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Re-framing failure

Recently, I had an experience that I feel compelled to share about with the hopes of inspiring and helping others. I became a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) in Pennsylvania last week after beginning my journey toward licensure in 2018. The exam that social workers need to take to achieve both LSW and LCSW status is a multiple choice, reasoning/application-based test that is pass/fail. The questions are geared toward having the candidate identify the FIRST, MOST, and BEST things in the presented scenario that the social worker should do. In addition, there are questions based on recalling key facts of social work terminology. If you’ve read this far, you can probably guess that I struggled with these tests and the way the questions were worded, and you’d be right. I saw the word FAIL come across the screen 3 times before I became an LSW and 2 times before I became an LCSW. So, out of the 7 times I went to a testing center to take these exams, I failed a total of 5 times before seeing the PASS across the screen.

How did I muster up the courage to walk back into the testing center each time? Great question. This is where cognitive re-framing techniques come into play. These are techniques we use to challenge our thinking when it conflicts with our behaviors, values, and emotions. I had to learn how to go from a fixed mindset of thinking (I will never pass this exam, I’m just not good at taking tests, etc.) to a growth or flexible mindset of thinking (What do I need to change in my approach to taking this test? What has worked for me thus far and what doesn’t work?) Now, if it were just as easy as having those thoughts and changing my behavior, I wouldn’t even be writing this blog. Sometimes, we must take the action first and our thinking catches up later. This was true for me when building up motivation to begin studying for each next attempt at the test. Shifting my focus from “why is this happening to me?” to “why is this happening for me and what do I need to change” was difficult yet necessary to move forward.

Self-doubt creeps back in and we revert to those fixed patterns of thinking. The black-and-white or all-or-nothing thinking patterns (two other ways to describe fixed mindset) have taken years to master and require patience, persistence, and compassion with oneself to work on challenging. It’s sort of like learning to write with a non-dominant hand; at first, seemingly impossible but with some support seems more likely over time. So, if nothing at all, my hope is that you can ask yourself “what patterns of fixed mindset are getting in the way of my growth?” and be open to exploring this. I challenge you to challenge yourself and those thoughts to work toward thriving!


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