools that value and push kids push people to do things under a time limit. But it’s a message for all of us in life really, that the greatest learning and the greatest accomplishment will come from that slow pathway. Yeah. And the neuroscientists talk about this, they say that everybody can or, you know, some people can learn things quickly. But when we learn quickly, it’s what they call easy go easy come collections. And all of the valuable learning is slow and deep and happens over time. So yes, I do think this is important for us to take on in our lives, particularly when facing hard challenges, like giving something up or trying to improve ourselves in some way that looking for quick outcomes is not helpful. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I think you talked about in the book about the you know, and I know everybody’s had this experience, where you cram for a test, and then you know, you can’t remember any of it, right. So that’s that kind of easy, come easy go. And really, it’s that long, slower learning process that actually makes it all really stick. So key number six, connecting with people and ideas, enhances neural pathways and learning. I love this because I have a, you know, I have an audience of listeners, I have a group of Facebook, a private group, where we share ideas, and we talk about this stuff. And we take it to a little bit deeper level. And that collaboration is actually really important to me. Absolutely. Yeah, just connecting with other people, when we connect with somebody else’s idea, it actually enhances your own thinking, it’s, it’s harder to connect with somebody else’s idea than it is just to go with your own idea for hate, but it really helps develop your brain and also just so many important things that can happen in the world when we’re connecting with other people. And in this modern world, there are all sorts of ways of making connections, some of which are online. And that can be really meaningful and helpful experiences and collaborations that happen online. So it’s not like, you know, used to be that connections have to be in person. Well, and I think some of the times, the reason that people give up on you know, following along with, with whether it’s changing a habit, like drinking or whatever it is in their lives is because they think they’re alone, right, they think they’re alone in their struggle. And so having being able to realize that other people are struggling to and that and reframing that struggle struggle together, is this is one of the things I found in masks that kids going through college traditionally just dropping out of math and huge numbers. When they put them into study groups, they suddenly did well. And one of the things they realized it was because in the study groups, they all realized each other was struggling. Whereas when people worked alone, they just thought, Oh, I can’t do this. There’s something wrong with me, I’m going to drop out. So it turns out that it’s cool. It gives you so many things. And that’s one of them, recognizing that we all struggle in different ways. But also just going it alone is rarely ever the best pathway through something difficult. Yeah. And if you can make connections, whether it’s with one person or more people, that’s really going to help going through difficult times. Yeah. Can I accelerate the learning? Okay, I know, like I said, I promised you a half hour Dr. Bowler, and I want to stick to that I could talk to you all day about all of the this wonderful mindset stuff, the power of the limitless mind. But we’ve hit on all of the six keys. And I would just encourage people, this is not I, I absolutely do not believe this is a book solely about mathematics, though, I learned a lot about the maps about education and math, which I really appreciated as well. But this is really about opening up the barriers to your own mind and your own learning. And no matter how old you are, no matter how educated you are, yeah, we can all become unlocked and have more limitless minds. Very well said. Thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate it. Thank you for having me. It’s really good to talk to you. Thank you for listening to breaking the bottle legacy. This podcast is dedicated to helping you change your drinking habits and to create a peaceful relationship with alcohol. Take something that you learned in today’s episode and apply it to your life this week. Transformation is possible. You have the power to change your relationship with alcohol. Now, for more information, please visit me at www dot Molly watts.com