Your mind is a powerful thing. The stories you tell yourself and the things you believe about yourself can either prevent change from happening or allow new skills to blossom.
For example, if you say, “I’m not a math person” then that belief acts as an easy excuse to avoid practicing math. The fixed mindset prevents you from failing in the short–run, but in the long–run it hinders your ability to learn, grow, and develop new skills.
Carol Dweck, a researcher at Stanford University, is well–known for her work on “the fixed mindset vs. the growth mindset.” Here’s how Dweck describes the difference between these two mindsets and how they impact your performance…
Working with her student at the Stanford University, she wrote:
In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.
The benefits of a growth mindset might seem obvious, but most of us are guilty of having a fixed mindset in certain situations. That can be dangerous because a fixed mindset can often prevent important skill development and growth, which could sabotage your health and happiness down the line.
Speaking again about “I’m not a math person” belief, someone with a growth mindset would be willing to try math problems even if they failed at first. They see failure and setbacks as an indication that they should continue developing their skills rather than a signal that indicates, “This is something I’m not good at.”
As a result, people who have a growth mindset are more likely maximize their potential. They tend to learn from criticism rather than ignoring it, to overcome challenges rather than avoiding them, and to find inspiration in the success of others rather than feeling threatened.
Dweck’s research raises an important question about the connection between what you believe and what you do.
If you believe things about yourself like…
• “It’s hard for me to lose weight.”
• “I’m not good with numbers.”
• “I’m not a natural athlete.”
• “I’m not creative.”
• “I’m a procrastinator.”
It’s pretty clear that those fixed mindsets will cause you to avoid experiences where you might feel like a failure.
What can you do about this? How can you change the things you believe about yourself, eliminate your fixed mindset, and actually achieve your goals?
It all starts with small, repeated actions in order to build your new and better identity. We usually focus on the results that we want to achieve. However, it is more fruitful and beneficial to concentrate and focus on a process.
Did Leah start by thinking about how much weight she wanted to lose? No. Did she start by thinking about how fast she wanted to run? No. Did she start by thinking about the marathon she wanted to complete? No.
Here’s the truth: it’s your daily actions that will change what you believe about yourself and the person you become. It’s about setting a schedule, showing up, and sticking to it. It’s about focusing on building the right identity rather than worrying about getting the right result.
When you let the results define you — your talent, your test scores, your weight, your job, your performance, your appearance — you become the victim of a fixed mindset. But when you dedicate yourself to showing up each day and focusing on the habits that form a better identity, that’s when you learn and develop. That’s what a growth mindset looks like in the real world.
You can become more creative, more intelligent, more athletic, more artistic, and more successful by focusing on the process, not the outcome.