You probably know that thinking you’re bad at something can lead you to fail at it. But did you know that thinking you’re good at something can lead you to fail at it, too? This is an important paradigm shift.
Whether you think you’re bad at a given task or you think you’re good at it, you’re engaging with what researcher Carol Dweck calls a fixed mindset. According to Dweck, individuals with a fixed mindset believe that abilities are mostly innate. Individuals with a growth mindset, on the other hand, believe that abilities are mostly acquired.
Why a Growth Mindset Is Better for You
Dweck’s extensive research indicates that students with growth mindsets achieve higher than those with fixed mindsets. Mindsets can function as a self-fulfilling prophecies.
Those who believe ability is mostly acquired believe that they can become more capable through hard work, modifying their habits, and getting help from others. Therefore, they work hard, modify their habits, and ask for help, and all these things help them succeed. They learn from their mistakes because they see mistakes as chances to learn how to do better in the future.
On the other hand, those who believe that ability is mostly innate don’t think they can do anything to become significantly more capable. They may view asking for help or even working hard as an admission of weakness. Because they feel threatened by their own mistakes, they avoid engaging with errors and therefore do not learn much from them.
Dweck and other proponents of the growth mindset recognize that some proportion of ability is probably innate. Whatever the limits of your innate abilities, however, cultivating a growth mindset can help you to reach your fullest potential.
Misapplications of the Growth Mindset
Implementing a growth mindset relies on more than simply effort. If you’re using ineffective methods to achieve your goals and simply saying that you believe in your ability to improve, you won’t reap the benefits of a growth mindset. You need to adjust your methods until you find something that works and inact a paradigm shift.
Dweck’s more recent research suggests that when parents or teachers encourage children to develop growth mindsets, but then react to mistakes as if they are harmful rather than helpful, children’s mindsets actually become more fixed. This situation is what’s known as a false growth mindset.
How to Develop a Growth Mindset
Shifting to a growth mindset may be simple, but as the previous section suggests, it is not easy. In fact, you may need to work at it over a long period of time. However, it is definitely doable.
• Recognize that we all have mixtures of fixed and growth mindsets, and that’s okay. Dweck herself says that instead of getting fruitlessly frustrated with yourself for slipping into a fixed mindset, you should recognize when you’re in a fixed mindset and figure out why. Are you anxious at the thought of failure? Are you defensive in response to criticism? If you know what triggers your fixed mindset, you can start to work through it and come up with strategies for getting back into a growth mindset.
• Reframe your thoughts about failure. Failing isn’t fun, but if you avoid thinking about your failures, you can’t learn from them. Instead, when you feel threatened by your own failure, remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes and that pretending you don’t isn’t going to help anything. Then analyze exactly what went wrong and plan to do better in the future.
• Embrace criticism. Receiving feedback on your work can be highly uncomfortable, but it’s an important part of practicing a growth mindset. People with growth mindsets recognize that criticism is not an end-all be-all judgment of their absolute abilities. They know that feedback from others can help them pinpoint what they’re doing wrong and how they can do better. Remind yourself that it will provide you with ways to improve.
• Seek challenges. People with fixed mindsets avoid challenges because they are afraid that they will fail and look incompetent. People with growth mindsets view challenges as opportunities to hone their skills and get even better.
If developing a growth mindset is hard at first, just keep trying. A paradigm shift takes time. Soon you’ll be able to do something you currently can’t. This will reinforce your growth mindset, and then it will be easier to approach your full potential with a paradigm shift.