Growth mindset is rapidly becoming one of the latest buzzwords in personal development and wellness. But most people don’t clearly understand what this concept means.

Let’s fix that. Once you have a grasp on the true definition of growth mindset, you’ll quickly see the benefit in shifting your perspective.

First things first.

What is a “growth mindset”?

About thirty years ago, Dr. Carol Dweck started studying the behaviors of children who experience failure. In her studies, she found that kids generally react to failure in one of two ways. She discovered that some children bounced back, while others seemed devastated by even the smallest setbacks.

Dr. Dweck coined the terms “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset” to describe the two sets of beliefs held by the children.

The kids who were devastated by their failures were demonstrating fixed mindset, which is the belief that basic qualities (such as intelligence) are fixed traits. These kids viewed failure as a direct testament to their own abilities.

In other words, these children believed their failure meant it wasn’t possible to succeed based on the set of talents that they already had. They thought they couldn’t improve their skills.

The other group of children, those who bounced back after experiencing failure, were demonstrating growth mindset. Growth mindset is the belief that basic qualities, talents, and abilities can be improved through efforts such as hard work, good strategies, or help from others.

The kids in the second group didn’t view failure as permanent roadblock. Instead, they processed their lack of success as helpful information that could lead them to future accomplishment.

I have a positive attitude! Do I have a growth mindset?

Nope. Sorry, it’s not quite that easy.

A common misconception is that being open-minded and flexible (or having a positive attitude) means you have a growth mindset. However flexibility, open-mindedness, and attitude are things you generally view as inherent traits.

That’s why Dr. Dweck and her colleagues refer to this interpretation as “false growth mindset.” In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success she says, “A growth mindset is not something you declare, it’s a really difficult journey you take over a long period of time.”

Just because a growth mindset is desirable doesn’t mean you automatically have it.

In reality, people have a mix of fixed and growth mindset. This mix continually evolves based on experience. A “pure” growth mindset doesn’t exist.

(Read the Self-Worthy article A Little Bit of Uncertainty is Good For You for more mindset-shifting tips!)

A growth mindset will change your outcomes

As we learned from the children in Dr. Dweck’s study, encountering failure with a fixed mindset makes you want to give up immediately. When you don’t believe you can improve your ability, you prefer to quit rather than keep trying.

However, when you have a growth mindset, you use failure as a tool for improvement. With a growth mindset, the information you’re able to glean from your setbacks allows you to analyze the reason for failure and make corrections.

According to Dr. Dweck, when you have a growth mindset you are more likely to be inspired by people who are better than you rather than discouraged or intimidated. And folks with growth mindset are able to achieve more in the long run.

Clearly, a growth mindset is much more desirable than a fixed one. So how can you shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset?

Shift your perspective

Advances in neuroscience have shown that your brain is far more malleable than previously determined. Brain plasticity (or neuroplasticity) is the ability of your brain to change by way of training.

This is great news, considering you want to change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset!

Yes, it is possible to shift your perspective, but there are a few things to keep in mind (pun intended) when working on changing your mindset.

1. Don’t confuse optimism or open-mindedness with a growth mindset

As I mentioned earlier, these are things Dr. Dweck refers to as “false growth mindset.” That’s because these traits make you believe you already have a growth mindset and that you’ve always had it.

That sounds more like a fixed mindset, no?

Acknowledge that a pure, naturally-occurring growth mindset doesn’t exist. This is important if you want to reap the benefits of shifting from a fixed mindset to a growth one.

2. Celebrate effort, strategies, and choices (but don’t ignore outcomes)

Tie success to effort rather than ability or talent.

The same goes for failures, but be careful not to gloss over the failure or ignore it entirely. Simply praising effort and saying, “Oh well! I failed!” isn’t going to cut it.

Outcomes are an important part of the learning process and guide the path toward achievement.

3. Don’t be discouraged by failure

You don’t want to completely ignore your failures, but you don’t want to let yourself be disheartened by them, either.

View the setback as part of the learning process. Allow it to help you set future goals.

Use your failures to gather information about how to improve and you’ll be on your way to future success.

4. Recognize your “fixed mindset triggers”

Because there is no pure growth mindset, you will continue to shift between growth and fixed mindsets at different times. You can slip into a fixed mindset when faced with what Dr. Dweck refers to as “fixed mindset triggers.”

She says in this article:
“When we face challenges, receive criticism, or fare poorly compared with others, we can easily fall into insecurity or defensiveness, a response that inhibits growth. Our work environments, too, can be full of fixed-mindset triggers. A company that plays the talent game makes it harder for people to practice growth-mindset thinking and behavior, such as sharing information, collaborating, innovating, seeking feedback, or admitting errors.”

Your fixed mindset triggers act similarly to your inner critic (which I’ve talked about here). But once you recognize what your triggers are, you can separate yourself from them to prevent them from getting in your way.

Achieve more with a growth mindset

Knowledge is power, friends. Now that you’re armed with information about what a growth mindset really is, what will you be able to achieve?

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