You have probably heard the quote “Whether you think you can or can’t you are right.” This quote is typically used to convey the power of our thoughts and mindsets to influence the trajectory of our lives. And though we all have different mindsets, these mindsets determine how we deal with challenges, respond to stress, our personal and professional relationships and the level of achievements and personal success we attain. Our mindsets shape our perspectives on everything in the world around us- from money, health, work, play, to how we deal with adversity. Our mindsets determine our behaviors and responses.
So, what is a mindset? A mindset can be defined as our way of thinking, what we believe, expect and the lens through which we see the world. According to psychologist Carol Dweck, there are two mindsets: the growth and fixed mindset. “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort.” Whereas “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view fosters a love of learning and a sense of resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”
This distinction between the growth and fixed mindset proves the importance of our mindset in how we show up and respond to life challenges. It explains why some less talented people thrive in the harshest of circumstances while their more talented and fortunate counterparts fail or do not live up to their potential despite their privilege. People with a growth mindset believe in their ability to grow, change, and adapt, and believe that others can too. They typically see life as a journey with lessons you can learn every day and are always striving to improve on their last best effort. People operating from a growth mindset are curious, resourceful, innovative and are open to learning new things as well as unlearning old and unhealthy patterns and behaviors.
On the other hand, people with a fixed mindset believe that their talents and abilities and that of others are static and predetermined traits. When people adopt a fixed mindset, they show up as inflexible and with deep seated convictions about how people are. Usually, they are not open to broadening their perspectives to learn something new or to look at an issue through another lens. In a fixed mindset, people can also see themselves as victims and believe that life is always happening to them. Fixed mindset people have a more fatalistic view of their lives and others. They think “This is how I am; this is my personality; you get what you get and no more.”
Another important thing to note is that our mindsets are dynamic. The growth and fixed mindset are present in all of us and can change overtime as we mature and navigate different life issues. Since we are never entirely one or the other, an individual might have a fixed mindset toward dealing with a particular challenge and a growth mindset to dealing with another. And though our mindset impacts everything we do, it is entirely possible for us to be unaware of them because they were shaped very early in our lives. Some people developed beliefs about their abilities from the positive or negative words that were spoken to them and over them during their childhood and based on how we were treated. While others discovered talents and unique gifts from the praise and encouragement they received.
Your Mindset Matters
So, think of an area that you struggle with, or something you feel strongly about. Where did you learn that self-limiting belief or develop that mindset? Was it a stereotype passed on to you? Was it something you were told? Or did you come to that position based on an experience? For as long as I can remember, I have always struggled with Mathematics and other numeric subjects and I have the poor grades to prove it. This fixed mindset that I did not like math and was not good at it started in my childhood and travelled with me all the way through to college. However, in my first year of undergraduate studies, I had to do an Introductory Statistics course to complete my degree. The course was widely touted as difficult and had a high failure rate amongst first year students. When it was time to do the course, I found it difficult and intimidating and went through the semester just praying to scrape through with a passing grade. Unfortunately, at the end of the semester, I got my results and found a big F amongst the As and B+s on my transcript.
The reality of my negative and fixed mindset about disliking any numeric subject finally sank in. I knew that I would not graduate without a passing grade and that I could not afford to keep redoing it, if I failed again. So, I decided to dedicate the entire summer to redoing the course at summer school. I adopted a new “must pass “growth mindset to the course and over the next two months period, I dedicated all my time to practicing pass papers, joined a study group and took advantage of all the resources to help me to prepare for the exam. At the end of summer school, I retook the exam and got a B. The result surprised me and made me question my long-held belief that I was not good at numeric subjects. Afterall, the course had not changed, the only thing that was different was my mindset and the amount of effort I expended.
When I look back at that time, I now realize that I had always had the ability to do math and any numeric subjects. However, my self-limiting belief that I could not do it, and was not good at it caused me to have a negative attitude towards numeric subjects. That fixed mindset had undermined my performance and willingness to learn math and caused me to miss opportunities to pursue any other subjects that included math. So over to you, what issue or relationship have you developed a fixed mindset towards? And how has that mindset undermined your overall progress, attitude, or ability to form effective relationships? Our mindsets are powerful and real for as the saying goes – “As a man/woman thinketh so is he/she.”
Developing a Growth Mindset
Having a growth mindset is generally more advantageous that having a fixed mindset. A growth mindset will help you push through setbacks and cope more effectively with change, stress, and uncertainty. However, we do not permanently or automatically arrive at a growth mindset. For each situation we face, we must intentionally choose to adopt a growth mindset to whatever problem and or situation we are dealing with.
Here are a few takeaways to help you develop a growth mindset:
- Step out of your comfort zone: When you have a decision to make, rather than choosing something safe or something you find easy, challenge yourself to take on something will stretch you and require you to learn new things. Afterall, the skills and talents that got you to one level might not be enough to take you to your next. Be willing to learn, unlearn and relearn and believe in others abilities to do the same.
- Practice resilience: The next time you are faced with adversity, a failure or mistake, rather than beating up on yourself, taking on a victim mentality or blaming others, show responsibility and ask yourself -how I can grow and learn from this experience and how will I make the best of it?
- Monitor your triggers: Fixed mindsets hold us back, so spend some time learning what triggers you and how to manage them. For instance, what happens when you receive criticism? Do you feel resentful or defensive or do you see feedback as an opportunity to learn? How you see it, determines how you will treat it. By developing a greater awareness of your triggers, you will be better able to manage your responses and improve your recovery time.
- Notice your self-talk? What do you say to the person in the mirror? Some people have a cruel inner monologue where they speak negatively about themselves to themselves. And because our first thoughts in difficult situations tend to be negative (see previous post on automatic negative thoughts), we must constantly monitor our thoughts to silence the self-defeating and limiting voice of a fixed mindset.
- Do not dwell on setbacks, failures, or mistakes: Dwelling on your low points and negative life experiences will not move you forward. When you think of yourself as victim, you close off yourself to new possibilities and opportunities. This practice will not help you to become better and will only cause you to feel worse, doubt yourself and undermine self-confidence and esteem.
At the end of the day, our mindsets are not static or permanent and can change as we change, grow, and develop. We can all practice a growth mindset if we choose to be developed, open to new ideas and to pursue lifelong learning. Until next time, Remember It’s A Learning Life!