How to Enable the Growth Mindset
You have probably heard of the growth mindset. It’s the mindset that helps us embrace the inevitable hurdles we face. But the reality is that sometimes we don’t—it’s elusive when we’re struggling. Can we have a growth mindset especially when we most need to? There is an excess of advice to be joyful, but inevitably we must also face the struggles that come with difficult learning, creative challenges, or starting something new. To develop the skills that you want, you know it will require a lot of practice. Building new skills is challenging. Furthermore, can we expect to be joyful without a struggle? Of course you shouldn’t want to do something that you dislike overall, but setbacks are part of what makes life interesting and worthwhile.
Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, introduced us to two intriguing concepts: the growth mindset and the fixed mindset. She argues that people with a growth mindset believe that they can cultivate skills through effort, while people with a fixed mindset tend to evaluate themselves more permanently based on results. It’s intriguing because we root for the underdog. We admire people who persist in overcoming a challenge when things get difficult, and we love hearing stories and watching movies where our heroes struggle their way to a better outcome. And yet in practice, our culture seems to prefer effortless results, innate talent, and perfection.
How can you embrace the frustrations, setbacks, and the mistakes it takes to grow, while also finding joy and meaning to move forward? In The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to get Good at It, Kelly McGonigal explains: “Mindsets are beliefs that shape your reality, including objective physical reactions … and even long-term health, happiness, and success.” If beliefs shape your reality, then what are those growth minded beliefs that enable us to take more action and learn in those challenging moments? When you make a mistake or encounter a setback, the mindset you adopt affects how you perceive what happened, thus shaping your reality. It’s almost strange to see how growth minded people seem unaffected by difficulty or lack of results. But perhaps it’s not that they are unaffected, but a question of what they believe those setbacks mean.
However, being growth minded is not easy. Since growth changes our identity, it requires humility and patience. Growth entails change. It means we acknowledge there’s room to learn and improve, and that we don’t know everything. If we think we’re so intelligent and perfect, why would we bother to change? On the contrary, it’s when we struggle with setbacks and adversity that we can exercise these principles. Of course it’s easier said than done. The growth mindset requires constant revisiting and practice. The following list includes the beliefs behind a growth mindset. They’re not set in stone. They will be different for each of us, and we all have unique ways to approach challenges. Perhaps you can find a common denominator of what it means to be growth minded and what to do to face your struggles.
Facing your personal challenges can seem daunting. But there’s always something you can do to benefit from them. The growth minded person finds meaning and opportunities to propel action in difficult situations.
- You can achieve anything, but you don’t expect to get there in a fixed way
- You don’t know exactly how things will unfold, but you don’t have to know to take action
- You recognize adversity as an opportunity to become stronger no matter the result
- You always strive to do your best not because of metrics but because of character
- You are willing to take action when you don’t feel like it
- You know you are in development
- You accept small losses but persist for the bigger gains
- You realize there’s nothing wrong with struggling, it’s the nature of all things worth pursuing
We live in a social world. We face such things like evaluations, conflicts, uncertainty, unfairness, and a range of other social issues. Social struggles are a natural part of working together—but no one should benefit at the expense of others. The growth minded person exercises compassion and respect, realizing that we’re all struggling in one way or another. From this vantage point, you can embrace any struggle.
- You can be more respectful, patient, and compassionate with yourself and others
- You can be uncomfortable but committed to work things out
- You attune to help others
- You believe in support
- You recognize you can ask for help
- You reach out to your network for support
- You understand everyone is struggling, but not everyone embraces the benefits of struggling
- You can confront problems upfront when you offer and demand respect, compassion is not one-sided
- You are aware of the importance of belonging, and you don’t hesitate to earn it, offer it, or move on
We don’t live in a vacuum. There are environmental factors, political systems, and economic dynamics that we can’t control. But when you exercise the growth mindset, you tap into the world’s challenges to find opportunities. Nobody can be certain of what will happen in the future, but you don’t have to be because:
- You understand outcomes can serve as a direction, not a destination
- You stop trying to predict the future, and instead you work to shape it
- You start asking more questions
- You recognize results are always temporary
- You stop saying you’re a perfectionist, and start being a builder and a fixer
- You recognize frustration as a signal to revise your strategies
- You celebrate wins, but can’t wait to keep learning
- You are confident that you will learn and improve
- You are committed to persist however long it takes, but are flexible to spot a new direction
- You realize that mistakes are necessary and informative rather than avoidable and evaluative
Beyond the growth mindset—and it’s endurance, persistence, and grit to learn and improve—we also need to recognize struggling for what it is. It involves a degree of loss, discomfort, or uncertainty at the service of something bigger. The growth mindset is not about sugar coating setbacks exclusively with optimism, it’s about accepting them. If we have space for a little pain or discomfort, we can open up, and you can keep taking action when it gets frustrating. Some setbacks mean you’re on the right track. We need to be okay with some degree of loss. We need more space for mistakes. When we try to suppress, ignore, or distract ourselves from uncomfortable situations, we exacerbate the problem. When you don’t have room for them, you stop taking small risks and necessary action for you to make progress in whatever you set to accomplish. When you claim that flexibility, you’ll be able to handle more because you don’t have to spend more energy worrying what you can’t control. Instead, you take more action and that results in uncovering more opportunities which you can benefit from.
In other words, it’s okay to struggle, and to not know how events will unfold. But still, ask: what would you like to become? It’s empowering to focus on action, not results. It’s liberating to be compassionate, to choose to belong, and to be grateful. What do you want to grow towards? What can you do right now to get closer to that vision? Personally you can both find gratitude of what works, and learn from what doesn’t. Measurements, evaluations, and metrics tend to foment a fixed mindset, but if you leverage them to improve what you’re doing, then they can be helpful. A growth mindset is something we need to practice again and again. It’s slippery. Growing results from stretching, learning, and changing. Most importantly, we must learn to be patient with ourselves. These hidden beliefs of the growth mindset are enabling: we take more action and we improve, no matter what struggle we may face.
Juan F. Diaz
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