September 9, 2019

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Everyone talks about mindset nowadays. We know certain mindsets hold us back, but for those who haven’t read the books or steeped themselves in the research (baby boomers), it sounds woo-woo and new-agey. Let’s discuss the importance of mindset, and how to move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.

Trust me, it’s really important.

What is Mindset?

Mindset is how you see the world. It’s how you interpret your environment and determines how you react to it. Mindset is a powerful tool that can make or break your success in life.

Why Does Mindset Matter?

Think about someone you know who always complains about his or her life. They are constantly changing jobs, relationships, or eschew both altogether. The blame belongs to everyone but them, despite them being the only common denominator.

Once you’ve got that person in your mind’s eye, take another moment to think about someone who has great success. Someone who you look up to as a role model, who always seems to achieve all their goals and looks like a rising star, whatever their industry.

Side-by-side, these two people are remarkably different.

One might attribute this to circumstances, which are beyond our control. Circumstances can be the parents we were born to, where we grew up, how our relatives treated us as children, what natural disasters we experienced, any diseases we have, and so on. It’s easy to blame circumstances for the differences between these two people.

But the true difference is really in their thoughts. This is where mindset lives. What you think about the world defines how you feel about it, which drives the actions you take. Those actions (or inactions) are the source of whatever results you have.

Brooke Castillo from The Life Coach School calls this The Model.

Both people you’re thinking of could’ve had identical childhoods, identical beginnings, and identical circumstances. But one of them chose to think differently about it.

Fixed Mindset

Carol Dweck, PhD., describes the fixed mindset like this:

“Believing that your qualities are carved in stone—the fixed mindset—creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character—well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.” (Mindset, pg. 6)

Unfortunately, it appears that the fixed mindset is the dominant mindset among people today.

Parents praise their kids for how “smart” they are, not the effort they put in.

Fixed mindset holds us back. It tells us that if we’re naturally no good at something, that there’s no point in trying to beat our heads against a wall that won’t move. Living with a fixed mindset creates a negative feedback loop and turns us into victims of our own circumstances.

If you had the inkling to start your own business, the first obstacle you encounter would probably end your journey instead of energize you to keep learning.

Examples of Fixed Mindset

Failure is the limit of my abilities.

Think about those two people from earlier. I’m willing to bet one of them usually speaks with language like this:

  • I’m so stupid; I can’t do this.
  • It’s too hard, so I’ll never be able to get the hang of it.
  • Some people are born with talent and I’m not one of them.
  • I’m so bad at organizing, math, art, running, [pick your noun/verb]
  • I’ll never get out of debt.
  • My boss will never give me a raise or promotion.
  • I stick to what I know.
  • Someone else’s success means there’s less success available for me. (Their slice of the pie means there’s less pie for me, versus the reality that there is infinite pie.)

I used to say “I can’t run” all the time. It finally bothered me enough to change my mindset, and then I ran a 5K race and won 3rd in my age group.

I got tired of hating public speaking, so I joined Toastmasters.

My sister is well-known for saying she’s bad at math. I know that’s a fixed mindset, and she probably doesn’t care.

Growth Mindset

Carol Dweck describes growth mindset like this:

“This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way—in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments—everyone can change and grow through application and experience.” (Mindset, pg. 7)

So what does this mean for we humans?

Well, it means that we’re always capable of learning and doing more. What matters is whether or not we believe that (the growth mindset).

I have a good example of myself going from Fixed Mindset to Growth Mindset, specifically when learning Spanish.

My junior high school Spanish teacher was Bolivian, and Spanish was his third language. (His first two were Portuguese and English, respectively). From the subjective standpoint of both my junior-high self and present me, he was not a good teacher. I blamed him for my hatred of the Spanish language, and I forgot 99% off what I learned within a couple years. I really thought I’d never get the hang of Spanish, so I didn’t even try.

And then I grew up, and read a lot of books on self-improvement, including Dr. Dweck’s book on mindset.

And a little nugget of truth bubbled up.

I’m in control of what I do, learn, feel, think, and have. If I want to learn Spanish, that’s well within my grasp. So I started learning Spanish again with Duolingo and occasional conversations with my Colombian cube-neighbor at work.

Examples of Growth Mindset

There are so many examples of growth mindset to choose from now that we know what it looks like.

My favorite, though, is one of Dr. Dweck’s examples. She tells parents to stop telling their children how smart they are.

She shows that children whose parents praise them for effort rather than smarts are more likely to take on more challenging assignments. Kids who believed effort counted more than innate knowledge did far, far better down the road when her team followed up years later.

Growth mindset is just a willingness to keep learning. It’s the understanding that we are not stuck in one place forever.

Failure is an opportunity to grow.

  • I know I have the ability to learn this.
  • You know, I don’t have an answer for you right now, but I’ll find out.
  • Math is challenging, but not impossible!
  • Everybody has to practice to be good at something, even people we think are naturally talented.
  • I’m willing to change myself in order to become better at something.
  • I like to try new things.

How to Move from Fixed to Growth

The good news is that you can make the mindset shift just by deciding to change your mindset. It takes practice to consistently recognize when you’re thinking with a fixed mindset and reframe the thought into growth.

So, instead of telling yourself “I can’t run,” (like I did), you reframe it to “I have experienced discomfort when running in the past.” Or, another way to reframe it: “I find running difficult.”

With the growth mindset, your lack of skill for something doesn’t reflect anything about who you are—it just shows what you haven’t taken the time to pursue yet.

The irony is that all it takes is a mindset shift.

Changing your thinking is as simple as recognizing when you’re thinking fixed thoughts and pausing to reframe them into growth thoughts.

Which Team are You On?

In case it wasn’t obvious, I’m on #teamgrowth. I used to live with fixed mindset and slowly came out of that cave over the past several years. Honestly, I don’t like who I was with a fixed mindset. I was filled with negativity and always put myself and my abilities down. It was hard to accept compliments from people.

Remember, the pie is infinite. Someone else’s slice doesn’t have any negative effect on you and your slice.

So which team are you on?

About the author 


Life & mindset coach, writer, host of podcast This is Type 1: Real Life with Type 1 Diabetes, and full-time analyst in the power industry. I'm passionate about showing people that how we think determines our realities.

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