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By:Mary Hoofnagle MA, LPC, RPT, NCC
Mindset is the way you approach the world and what you believe to be true. When it comes to success, your mindset is the most important predictor of your future. Everything begins with your mindset and branches out from there. People either operate from a fixed mindset, or a growth mindset. Take a minute and watch this video to get a quick overview:
If you believe that your talents, abilities, and intelligence are static, then there is nothing driving you toward making an effort to grow. As a result, you stick to things in which success is assured because you know there will be no accomplishments in untested areas. Your comfort zone stays small and you rarely stray out of it. Which not only closes you off from experiences that would help you grow, but also from opportunities where you might discover a new talent or meet others who might mentor you or connect you to new opportunities.
Or, according to Carol S. Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success:
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 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.
In contrast, if you believe that there is never ending potential to learn new things and grow in your talents, not only will you put yourself in new situations that could help you grow, you will embrace them with eagerness. Negative feedback is more fuel for growth, not something to be dreaded.
Or, according to Dweck:
People with a growth mindset believe that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toll, and training… Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true instead of experiences that will stretch you?
A growth mindset will propel you to success, but what if that’s not your mindset?
First of all… don’t beat yourself up. Your mindset is not your fault and it doesn’t mean you are doomed. We are born with a predisposition to a certain mindset, and our early experiences reinforce a certain mindset as well.
Second, know that it is possible to change your mindset. Dweck outlines the first four steps to begin this change:
Step 1: Learn to hear your fixed mindset voice
You have to start tuning in to your automatic thoughts and acknowledging them. Often times we do not even notice the automatic thoughts that we act on. Start with an activity that is new for you. Always wanted to garden? Start planting one. Thinking of learning a new language? Sign up for a class. Or… if you want to keep it simple and you’re not very artistic try drawing a mandala. Here’s a tutorial. Now, as you work listen to the things you think in your head. Say them out loud so you hear them. Stop and write them down so you can see them. You might be surprised at the things you tell yourself.
Step 2: Recognize that you have a choice
These may be automatic thoughts, but they don’t have to stay that way. I’ve done the mandala activity with groups before. I commonly hear, “I can’t draw,” or “Mine looks terrible,” or “I’m bad at this.” Those feelings may be your first instinct. But you can choose to keep feeling that way or to start looking at it differently. Note: It’s OK if you’re not ready yet. Give yourself time. Take a break. Some of my greatest challenges are eventually met with a fixed mindset when they feel overwhelming. I stop. I let myself feel defeated. I breathe and think of something different for a while. Then I come back to the challenge and figure out how to start again.
Step 3: Talk back to it with a growth mindset voice
Before I can start again I have to talk back to the fixed voice. In the mandala activity I coach groups in responding like this:
“I can’t draw.” with “I’m just now learning how to draw.”
“Mine looks terrible.” with “This isn’t finished yet.”
“I’m bad at this.” with “I haven’t learned this yet. I’m still practicing.”
For big challenges, when I am not sure what to say, I remind myself, “I am learning something from this.” And then once I figure out the lesson, I remind myself exactly what I am learning from it.
Step 4: Take the growth mindset action
Once you listen to the growth voice, the action flows naturally. If you are just now learning, you keep practicing. If you aren’t finished you keep adding to the mandala until you feel satisfied with the product.
Change is not easy. It has to be something you truly want in your heart and are willing to fully commit to. It helps to have an accountability partner or a guide in the process. Accountability can come from a journal, a trusted friend or family member, or a therapist. Contact us to make a counseling appointment if you are a seeking a guide and accountability in any kind of change.