Let’s pretend for a moment. You have been tasked with doing something new at work. You’ve never done this activity before and it’s not necessarily in your normal skill set. You take a deep breath, put on a brave face and get to work. And then, you fail. Your first attempt is awful and does not turn out like it is supposed to at all.
What is your internal dialogue at this point?
Are you saying, “I’m such a failure. I shouldn’t have even tried. I am a loser. Why did my boss think I could do this?”?
Or, would you be thinking things like, “Wow, that was harder than I thought. I’m going to have to put in a lot more work next time. What can I learn from this attempt? How can I improve?”?
Many of us automatically think the former. We chastise ourselves for our failures and use our mistakes to form our identity. We think that when it comes to skills and talents, you either have it or you don’t. And we can definitely point out all the areas in life in which we do not have it. This is known as the fixed mindset.
But in order to grow into the best version of ourselves possible, we actually need to take on the stance of the latter response. Mistakes and failures don’t actually define us, they teach us. And when it comes to skills and talents, there is always room to grow and become better. You don’t have to have it at first, you can work hard and get it.
A growth mindset allows us to recognize that brains and talent can only take us so far, what’s more important is hard work and dedication. Someone who has a growth mindset recognizes failure as a chance to learn and thrives on working hard to improve their skills in the areas that matter to them.
If you look carefully at most successful people in the world you can begin to recognize how their growth mindset allowed them to use their God-given talents to do incredible things. Many people are familiar with the fact that Michael Jordan didn’t make the cut for his high school basketball team. He just wasn’t good enough. But through incredible hard work and perseverance, he was able to become one of the best basketball players of all time. Michael Jordan is a prime example of someone who operates with a growth mindset.
In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck explains the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset and then describes how to develop a growth mindset. The reality is that our culture has led most of us to have much more of a fixed mindset than a growth mindset, but you can change your mindset by changing the things you think and believe. Here are several ideas that can help you to develop a growth mindset.
1. Change what you think you know.
The first step to changing your mindset is to simply buy into the reality that you can change, grow, and develop. Initially, you might be thinking, “of course I can grow and develop,” but think about how many times you’ve nodded your head when you heard the phrase, “people never change.” Or consider how you think about someone with a low IQ score. Did you know that intelligence isn’t fixed? Your intelligence can actually grow and improve (or even the opposite) throughout your lifetime.
If you find it hard to believe that change is possible, that you can improve, that you can become more talented than you currently are in any area of life, then I challenge you to learn more about the growth mindset. Read the book and allow yourself to develop new beliefs about growth, change, learning, and success.
2. Get comfortable with failure.
Failure = learning.
Mistakes lead to a chance to grow. If you never take a risk you will never improve. The way to success is paved with mistakes, failures, and opportunities to learn. If you want to be the best you can be, you’ll have to push yourself past the point of your confidence.
3. Develop a love of learning and curiosity.
We’ve all heard, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” This is true, repetition is hugely important when we are working to figure out something new. But we also must remember that “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results” is also the definition of insanity.
In order to improve you can’t just try and try and force success, you have to learn. You have to get curious and ask questions. and you’ll need to try new tactics and ways of learning.
Your brain is like a muscle, the more you use it the stronger it gets. And just like the muscles in your body, if you keep lifting the same weights in the same ways your progress will stagnate. Don’t be afraid to mix things up and try something new.
4. Become self-aware.
When working to develop a growth mindset it’s important to really get to know yourself better. Initially, you want to become more aware of the thoughts you are thinking. This will help you identify times when you are thinking in the fixed mindset to help you change your thoughts to a growth mindset.
You also want to notice the areas in which you do have initial skills, gifts, and interests. There are many really tall guys out there that have a gift and some skill at playing basketball, but if they don’t have an interest and a passion for it then they will struggle to become great. No one wants to study, learn, and strive for something they aren’t interested in. So get to know yourself, what do you love, what are you initially good at, and how can you pursue those things to improve.
5. Pursue difficult and challenging things.
If you never try anything hard you won’t improve. If you never get better at anything it will reinforce your fixed mindset beliefs. Think of something that excites you, something you are passionate about, but also a little afraid of. What is something that you know you aren’t good at, but you wish you were good at it?
Set a goal to do something challenging in an area that you love. It doesn’t have to be a crazy goal, just choose a goal that is a little outside of your comfort zone. A goal that makes you feel a little anxiety about whether you can accomplish it or not.
6. Do things you love.
If you love something you are more likely to put your whole heart and soul into it, and when you do, your skills and abilities will grow.
7. Develop grit.
I’m not talking about dirt and gravel, I’m talking about the psychological definition of grit which is a “perseverance and passion for long-term goals”. Grit is the ability to keep going and keep a positive attitude even when things aren’t going as planned, are harder than imagined, and success does not appear to be coming soon.
Grit and a fixed mindset go hand-in-hand. Angela Duckworth is a researcher who has spent a lot of time studying grit, she has written a book about it that you can check out as well. Essentially, you can be smart, talented, curious, and raised in an incredibly wonderful home, but if you don’t know how to work hard, persevere through struggles and failure, and stay committed to your long-term goals you aren’t going to be successful.
8. Give up your need for perfection.
Perfectionism as a need to be perfect to avoid judgment or failure is completely characteristic of the fixed mindset. A perfectionist’s goal is to look and feel accomplished at all times, to never make mistakes, and always be perfect. In order to keep this up, most perfectionists will stay stuck. They’ll play it safe and only pursue things that they know they are guaranteed to succeed at. But if you know you are guaranteed to succeed at something, you never have to learn, grow, or improve.
Someone with the growth mindset doesn’t believe in this type of perfectionism. A growth mindset oriented person may believe in setting high standards for themselves, but they don’t achieve those high standards through perfection, but rather through hard work, perseverance, and never giving up. They recognize that they can attempt something that isn’t initially perfect. They aren’t worried about judgment and they don’t fear failure.
9. Celebrate hard work and actions, not character traits.
Have you ever told your kid, “Wow, you’re so smart!” or “You are so talented!”? I think most of us have, these types of things just roll right off the tongue, but they’re actually not helpful. They reinforce the fixed mindset.
When someone hears, “Wow, you are so smart” it sounds like a compliment, but when you internalize that compliment, “smart” becomes a part of your identity and “smart” is expected to naturally flow from you now and forever. Which means that the next time you do something you may expect your “smartness” to do all the work. When we emphasize and celebrate a character trait or the end result we missing a crucial opportunity to encourage growth.
What’s better is to celebrate the effort, not the end result. Celebrate times you worked hard, kept a good attitude, improved, or came up with a creative solution. When talking with your kids, instead of praising their smarts, say things like, “Wow, that was really hard. I can tell you put in a lot of effort to get that done. Great job!” The internal message here is that the hard work and effort are what it takes to be successful, not smarts or talent.
This is important because many people with a fixed mindset believe that needing to put in a lot of effort means they are inadequate. They believe that if you have to work hard at something then you are a failure or not good enough. This couldn’t be further from the truth, but it is a lie that so many people believe. Everything important in life requires a huge amount of effort, but if you think effort is a bad thing, you are at a huge disadvantage.
10. Don’t look for approval.
In the fixed mindset, judgment plays a large role. We are either constantly judging ourselves or looking to others for judgment and approval. We constantly seek praise and thrive on people telling us how amazing we are. We pursue things that lead to more praise and avoid things in which we know we won’t be receiving the praise and admiration we crave.
If we’re constantly thriving on approval ratings it can be crushing when we don’t measure up. People with a fixed mindset will often point to other people and other things as the problem when they don’t succeed. “I was sick.” “The judge was unfair.” “He didn’t give me enough time.”
People with a growth mindset aren’t striving for the approval of others, they are striving to learn and improve. Instead of pointing the finger at others when they fail they get curious and look for opportunities to grow and become better for next time.
Today’s Action Step to Develop a Growth Mindset
Spend some time doing some self-reflection. Mindsets are on a scale. You may not be all fixed mindset or all growth mindset oriented, you’re likely somewhere in the middle. And you might have a fixed mindset in one area of your life, but a growth mindset in another area of your life.
Identify the areas and the times in which you reflect a fixed mindset. Write out some of the thoughts and beliefs you have about your successes and failures. For every thought that reflects a fixed mindset, write out an alternative growth mindset oriented thought. Practice saying and thinking these new thoughts to give your brain a chance to develop new neural pathways for that thought.
Then look through these other ideas and come up with a few things you want to work on to help you develop more of a growth mindset. Slowly begin to implement new goals and challenges to reinforce your growth mindset beliefs.