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How to Set Your Mind to Growing a Growth Mindset

Want to know how to be successful? According to Carol Dweck, developing a growth mindset is essential to living a good, rewarding life. Here’s how to do it.
by Carrie M. King | Jul 25 2019

Imagine the following scenario: you’ve been working on a project for ages and you get some feedback about changes that need to be made. Do you a) accept that the feedback is an opportunity to grow and make the project the best it can be, b) get defensive about your perfect creation, or c) decide that this feedback is clearly proof that you’re terrible at everything you’ve ever done and should immediately give up and be exiled from society?

If you answered b or c, or felt a familiar pang of fear at the prospect of feedback, you most likely have what is known as a fixed mindset. If you’re now upset with yourself because you might have a fixed mindset, then you definitely have a fixed mindset. So, now that I’ve terrified you, what is it? A fixed mindset is one in which people believe their basic qualities, like intelligence or talent, are fixed, unchangeable traits.

But luckily, this fixation is all in the mind (sorry). The counterpoint to a fixed mindset is a growth mindset and like its name suggests, it can be grown. As with everything, it’s easier to teach to children, but as all people with a growth mindset know, it’s possible for adults to learn it, too. We’ll outline some of the key ideas here, but if you only have a minute (like, literally 60 seconds), then check out the video above where Page and Turner explain how it all works and what you need to do to get on the road to growth. You can also read or listen to the key ideas from Mindset on Blinkist in just about 15 minutes.

Meet Carol Dweck, Mindset Whisperer

You may have heard the terms ‘growth mindset’ and ‘fixed mindset’ before. If so, then you might also have heard of the Stanford professor who coined them, Carol Dweck. Dweck’s pioneering research “bridges developmental psychology, social psychology, and personality psychology, and examines the self-conceptions (or mindsets) people use to structure the self and guide their behavior.” She published her seminal work, Mindset, in 2006, and along with her TED Talk, it’s spawned much discussion, investigation, and in those of us with a fixed mindset, worry. Her influential work has been adopted by many educators and is increasingly considered a how-to-be-successful guide in the business world.

“Becoming is better than being”
Carol Dweck, Mindset

So, what is this growth mindset that we’re all supposed to be working toward? A growth mindset is the belief that your basic abilities can be developed over time through dedication and hard work. What you consider to be your innate traits is just the start of a long, rewarding, and surprising journey. People with a growth mindset tend to react better to challenges, are eager to receive constructive feedback, and see failures as opportunities to grow. As a result, they tend to persevere for longer and are less threatened by their peers and authority figures.

Why a Fixed Mindset Doesn’t Just Affect Your Career

Though so much of the modern literature around personal development is career-focused, it would benefit us all to think of the human experience as a more complex, holistic one. As author and life coach, Martha Beck, has said, “the way we do anything is the way we do everything.” By that logic, if you approach a challenging work project by believing that your ability to do it well or poorly is already a given, then there’s a high likelihood you’ll take the same approach to other aspects of your life, such as your creative capacities, your health, and even your relationships.

“…when people already know they’re deficient, they have nothing to lose by trying.”
Carol Dweck, Mindset

While learning to change a fixed mindset is by no means easy, it is possible. It’s all about continually recognizing your feelings, your reactions, and actively working to rewire your existing neural pathways. Our brains are the most complex objects in the known universe—you may take a little moment to give your skull a congratulatory pat—and are capable of so much more than we often give them credit for. By aiming to develop a growth mindset, you’re allowing your brain to flex its amazing capacities for change and growth, and as a result, your own.

Get a Growth Mindset and Start Believing in Your Ability to Change

People with a fixed mindset tend to value talent over perseverance, giftedness over craft. They are quick to judge themselves and others as being good or bad at something, and they assume that they’re being judged all the time, too. This makes them feel like every task is a test that they could potentially fail, that might reveal that they’re not as talented as they want to be, or that a stupid decision could taint them for good.

“We like to think of our champions and idols as superheroes who were born different from us. We don’t like to think of them as relatively ordinary people who made themselves extraordinary.”
Carol Dweck, Mindset

That is, of course, a terrifying and paralyzing way to live. But here’s a newsflash: no one thinks about anyone else even a fraction of an iota as much as they think about themselves. Knowing that however, doesn’t magically solve the fixed mindset problem. A magical solution, or a sudden overnight discovery of a marvelous, effortless new talent, is exactly what someone with a fixed mindset is probably hoping for. However, the following are some steps that you can repeatedly use to start achieving a growth mindset.

Treat Your Abilities Like Muscles

The first thing to know is that you’re not a victim of your talent or lack thereof. You can learn how to do anything you want to do, and you can get better at whatever that is with time and consistent practice. Your abilities are like muscles—they need training in order to perform at their peak. Even if you have what you perceive to be a talent for something, if you never practice, you’ll never improve.

Think Like a Beginner

Every baby is born with a growth mindset. No toddler falls over a few times and thinks, “Well, I guess I just don’t have a talent for this walking business.” Instead, each time a child falls over, they learn something about how to do it better. They’re overwhelmed by curiosity and excitement about what they’ll be able to discover once they figure out how to properly use their little legs. Standing got off to a shaky start but, incrementally, they mastered it, and are now on their wobbly way to the next big challenge.

“Picture your brain forming new connections as you meet the challenge and learn. Keep on going.”
Carol Dweck, Mindset

Anytime you begin something new, try to employ that same curiosity and excitement that a baby brings to learning to walk. Expect to suck at it and be excited about the opportunity that gives you to grow, instead of letting your fear of being terrible make you quit or give the opportunity to someone else. Remind yourself that you’re learning and that every mistake, every failure, brings you closer to being better. Keep reminding yourself. And then remind yourself again.

Be Kind to Yourself

Fixed mindsets don’t just crop up out of nowhere. We learn them over time due to circumstances such as critical parents, or teachers who praised how smart we were instead of how much effort we put in. When perfection is expected and rewarded, we become scared of showing anything akin to struggle.

Developing a fixed mindset then becomes an emotional crutch that protects us from failure, but only because we stop truly trying. It becomes comforting and ego-boosting because we can easily excel in certain areas, while expressing disdain or disinterest in those that we find more difficult. This starts out as a protective shell, but like all rigid structures, becomes incredibly limiting and inflexible as we progress through life. It also means that the real estate that you feel you rule over gets smaller and smaller and that you need to defend it all the more fiercely.

Those with a growth mindset can expand their spheres of influence and interest through simply giving new things a go and seeing what happens. You won’t become a master of everything, but you don’t need to! A growth mindset offers you a chance to sample and enjoy the breadth of all that life has to offer, to fail at some things without calling your self-worth into question, and to excel—joyfully—at others.

To learn more about how you can develop a growth mindset, pick up Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck today. It’ll teach you how to be successful, how to redefine what you consider success to be, and to take failure on the chin, every day, as you stumble your way happily to a more rewarding life. If you only have about 15 minutes to spare, you can read the key insights from this title on Blinkist.

To discover more in this series, check out:

Of Two Minds: How to Get Better at Decision-Making by Thinking Fast and Slow

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