How to develop a growth mindset
“In one world, effort is a bad thing. It, like failure, means you’re not smart or talented. If you were, you wouldn’t need effort. On the other world, effort is what makes you smart or talented- Carol Dweck
When I read Carol Dweck’s Mindset, I thought I already had a growth mindset so to say. Imagine my shock when I realized how much my mindset needed checking. Sure enough, I didn’t have a fixed mindset that was not open to change, no. I was open and adaptable. I was also tied up by some beliefs which made my mindset stagnate.
Carol Dweck points out that one common fixed mindset is that there are smart people and that there are not-so-smart people. This is where she got me! I always thought that smart people didn’t have to work as hard because well, they were smart.
I thought that smart people had all they needed to succeed and the world would recognize how smart they are and reward them for it. On the flip side, I also thought that for people that were not so smart, no matter how much effort they put into work, they wouldn’t be as good as the smart ones. Was I wrong!
This may sound entitled or shortsighted but it is a common mindset in many of us. The same mindset was checked when I read Angela Duckworth’s Grit: The power of passion and perseverance and realized that talent, just like intelligence, wasn’t sufficient for success.
I thought that talented individuals, such as artists and musicians, were good at what they do simply because they were talented. I didn’t think they had to work so hard.
Duckworth showed me that success requires massive amounts of effort, persistence, focus, perseverance, and changing of mindset to achieve it. As I read Mindset, I constantly thought of different ways I could develop a growth mindset, and how I could encourage others to do the same.
Does this mean that there are no smart or talented people? No! Sure, some people can do some things better and with much ease than others. However, if we trust our abilities alone, a lot of abilities go to waste. It also means that we are subjective that only certain individuals can achieve some things and not others. We develop a fixed mindset.
What is a fixed mindset?
Believing that the individual qualities of a person are set and cannot be improved is having a fixed mindset. You have a fixed mindset if you are constantly trying to prove how smart or talented you are, rather than focusing on growing and becoming better than you already are.
If you evaluate every situation in terms of; will I succeed or fail? Will I look stupid? Will they accept me or reject me? Will I feel like a winner or a loser? You have a fixed mindset. You are so focused on what you are now rather than what you can be.
You have a fixed mindset if you are focused on sticking with what you know, viewing effort as a waste of time and when you find it easier to give up on something because you are simply not that good at it. You find effort and work boring and it might be easier for others to do it because well, they are smarter and more talented.
A person with a growth mindset is one that focuses on how they can be. They work on constantly improving themselves to become better. They have a desire to learn new things and are eager to take risks.
They are happy to improve their skills and will strive to put in more effort even when it is difficult. They take setbacks as a challenge for them to consider different ways of getting things done. They recognize their weaknesses and find ways to improve and better themselves.
Do you have a growth mindset or a fixed mindset?
How can you develop a growth mindset?
Accept that you don’t have to achieve perfection
Developing a growth mindset means that you have to accept that there is no perfection. You cannot constantly hide your weaknesses and trying to show how perfect you are.
If you do so, you will never address your shortcomings since you are so concerned about appearing perfect today that you don’t work on improving your shortcomings so you can be better tomorrow.
I have written about this before whereby expecting perfection will stop you from achievements. Having a growth mindset calls for knowing there is achieving perfection and therefore, your mind focuses on constantly improving yourself.
Learn to view challenges as opportunities to grow and learn
Challenges and failures are inevitable. If you hide every time you are faced with a challenge, you will never grow. Taking challenges way too seriously and this will hinder you from working on improving yourself.
In order to develop a growth mindset, learn that challenges and hindrances are an opportunity to grow and learn. They make you more prepared for future adversities and help you develop resilience.
Be conscious of your thoughts
Every time you catch yourself thinking, “I don’t have to try too hard, I am good at this’ catch yourself and learn that you are having a fixed mindset. When you tell someone ‘But you are so talented’ catch yourself, since this person may get so stuck on their talent that they don’t put in the effort.
On the flip side, catch yourself if your fixed mindset has made you think that you are not good enough. Every time you say, “I can’t be good at this, there are smarter people that can do it” catch yourself as well.
Your fixed mindset can trick you into thinking you can’t achieve something since you consider yourself not smart enough. A growth mindset, however, will make you realize that putting in effort bears positive results.
Stop constantly seeking approval
I have discussed constant seeking of approval as one of the toxic habits standing in the way of your progress. If you seek approval for everything that you do, you will get stuck in a state of a fixed mindset.
This is because everything that you do will be based on whether you get praised for it. As a result, you will find yourself working on things that will earn you praise and avoid those that you are likely to fail.
Constant seeking of approval makes you anxious as it puts you in constant fear of failing. To develop a growth mindset, don’t do things to get noticed and praised. Instead, do things that will help you learn and grow.
Have you ever held back from doing something since you think you will fail and those around you will think less of you if you do fail? If so, then you are stuck in a fixed mindset. Think of all the things you would attempt if you didn’t think of what others will think of you all the time.
Value the process not the end
Focusing so much on the end results can make you fail to appreciate the process, and yet learning happens in the process. If you think about results, you will mostly categorize results into two, success or failure.
This means if you fail at the end of the process, you are likely to think less of yourself and a fixed mindset that you are not that good develops. What if you don’t focus so much on whether you failed or succeeded, but focused more on the process? Think of all the things you learn in the process.
What are the lessons that you have learned? If you had to do it again, what would you do differently? This is what the process teaches you. A growth mindset helps you appreciate what you have learned and not become too fixated on the results.
Recognize the importance of effort
Carol Dweck, in the book Mindset, says that we fail ourselves every time we tell ourselves how smart we are. We also fail those around us if we keep telling them how smart they are.
If you are a parent, for example, and you have a great and smart kid, you fail this kid every time you tell her how smart she is. Don’t get me wrong, it is important to praise kids when they do well, but how you do it influences the kind of mindset they develop.
If a kid performs well in school and you keep saying, wow, you are so smart, you teach this kid to believe that their abilities are fixed. They are smart and that’s it. This means the kid will believe in how smart there are and probably not work so hard because well, why bother, they are so smart anyway.
On the other hand, if you praise a kid’s hard work, you teach them to appreciate and recognize the importance of hard work. This way, they place value on their hard work and believe it’s their hard work that brings them the success they are enjoying.
The more they work hard, the better they get, and they will place value on hard work as opposed to developing a fixed mindset that they are smart and they can’t be beaten.
What happens when a kid who has been told all their life that they are smart fail? They don’t take it very well. They believe their place is at the top and are likely to be very defeated when they don’t get to the top as they are used to.
In order to develop a growth mindset in yourself and others, place more importance on hard work. Hard work is not fixed. The more you work, the better you get.
Angela Duckworth wrote a full book about grit, which I have discussed in my summary of the book. Grit is perseverance and persistence. If you attempt something for a short time and then give up easily because it didn’t work out the way you expected it to, then you are not gritty.
You give up easily. Grit is a result of constant persistence one goal over a long period of time. It calls for deliberate practice whereby you put in the effort, practice on your skill, and keep up discipline onto your effort so you can reap some results.
“Grit is about holding the same top-level goal for a very long time.”- Angela Duckworth.
Sticking with one problem for a long time is gritty, and it is what will help you develop a growth mindset. Your thinking will shift to believe that the more you stick with the problem, the better you become at solving it and your efforts will eventually pay off.
This mindset helps you appreciate learning on the process and believing that growth can be achieved by constantly working on the issue over a long time.
Be open to learning
If you think you know it all and have nothing new to learn, then you have a fixed mindset. A fixed mindset makes us think we know all that there is to know and we don’t need more information.
Further, we take learning as a shameful thing and start criticizing ourselves for not having known something. We make a lack of knowledge or our ignorance in certain areas as shameful and refrain from learning opportunities because we don’t want to admit that we didn’t know something.
In order to develop a growth mindset, open up to learning opportunities. Don’t take it as a shameful thing that you didn’t know something. Instead, appreciate that you didn’t know it and open up for some learning.
Shame can act as a hindrance to our progress. If you are so ashamed of your failures, you make them define you and avoid any opportunity that we feel will expose our failures.
Make room for alternative endings
“If we hold onto our own ideas of how things should be rather than accepting how they really are, we arise conflict in ourselves in the form of defensiveness- Carl Rogers.
When you are working on something, don’t be so adamant that it must work out the way you want it to. Instead, create a possibility in your mind that things could turn out differently.
As Carl Rogers says, if we hold onto ideas of how things should be as opposed to what they really are, this is where our mind conflicts and we develop psychological disturbance. To develop a growth mindset, accept that things could turn out differently from the way you expect them to.
This is a way of developing resilience and helps you not be fixated on one outcome. As a result, should things not turn out the way you expect them to, you have some room to accept the turnout and it doesn’t break you.
People with a growth mindset are more resilient and adaptable as failure does not stop them from working for what they want. They take failure as a detour and a learning opportunity and move forward.
Be open to new challenges
The more resilience you develop, the more you cultivate a growth mindset. Opening up to new challenges makes you a curious person who is happy to learn.
You don’t worry that you will look foolish for not knowing. Instead, you are happy to not know since it allows you to learn. A growth mindset is cultivated by open-mindedness.
If you constantly compete over how much you know or how much you achieve, you will constantly feel inadequate as always there will be people that are better than you.
Competing with others will make you avoid situations that will make you feel inadequate as you will feel that others know more than you do and this doesn’t make you feel good about yourself. Stop competing and comparing yourself to others.
A growth mindset appreciates that you are not always the best, sure, some people are better than you. This way, you open yourself to learn from these people.
Learn to appreciate feedback
People with a fixed mindset take feedback as an attack on their being. They take feedback as personal and not as constructive suggestions on how they can improve. It is common for us to feel defensive every time we receive feedback that is not so flattering.
This is the fixed mindset in us coming up and letting our egos get hurt. To develop a growth mindset, stop focusing on how much feedback hurts your ego. Instead, take feedback as a way to look back and see how you could have done things differently.
Learn to appreciate the success of others
I was talking to a friend recently and admitted that sometimes as humans when a friend does well, the first instinct we sometimes develop is criticizing their success or highlighting our own success.
This is a fixed mindset coming up and letting us feel that the success of others is hurting our egos. This is not an attractive trait at all, and no one is proud of raining on a friend’s parade.
When we have a growth mindset, we appreciate the success of others, applaud them, and don’t see it as a failure on our own side. This is because we appreciate that we are not in a competition. The success of others is supposed to inspire us and not threaten us.
Learn that your abilities do not define you
As I mentioned earlier, overreliance on our abilities can lead to fixed mindsets. If you think you’re smart, you get stuck on this mindset and believe you can get whatever you want because you are smart.
What happens when you think this way and then you fail? Your ego is hurt. The same happens when you think that since you don’t have the ability to do something, you can never be good at it since well, your ability is fixed.
If you believe you are bad in math, for example, you won’t even bother to learn because you will never be good at it. Believing that your abilities define you is the worst form of a fixed mindset. The best can fail, and those that are not so good at something can become good at it through practice.
To develop a growth mindset, change the belief that your ability defines you. Instead, appreciate that attitude and effort is what you need to get what you want and become the person you want to become.
Embrace the word ‘YET’
The competency-based curriculum, other than showing students that they have failed certain courses, it shows them that they have not yet met the standards of the course. The word yet does not give finality, but it shows that you are on a journey, you are not just there yet.
To develop a growth mindset, embrace the word yet. Don’t see a setback as a failure, but that you are not there yet. Thinking this way gives you a mindset that believes that what you are doing is a work in progress and that you are a work in progress as well, you have just not achieved what you need to achieve yet.
It encourages grit as you continue to persist until you achieve what you intend to. It also removes shame associated with failure, as you don’t acknowledge that you have failed, you are just not there yet.
Ask yourself these questions
- What did I learn from that experience?
- What steps did I take to make that ‘event’ successful?
- How differently could I have done it?
- How did I keep myself going even when things were tough?
How a growth mindset thinks
- I can learn anything I want to
- I use my failures as lessons
- I want to take up this challenge and challenge myself
- I am inspired by the success of others
- I appreciate feedback as a way to learn and improve
- I will persevere even when things are tough
- My effort counts, the more effort I put in, the better I get
- My attitude matters; a positive attitude gives me the strength to persevere
How a fixed mindset thinks
- I am good at this/ I am not good at this at all
- If I fail, I am a failure
- I don’t like challenges, they make me look bad
- Feedback feels like a personal attack
- I others succeed, they threaten me
- If I find something is difficult, I give up mostly because I don’t want to look bad working on it
- My abilities and talent determine everything- if I am gifted, I don’t have to work as hard and if I am not gifted, even working hard will not help much
It is common to feel our fixed mindset rising to take control in different situations. The fixed mindset is coming up when we feel shame and embarrassment for failing when we feel our abilities will get us what we want when we feel a tinge of envy when someone else does something better than we are doing.
However, through self-awareness, we can catch ourselves when we feel this coming up and turn it into positive thinking. We can slowly develop a growth mindset by calling out a fixed mindset and turning it around just when it is about to crowd our minds.
I highly recommend Mindset: The psychology of success, a life-changing book by Carol Dweck that can help you develop the right mindset. No time to read? Get a summary of the best pointers from the book on Blinkist. You can read the summary or listen to the audio version on the summary in just 15 minutes.