“The hand you are dealt is just the starting point for development.” —Carol Dweck
A growth mindset is simply the belief that our basic abilities can be developed and improved through dedication and hard work. It’s not so much that this belief is some kind of magic. It’s just that without a growth mindset, we don’t exert the required effort and so we remain perpetually stuck.
But with a growth mindset, we can break through the stuck-ness and achieve the results we desire, whether that be at work, in our relationships, or in other aspects of our lives.
Do you believe that you were born and raised with a fixed set of skills and abilities—such as your IQ—that you had from birth and will stay with you your entire life? Or do you believe that your ideas and beliefs are ever-evolving, that you can learn new skills if you work at it, and that your wisdom and intelligence grows with each new experience? If you said “yes” to the first question, you have what is referred to as a “fixed mindset.” If you said “yes” to the second question, you probably have what Stanford professor Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset.” Don’t worry if you currently have more of a fixed mindset—you can develop a growth mindset!
Why Does Growth Mindset Matter?
If we have a “fixed mindset,” we may shy away from challenges because we do not want to feel embarrassed or humiliated in front of others—who does, right?! But this can be problematic because our fear of making mistakes can lead us to avoid challenges and new experiences—experiences which would help us grow, improve ourselves in important ways, and create the life we desire.
If we have a “growth mindset,” we enjoy challenges, despite the risk, usually because we value learning and growth more than others thinking we know what we’re doing. And because we’re always trying new things, we often don’t know what we’re doing. Still, those of us with a growth mindset often build new skills more easily because we believe we can and so we really work at it.
Developing a growth mindset could contribute to a fuller, more meaningful life because the range of experiences that such a life encompasses will be considerably broader.
Changing one’s mindset from a “fixed” perspective to a “growth mindset” may seem daunting, but by taking baby steps, anyone who wants to can build a “growth mindset.” Here’s how:
1. Face your challenges bravely.
If you find yourself terrified in the face of a serious challenge, stop and reframe the situation in your mind. Consider reframing your challenge as an “opportunity,” thus slightly shifting your perspective. Each challenge or opportunity invites us into a new experience that is a sort of adventure.
Try different tactics to coach yourself about how to explore a new path, or how to develop a new skill, or how to interact with a new group of people, or to navigate through new circumstances. As an adventure, fear is an acceptable feeling. You press forward anyway because it’s exciting and new. If you take this same attitude with a crisis at work or whatever the challenge, you can discover abilities you didn’t know you even possessed.
2. Pay attention to your words and thoughts.
Start to pay attention to the words you speak, even the words in your mind. If your words are low or dark, the results may be also. So watch yourself. Listen to what you are saying and thinking. Censor yourself and become your own guide.
Replace negative thoughts with more positive ones to build a growth mindset. Replace judgment with acceptance, hate with compassion. If you are disrespecting yourself or lowering your ethical standards, the outcome of your decisions and their consequences will reflect that. Intend to think higher thoughts and hold yourself to it.
3. Find your purpose.
Does your life feel like it is purpose-driven? If yes, define for yourself what that purpose encompasses. If you are drawing a blank, ask that your life’s purpose become clear to you. Meditate or contemplate on “purpose” and see what tidbits come through until you feel like you know the essence of your purpose, or perhaps part of it. Then pursue it—that’s what’ll help you build a growth mindset.
4. Turn criticism around.
The purpose of criticism is to make things better. Someone else can see what you are doing from a slightly different perspective than you, and may have some valuable suggestions for you. If you open up to hearing suggestions, you can more easily develop your growth mindset.
5. Learn from the mistakes of others.
If you can learn from the mistakes of others, then you may be able to make fewer mistakes. This can sometimes calm the fear of trying new things, a key aspect of building a growth mindset.
6. Be realistic. It takes time, sometimes lots of time, to learn a new skill, like learning a new language or learning to play an instrument or learning how to become a good lawyer.
Speed is not important. When you have a growth mindset, the end results are less of a focus. Instead, you fully engage and put effort into the process, no matter how long it takes. Incidentally, focusing on the process often also improves results, because you did put a lot of effort in along the way.
Growth mindset means one embraces challenges, persists in the face of setbacks, takes responsibility for their words and actions, and acknowledges that effort is the path toward mastery. It is basically the reason why “practice makes perfect.”
By choosing to make the extra effort to build a growth mindset, you can make your mental processes work for you, resulting in a greater likelihood that you get the results you’re looking for.