Our mindset shapes whether we believe we can learn and change and grow – or not. 10 min read. All illustrations by Kanupriya Singh
The story follows the plot of twin brothers with an alcoholic father, who take part in a scientific study.
Despite the twin brothers’ identical genes and similar environment, they chose different paths as they grew up.
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The first brother grew up to be an alcoholic like their father, and was left destitute and penniless on the streets. The second brother, meanwhile, grew up to be a successful and sober businessman.
Nearer to the middle of their lives, the scientists return to interview the brothers and try to gain insight as to why each of them ended up on such drastically different path.
The first brother, and the now alcoholic son, told the scientists that because he grew up with an alcoholic father, he was always surrounded by alcohol and so it was inevitable that he would also grow up to rely heavily on drinks. His reasoning was his environment, and his genes.
The second brother, and the now successful businessman, told the scientists something completely different. He said that because he grew up with an alcoholic father, was surrounded by alcohol, and always saw his father drinking, that he supposed it was perfectly natural for him to grow up swearing to never replicate his father.
The crux of the story is this: Both brothers started the same. They grew up in the environment with the same circumstances. However, they both ended up on wildly different paths because of their mindset.
A fixed mindset means you believe intelligence, talent, and other qualities are innate and unchangeable. If you’re not good at something, you typically think you will never be good at it. By contrast, a growth mindset means you believe intelligence and talent can be developed with practice and effort. Not surprisingly, your mindset plays a major role in your motivation, resilience, and achievement.
While many people are familiar with these definitions, they are sometimes unsure exactly how to put these concepts into daily practice. What do growth mindset beliefs and language look and sound like? How can you replace a fixed mindset belief with a healthier growth mindset belief? Explaining the difference to children can also be a tricky task.
“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 also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.” : Carol Dweck
So how do you know if you have a growth mindset? The answer isn’t always obvious. For one, there’s no such thing as a pure growth mindset. Most of us adopt different mindsets depending on the situation we’re in.
For example, you might take risks and behave more openly in business, but value routine and could be more resistant to change in your personal life.
No clear line separates the two types of thinking, but here are some signs that suggest you might lean toward a growth mindset.
You believe that achievements are due to efforts, not just inherent talent
You’re willing to learn from your mistakes and find value in criticism
You believe that your intelligence and ability can be developed
You’re willing to ask questions and admit when you don’t know something
You seek out challenging tasks and take on risks
Children start showing signs of either a fixed mindset or growth mindset from an early age. Do they worry about getting the best scores, look for constant validation of their ideas, refuse to put in more effort or are scared to try difficult problems with the fear that they might fail? That’s a fixed mindset. This mindset refrains them from developing new skills, exploring new solutions, devising new strategies and most importantly, dreaming bigger.
They will be quick to label their struggle with a particular subject as “I am simply not good at it. I can’t get better even if I try”. Instead of putting in their best effort to cope up with challenge and difficulty, they will simply give in to self-doubt.
At the workplace, fixed mindset shows up when we avoid constructive conflicts, stick to existing solutions even when there’s a need to try new ideas, do not speak up for the fear of sounding stupid, refuse to take up a new challenge with uncharted territory, blame others for not meeting our goals or feel jealous of others’ success and growth.
It can make us lead from fear, show reluctance in making hard decisions, avoid responsibility and cripple innovation and collaboration. Without learning the skills, essential for growth and development, we can only dream of success without ever realising it.
As evident, a growth mindset gives us hope to learn and create a better future for ourselves. So, how can we enable this shift?
Fixed Mindset: I’m either good at something or I’m not.
Growth Mindset: I can improve my skills with effort and practice.
Fixed Mindset: When people give me feedback, it feels like criticism.
Growth Mindset: I appreciate when people give me feedback. It helps me learn and grow.
Fixed Mindset: I’m too shy to speak in front of the audience.
Growth Mindset: With practice, I can become more confident and improve my public speaking skills.
Fixed Mindset: I’m already a really good writer. I don’t need to get any better.
Growth Mindset: There’s always room for improvement.
Fixed Mindset: Other people’s successes make me feel bad about myself.
Growth Mindset: Other people’s successes encourage and inspire me. They show me what is possible.
Fixed Mindset: Successful people are lucky/talented and have never experienced failure.
Growth Mindset: Failure is part of success. Most successful people have failed many times, but they succeeded because they didn’t quit.
Fixed Mindset: It’s embarrassing when I make a mistake.
Growth Mindset: Everyone makes mistakes and mistakes are opportunities to learn.
Fixed Mindset: I can’t do that!
Growth Mindset: I can’t do that yet. I will keep going, try new strategies, and/or ask for help until I understand it.
These fixed mindset vs. growth mindset examples will help you not only understand the difference, but also put these powerful concepts into practice. Consider writing your favourite growth mindset examples on sentence strips and hanging them on a board or some place visible to you as a daily reminder.
A common misconception about growth mindset is that being open minded and flexible qualify as being growth minded. These are important qualities to have, but they themselves do not make someone growth minded.
It’s also not possible to apply a growth mindset all the time. During challenging circumstances or when dealing with a feeling of insecurity, we may get defensive and adopt a fixed mindset to deal with the conflict.
We all have different triggers that can activate a fixed mindset. The critical thing is to recognise important situations which can set off a fixed mindset and learn to switch to a growth mindset.
Shift from self doubt to potential for growth, from worrying about the outcomes to taking interest in the process, acting as a victim to adopting a role of a creator, from fear of failures to learning through them.
Choose to tell yourself a different story: When we come across difficult problems or challenging situations, how we interpret, and react to them, is based on our own story. Our actions are nothing but a manifestation of our beliefs. There’s a lot of power in the story we tell ourselves. So, the first step to enable a growth mindset is to learn to catch yourself in the moment, make a choice and shift the language you use.
Instead of telling yourself, I am not good at it, Choose to say, I can do better. I can’t do it – I can do it. It’s better to stick to what I know –I want to explore new ideas. This is frustrating – It’s ok to fail.
Set learning goals as opposed to performance goals: Commit to learning everyday as opposed to seeking goals that prove your worth. For example, instead of setting a goal to lose 20 kgs, commit to eating healthy everyday. Instead of trying to score A on a subject, commit to practicing that subject everyday. Instead of the goal to be a professional runner, commit to running everyday. Focusing on the process, as opposed to the outcome, helps us look for small continuous improvements that add up over a period of time.
Capitalise on your failures: Failures teach us what success can’t. Instead of running away from failures and giving up when faced with a setback, you can take advantage of your failures by reviewing them, identifying what did not work and then devising a plan to correct your mistakes. Develop new strategies, seek help from others to review your decisions and commit to getting better with every defeat.
Choose Goldilocks’ tasks for continuous improvement: There’s a difference between seeking challenges and setting out to do what’s impractical. If you try to climb a mountain without building physical strength, there’s no way you can succeed. Goldilocks’ tasks are activities that are neither too easy nor too difficult, just a little over your current abilities. They provide a perfect opportunity to step outside your comfort zone without leading to anxiety. By investing in Goldilocks’ tasks, you can set up a path for continuous improvement by slowly building upon your current abilities.
Be consistent and flexible: You cannot shift from fixed mindset to a growth mindset in a day. Much like other things, it requires practice.
Be consistent in reflecting on your past behaviour by asking yourself some of these questions:
How did you act last time
Did you choose a fixed or a growth mindset
What made you choose one mindset over the other
Is there a pattern in events that makes you adopt a fixed mindset
Why did you fail to recognise fixed mindset in the moment
By asking yourself these questions on a regular basis and being flexible to learn from them, you can identify your fixed mindset trigger points and develop new strategies to adopt a growth mindset. Remember, all human beings are unique. What works for one, may not work for the other. Without being consistent and flexible in your own approach, you cannot develop a growth mindset.
Do not praise intelligence. Their intelligence and current abilities cannot be a sign of what they can and can’t do.
Recognise and appreciate process, engagement, strategies, perseverance, effort and progress. These are strong indicators of their desire to learn and grow
Do not engage in false praise. Effort that leads to no progress should not be praised. Disappointment should lead to a burning desire to do better. It should be a signal to try a different strategy
Establish vulnerability not as a sign of weakness, but a powerful mechanism to realise their full potential
Encourage them to make the right choice of words e.g. shift from “I don’t know” to “I don’t know yet”. Simply believing that they can do it, will open up their mind to seek solutions that did not seem possible earlier
Provide them with Goldilocks tasks just above their current abilities to enable them to realise benefits of hard work and consistent effort
In summary, a fixed mindset pulls us back and prevents us from realising our full potential while a growth mindset makes us explore without being afraid of the challenges ahead. It’s a choice. Which mindset do you choose?
People with a fixed mindset obstruct their own development through their belief in innate talent and their fear of failure. On the contrary, people with a growth mindset work hard and train hard to ultimately realize their potential to the fullest. By confronting our own attitudes and ideas, we can develop a growth mindset.
Suggested Reading – MINDSET
A Take-Home Message
If you leave this piece with only one takeaway, I hope that it is a belief in yourself and your abilities to grow, to develop, and to thrive beyond what you currently perceive as your limits.
Having a growth mindset isn’t an “easy button” solution to any problem, and it will not automatically cause good things to happen to you; however, it will likely make it easier and more enjoyable to work hard toward your goals, and give you the confidence you need to set ever more ambitious goals.
In the Next issue: We spend lot of effort on ‘what’ to eat. Most people can’t execute the basic macros needed. Start with the ‘how’ of eating before you tackle the ‘what’ and ‘how much’
A quote to end the week strong
The very best thing you can do for the whole world is to make the most of yourself: Wallace Wattles
This quote highlights the idea that when we work on improving ourselves and reaching our full potential, we not only benefit ourselves but also contribute to the greater good of society. It is a call for self-improvement and personal development, as it can have a ripple effect of positivity that extends to the world around us.