Ever heard the quote, “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work?”
Originally said by NBA all-star, Kevin Durant, this is a perfect example of utilizing a growth mindset — meaning your success can be cultivated by your efforts. When you operate from the opposite perspective (called a fixed mindset) you believe your talents and abilities are predetermined. Either you’re good at something or you’re not. End of story.
Maybe you believe you’ll always have a layer of fluff around your middle because you never stick with anything. Or you avoid working out because everyone in your family is uncoordinated. Or you’re “so intelligent” but can’t seem to figure out how the heck to lose those last ten pounds. If that’s you, congratulations, you have a fixed mindset.
When you start viewing things through a more optimistic lens, you move into growth mindset territory. And that’s where the magic really happens.
Let’s Define Growth Mindset
You can’t talk about this term without acknowledging the famous Stanford University psychologist who coined it. Decades ago, Carol Dweck published research that kind of changed the world.1 In the study, Dweck and one of her colleagues gave puzzles to 400 fifth graders. After completing the first puzzle, the children were either praised for their effort or praised for their intelligence. The group who was praised with statements like “you must have worked so hard!” ended up choosing a more demanding puzzle next time around than the ones who were told “you must be so smart!”
Years later, Dweck and other researchers tested the theory again, following 373 seventh graders to find out whether or not mindset could predict their grades over the course of two years.2 In this study, they taught one group about the brain and how intelligence can be developed, while the other group had no intervention. As you might expect, students who adopted a growth mindset were more motivated and got better grades than their fixed-minded counterparts.
Students with a growth mindset not only believed that their abilities could improve through effort and persistence, they actually made it happen.
Examples of a Growth Mindset
- I’d like to get better at this
- Mistakes help me learn
- This has been a challenge, but I’m working on it
- I haven’t figured out how to do this yet
- This might take some time
Dweck’s research proved that changing a key belief about yourself can make a big difference. But clearly, it’s not just students who can benefit from this concept.
Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadellauses growth mindset tactics with his management teams to create an environment of constant learning…
Michael Jordan (who was initially cut from his high school basketball team and was passed up during the first two NBA draft picks) used it to persevere and become uber-famous…
I use it in my own health coaching practice to help my clients overcome their previous, self-described failures…
And you can too. You just need the right tools to shift your mindset.
So, What Causes a Fixed Mindset?
Anyone who shaped your childhood – parents, teachers, coaches – may have inadvertently had something to do with it. Research shows that the way children are talked to (both positively and negatively) can have a profound impact on their mindset. Maybe you were told that you were super talented growing up. Or that you were “so skinny” or “not strong enough” or some other trait-based comment.
This sends the message that what you can achieve is completely tied to something innate. On the other hand, if you were praised for your hard work, you might have gotten the message that your effort is what led you to your success. And that anything you want (looser clothes, better relationships, a better night sleep) is within reach.
Examples of a Fixed Mindset
- I’m a binge eater
- I just have a slow metabolism
- I’d never be comfortable doing that
- I’m bad at sticking to routines
- I’m a night owl
Regardless of your upbringing, you’re not stuck with what you’ve got.
Moving away from a fixed mindset requires you to take a deeper dive into your beliefs and stories, the way you talk to yourself, and the actions you take. Keep in mind, no one stays in a growth mindset all the time. You could be inherently growth-minded but get triggered into a fixed mindset state by certain people or situations.
How to Cultivate a Growth Mindset
The key thing to remember here is that attaining a growth mindset isn’t about ignoring your past. Actually, quite the contrary. It’s about leaning into learning — taking educated risks, gaining wisdom from the results, and surrounding yourself with people who challenge you to grow. These are six strategies I use to help my own clients work toward shifting their mindset.
1. Check your self-talk. These are the (conscious and subconscious) messages you send to yourself all day long, and they have the power to motivate you or limit you. Your brain’s job is to protect you, so it sometimes enables negative self-talk to keep you safely tucked inside your comfort zone. So, if you’re used to telling yourself “I’m not good at this” try reframing it as “I’m learning something new every day” and see how that feels. And don’t give up. Rewiring your brain’s neural pathways takes time.
2. View challenges as opportunities. Asking yourself, “What can I learn from this?” is a huge part of self-improvement. Unfortunately, it’s easier to focus on the perceived failures. And a lot of times it leads to giving up before you even get going. When you fear getting it wrong or making mistakes or just flat out taking it as a sign that you’re just not cut out for whatever it is you’re attempting, you’re missing out on a big opportunity to grow. The more you can test your abilities, the more you learn about yourself.
3. Stop looking for approval. Or more appropriately, stop doing things to avoid disapproval. If you’re a self-described people pleaser, you know what I’m talking about. Whether you’re attempting to eat healthier, move your body more, or take better care of yourself in general, looking for outside approval can lead you down a path of self-sabotage because you’re always waiting to see if you got it right. Or worse, never starting because of the overwhelming fear of that disapproval. Instead, work on your underlying beliefs about yourself (i.e. your stories) and learn to trust yourself enough to see what’s possible.
4. Use the word “yet” regularly. This is a really powerful way to begin switching from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. Using this word shows that while you might be struggling with something right now, it’s only because you haven’t gotten the hang of it yet. Try saying, “I haven’t conquered my sugar cravings yet” or “I haven’t woken up at 5am to meditate yet” and pay attention to what happens.
5. Develop more grit. According to Angela Duckworth, TED talk speaker and author of Grit: the Power of Passion and Perseverance, “grit is the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals.” She adds that while people are born with different degrees of grit, it’s a trait that develops through experience. And that can lead to a growth mindset since grittier folks are more apt to stay the course even when they struggle, falter, or all out fail. Here are a few APA-approved ways to build more grit.
6. Appreciate the journey more than the destination. Your end goal might be to lose 15 pounds or get super ripped, but when you have a “journey mindset” as researchers call it, you benefit from the opportunity to learn and grow from your actions. Plus, studies show that you’re more likely to continue the new behaviours you’ve adopted even after you’ve reached your goal.
6 Strategies to Shift Your Mindset
I’ll tell you firsthand that believing your abilities are carved in stone will send you down a path of trying to prove yourself over and over again — and not learning from any of it. Even if you grew up with a fixed mindset, it’s never too late to grow. Do me a favor. Whenever you hear yourself say things like “I can’t stick with this” or “I’m terrible at sprints,” give these strategies a try:
- Check your self-talk
- View challenges as opportunities
- Stop looking for approval
- Use the word “yet” regularly
- Develop more grit
- Appreciate the journey more than the destination.