Why is it that some people, regardless of the industry they work in, the challenges they face, or their stage in life seem to remain optimistic and solution-focused? They take feedback well, roll with challenges, and make great teammates.If it seems like those people are wired differently, perhaps they are. People who ask for feedback, see setbacks as opportunities, and focus on process over outcome have something foundational in common: a primary growth mindset. The good news is you can develop your mindset to focus on growth.
This topic is especially important to learn about, if you have a professional practice in the wellness world.
What is a Growth Mindset?
You might be familiar with Stanford University Psychology professor and researcher Dr. Carol Dweck’s groundbreaking work on mindsets. Her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success has become a favorite amongst coaches, leaders, and fitness professionals for the way it reframes tenacity and focus.
Dweck says “Mindsets are just beliefs. They’re powerful beliefs, but they’re just something in your mind, and you can change your mind.” Our beliefs govern how we think the world works, what we believe to be possible, and therefore what we’ll attempt in our lives.
A growth mindset is a collection of beliefs that talents can be developed with feedback, hard work, and by examining our mistakes so we can make improvements over time. Those with a growth mindset see their setbacks as opportunities to learn and get better. They prioritize process over outcomes because the focus isn’t on being perfect, it’s on continuing to grow. Growth mindset beliefs also open a person up to constructive feedback, seeing it as another opportunity to improve.
This contrasts with a fixed mindset where a person believes that success isn’t based on skills you gradually learn, but on gifts and traits, you’re born with. Because talents are bestowed upon someone at birth your success and failure are dictated by static abilities, what Dweck calls “innate skills”. The fixed mindset person sees struggling as a sign you’re not good at something, failing.
They’re outcome-focused, giving up if they don’t think they’re “good” at what they’re trying to achieve. With a fixed mindset, people are less likely to try challenging things and prefer to do what they already believe they’re good at. They resent others’ success, take it as a sign of their weaknesses, shy away from feedback, and take criticism personally.
Dweck is careful to point out that no one is purely fixed or growth in their mindset, that we all have a mix of both, and we may have different mindset beliefs in different areas of our lives. Her work has also shown that our mindsets can be shifted through how we think and talk about the projects we’re working on or the challenges we face.
Why does a Growth Mindset Matter?
Do you want to learn to take more risks, learn from your mistakes, and roll with challenges without taking them personally? Many of us do and these traits are at the heart of a growth mindset.
Those with a growth mindset are more likely to improve their skills than those with a fixed approach.
That’s because the growth-minded person will take more frequent, calculated risks as they look for ways to improve. They’ll also worry less about looking smart or having the “right answer.”
Instead, growth-oriented people strive to do their best and put their energy into improving, instead of trying to get others to perceive them as smart or successful.
Because the growth-minded person prioritizes effort and process over an external perception of success they’re more likely to focus on enjoying what they’re doing for its own sake. They’re more process-oriented, more likely to take risks and stretch their skills, and the growth mindset person has greater life satisfaction and overall success.
5 Tips for Developing a Growth Mindset
Fortunately, research shows you can shift your mindset. Here are 5 tips for approaching your growth mindset work:
#1 Learn to recognize your fixed mindset voice
we all have a mix of fixed and growth mindsets, and we all use different language in our fixed mindset self-talk. Perhaps you tell yourself “I’m not good at…” or “I always…”.
However, you fill in the blank, these finite statements are expressions of your fixed mindset. You might say things about your characteristics such as “I’m a quiet person” or “I’m too shy to go for that goal”; however, there are likely times in your life when you have shown that statement isn’t universally true. To change your mindset, you’ll first want to recognize where you say fixed statements about what is possible.
#2 Get comfortable being vulnerable, then seek meaningful feedback
Feedback is uncomfortable for many people, and feedback often starts with becoming vulnerable. A growth-oriented person wants to improve, but that also means admitting your mistakes, unhelpful patterns, and shortcomings.
Feedback is also difficult to give well, compounding the challenges to growth. But you can choose to find ways to make feedback meaningful. It’s a common misunderstanding that a growth mindset focuses on effort. While effort is important, what’s perhaps more important is learning from your mistakes and trying something more useful next time. Meaningful feedback doesn’t only come from others, it can come from you.
Take the time to examine what mistakes you may have made when you struggle or fail, then make an action plan for how you can apply those mistakes and do better next time. This will take vulnerability and patience but pay dividends in the end.
#3 Disconnect your self-worth from your work
This ties directly with receiving feedback. Those with a fixed mindset believe success relies on innate talents and abilities, so any criticism or failure reflects a personal shortcoming. When you develop the belief that your worth isn’t determined by how much you make financially, the work you produce, or any external quality you become less fragile to mistakes, feedback, and criticism.
Those with a growth mindset find sources of self-esteem and self-worth outside of what they produce. By investing your self-worth into your values, positive qualities, and foundational human worth you become more resilient and will take fewer things personally.
#4 Reframe by adding “…yet”
Once you’re able to hear your fixed mindset voice from tip number one, you can start to reframe it.
Reframing is a technique where you change how you view or interpret a thought, emotion, or situation. A simple reframe to shift from a fixed to a growth mindset is adding the word “…yet” to a fixed mindset phrase.
For example, I might say “I’m not a very good writer” which is fixed. However, if I add “…yet” it creates flexibility and the opportunity to learn and grow. By saying “I’m not a very good writer, yet” I’m reminding myself of the skills I can work on to become a better writer if I desire to be.
#5 Approach your mindset with a growth mindset
This last tip is a little meta, but an essential step for shifting mindset. A growth mindset is a set of beliefs including that change and growth are possible. In contrast, if you don’t believe that change and growth are possible, you’re unlikely to try to change and grow.
In that way, a growth mindset can be a self-fulfilling belief. Therefore, to embrace a growth mindset you must believe that mindsets can be changed and evolve, including yours. To shift your mindset towards more growth you first want to embrace that it’s possible to shift your mindset.
Be on the lookout for a false growth mindset
No one is purely fixed or growth, but when you learn about the power of a growth mindset it’s easy to tell yourself that you’ll be growing from now on. By pushing away or denying any of your fixed mindset thoughts or phrases you can create a false sense of growth, a form of toxic positivity. Observe yourself when you get anxious, have a fear of failing, or feel defeated.
Allow yourself to experience these reactions and emotions without rejecting them and consider how you might even learn from them going forward. Doing so is more authentic to your experience and will support long-term growth.
Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House.
Dweck, C. (2015). Carol Dweck revisits the growth mindset. Education week, 35(5), 20-24.
Dweck, C. (2016). What having a “growth mindset” actually means. Harvard Business Review, 13(2), 2-5.
Yeager, D. S., & Dweck, C. S. (2020). What can be learned from growth mindset controversies?. American psychologist, 75(9), 1269.