If you have been struggling to lose weight, improve a relationship, find a new job or just have more fun, the answer may be in your mindset. Mindset is a concept developed over a decade ago by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck through her research to understand how people cope with failures. Dweck defines mindset as the view we adopt of ourselves and proved that it can profoundly affect how we live our lives. She found that people generally fall into two categories, those with a fixed mindset and those with a growth mindset. A “fixed” mindset suggests that our intelligence, ability and personality are carved in stone and do not change much over our lifetime. An example of this mindset might be “I am not athletic”” or “I am a math person” which suggest that these traits can’t change. The downside to a “fixed” mindset is these kinds of beliefs limit personal growth. By contrast, a “growth” mindset suggests that individuals have basic abilities but can develop and cultivate these and other abilities or intelligence and talents through effort and strategies. This view allows for potential to grow and opens us to greater possibility and success. Adopting a growth mindset can improve all areas of life from personal to professional. Changing from a fixed mindset to a growth can be accomplished through three steps.
Three Steps to Grow Your Mindset
According to Dweck, a growth mindset is based on the belief that we can change throughout our lifetime. While changing our beliefs can be challenging, the growth mindset can be developed in small steps.
- Awareness of how we think. The first step is to become aware of our behavior. When we tune into our thoughts and start to notice our reaction to challenges, criticism and setbacks, we can notice patterns where we are stuck. Challenges, criticism and setbacks are roadblocks with a fixed mindset. For example, a fixed mindset reaction to a difficult challenge is to question whether we can succeed. If we don’t think we can, why would we try only to fail. For instance, the thought “I am not going to volunteer to help my boss with that project because I am not sure I have all the skills. If I fail, I will look like a fool in front of my co-workers” is limiting the possibility for growth. In addition, constructive criticism is taken as an affront and a typical “fixed” mindset response is to become defensive and feel like a failure. “I can’t believe she told me my paper needed work. I am a horrible writer.” Setbacks can be a reason to give up because they reinforce our belief that we did not have the ability in the first place. “I auditioned and didn’t get a part. I knew I wasn’t a good singer.”
- Choice, The second step is to take this awareness and begin to see each of these is a choice. While it is comfortable to stay with our habitual responses, growth occurs when we make choices to change our limiting beliefs. A limiting belief keeps us in a safe zone but also keeps us from growth. For example, if my limiting belief is “I can never lose weight because my parents were overweight”, why try at all? This choice is to default to limiting thoughts. Or in the setback example of not being selected because of lack of natural ability, the response is a choice to give up because I “failed” and my ability is fixed. The growth choice requires more effort to stretch our abilities or maybe change the strategy.
- Challenge the belief. The final step is to challenge the belief as it comes up. To challenge these beliefs, it is important to see challenges, criticism or setbacks as opportunity for growth. For instance, in the above example of the audition “although I did not get this part, I learned about the audition process and I will continue to take voice lessons because it is important to me and I enjoy it. I might not get a part the next time I will keep trying new strategies. I can ask for feedback and see how I might improve.” The shift from focusing solely on the result to enjoying the process to critical with a growth mindset. In addition, being open to feedback helps us develop much more than seeing it as a failure. Dweck suggests incorporating the phrase “I am not there yet” instead of “I failed” to stay encouraged to keep trying. As Henry Ford said “whether you think you can or think you can’t – you are right!”