Is Mindset Holding You Back? Expand Your Abilities with a Growth Mindset

“I have always been deeply moved by outstanding achievement and saddened by wasted potential.” Dr Carol Dweck

World-renowned Stanford University psychologist Dr Carol Dweck explains,

“For 20 years my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life.” 

Dr Dweck initially discovered the benefits of a growth mindset in achieving higher levels of success and shared them in her book, ‘Mindset: The New Psychology of Success’.  Learning how you approach daily activities is significant in determining whether or not you are on track filling the gap to your potential.

First, what distinguishes a fixed mindset from a growth mindset? Dr Dweck states,

“A person with a fixed mindset believes we are all born with a certain set of skills and competencies. We either have a talent for something or we don’t.”

In contrast she explains,

“If you have a full-on growth mindset, anything and everything is possible. If there is something you have an interest in yet don’t know how to do, you do whatever it takes to learn it.”

One with a fixed mindset may initially appear talented. The fixed mindset shows up when they encounter negative criticism, obstacles, or feel threatened by someone with greater skills. Ego takes over. Time is spent attempting to appear talented, avoiding challenges, or quitting rather than striving to grow and develop.

A person with a growth mindset may first appear awkward or inadequate but they know they can improve with practice. Failure, critiques, and being with those who are more successful are not threatening and embraced as opportunities to learn and improve. Obstacles are simply glitches to overcome. The growth mindset builds motivation, drive, and a hard work ethic to learn, grow, persist, and master leading to great achievements.

The good news is that we have the ability to choose. We can shift the lense from which we view at any time from a fixed to growth mindset and it is relatively simple with focused attention. Which mindset fits you today? Which one of the sentences below best matches how you feel?

~ Your basic intelligence, talents, and personality traits do not change much. You are who you were born to be.
~ People have the ability to substantially develop their intelligence, talents, and personality traits through focused effort.

The first statement is characteristic of a fixed mindset, while the second is indicative of a growth mindset. So how do you make the shift when the fixed mindset is holding you back?

Acknowledge the Evidence- Think about something that was really hard that you have improved in dramatically. Notice the stories of others all around us who have built expertise in areas you would never expect. Over the years I’ve learned that seeing someone struggle at the start has little predictability to their success. More important is their approach to the activity.

Be Aware when the Fixed Mindset Shows Up- When negative self-talk is questioning your abilities: smart enough, talented enough, experienced enough, ask: What will I gain from this experience? i.e. knowledge, experience, developing a skill, strengthening your courage muscle, etc. You may be feeling unprepared. Shift to the growth mindset making a commitment to learn more, develop skills, and improve no matter what the outcome.

Know that Mindset is a Choice- You choose which direction you focus. Will you focus on being limited (fixed mindset)? Or will you be open the possibilities (growth mindset)? Ignite the belief you can learn, grow, develop, and achieve through effort.

Choose Growth Mindset Language- Growth mindset language is not critical and does not stop you in your tracks. It is encouraging, such as: “I may not be good now, but I will study daily and become an expert.” “I may be new but I still have value to offer and will learn tremendously from this experience.” “This is a challenging obstacle but I will keep at it until I get it, even if I have to get help from someone more experienced.” “Can’t? What is that? Not even in my vocabulary.”

So how can you stimulate a growth mindset in others such as your employees, children, family, friends, associates, etc.? Avoid labels.  Compliment their effort instead of complimenting ‘who’ they are. Instead of saying, “You’re so lucky to be so talented.” A better choice is: “You worked so hard, overcame challenges, and kept with it until you succeeded.”

The growth mindset creates a more realistic, honest self-view as you discern from each experience what you like, don’t like, strengths, and weaknesses. The fixed mindset, however, creates a distorted self-view, exaggerated and limited, distancing you from knowing yourself and your true abilities. Howard Gardner has studied exceptional people. In his book Extraordinary Minds he concludes exceptional individuals have “a special talent for identifying their own strengths and weaknesses.”  Since the fixed mindset does not analyze abilities other than trying to determine how good they are, it is safe to say extraordinary minds work in a growth mindset.

How will you view daily experiences and challenges from here on out? It is your choice. May you move forward today with a growth mindset that supports you to learn, develop, and experience your extraordinary abilities… Starting now!

Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., Mindset- The New Psychology of Success, 2006, (New York: Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, 2007).
Terry Waghorn, Are You Trapped In A Fixed Mindset? Fix It!, 04/20/09
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Howard Gardner, Extraordinary Minds (New York:Basic Books, 1997)

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