Back in the late 1980s, research in schools led psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck and her colleagues to a fascinating conclusion; one that’s completely revolutionized the way we think about how our minds work.
If you’ve never heard of the concept of a growth mindset, what you’re about to read may change the way you look at yourself and the world forever. I’m not exaggerating.
A Brief Look At The Findings
The research began when Dr. Dweck wanted to find out how children dealt with challenge and difficulty.
She noticed that whilst some kids would bounce back from small failures and setbacks, others would take them to heart and their future performance would be affected.
Through studying the behavior of thousands of children, Dr. Dweck came to the conclusion that, when it comes to beliefs about intelligence and learning, humans either have a growth mindset or a fixed mindset.
If you have a growth mindset, it means you’re perceiving things that happen to you in the belief that your talents aren’t fixed, but fluid.
You believe that through hard work, dedication, and asking for help from those around you, you can improve your intelligence and your ability to learn new skills.
You’re not worried about what others might think when you experience a setback, as you see it as par for the course and a natural part of the learning process. You put your energy into learning and not into worrying.
On the other hand, if you have a fixed mindset, you believe that you were born with your gifts and talents and that there’s nothing you can do to change them. You’re either naturally smart, or you’re not, and no amount of trying can make a difference to that.
That means you’re less motivated to push yourself. Your priority is simply to avoid failure, and you know that learning something new will involve setbacks.
It’s Not Just For Kids
Although the research was originally conducted on school-age children, it’s been recognized that these mindsets follow us into adulthood and can impact our professional lives and even our personal lives.
These mindsets aren’t limited to the way we pick up knowledge, but can apply to our personality traits too. If we’re convinced that we were born a certain way, such as antisocial or timid, and that’s that, then, well, that will be that.
But if we embrace the idea that, with a little effort, we can grow and evolve and mold ourselves, then we can achieve change we never thought possible.
Education and learning doesn’t stop the moment you leave school or university. Life is one long lesson, and if we’re not open to accepting and even welcoming failure as a sign that we’re moving forward, then we can stagnate.
If you can train yourself to perceive the world with a mindset of growth and possibility, you’ll be amazed at the benefits that you’ll unlock in your relationships, career, happiness, and health. Below are just a few.
The Benefits Of A Growth Mindset
1. You Can Nourish Your Relationships
Dr. Dweck pointed out that growth mindsets can make a huge difference to all types of relationships.
A person with a fixed mindset expects a romantic relationship to be perfect, and refuses to accept the idea that a successful relationship will require work. To them, that would mean it’s fatally flawed.
If they believe we all come to this world fully formed and unable to learn and adapt, then, logically, they also believe a relationship that’s less than perfect will always be so.
They want to be placed firmly on a pedestal by their lover, and they see any disagreements as disastrous rather than natural and inevitable.
Someone with a growth mindset, however, understands that two people coming together will always have their differences.
They get the fact that a relationship involves both parties learning about the other and growing together, developing the skills they need to work well as a team.
This isn’t just true of romantic relationships. Platonic and familial relationships also need work and nourishment, something which a fixed mindset struggles to comprehend.
2. You Judge Yourself And Others Less
If we have a fixed mindset, our reflex is always to judge and evaluate the things that are going on around us.
Everything that happens is used to assess things, like whether or not we’re a good person or whether we’re doing better than the person at the next desk.
A growth mindset doesn’t have time to waste on proclaiming judgment or on what other people are doing; it’s too busy focusing on how it can make progress.
3. You Thrive Off Constructive Criticism
There are few more valuable skills than being able to accept constructive criticism and use it as a platform for growth. If you can see criticism as an opportunity to improve rather than taking it to heart, there will be no stopping you.
In the same way, a growth mindset means that you don’t need constant validation to reassure you that you’re getting things right.
If you’re always worrying about failure, you’ll never have any fun.
As Dweck put it, “You don’t have to think you’re already great at something to want to do it and to enjoy doing it.”
Since what you’re focused on is the learning part, it doesn’t matter whether or not you succeed; you can still have a great time giving it a shot.
That means you can try out new sports or new hobbies without a shred of embarrassment over your lack of prowess, opening the doors to all kinds of ways of enjoying yourself that you never knew existed.
5. You Tackle The Hardest Task On Your To-do List First
Those of us with fixed mindsets excel at procrastination. We’ll tick off all the easy things on our to-do list; those that we can do with our eyes closed. And we’ll put off doing anything that will actually require a modicum of thought or effort because we’re worried that we won’t rise to the challenge.
Someone with a growth mindset, on the other hand, relishes a challenge. They get stuck straight into the hardest task on their list, enjoying the chance to learn something new and improve their skills and knowledge base. A growth mindset can do wonders for productivity.
6. You Stop Stressing
With a fixed mindset, the focus is constantly on success. You can’t ever let your standards slip, and always have to be perfect because of what you believe a mistake would say about you.
When you look at the world through the eyes of a fixed mindset, one bad test result defines you forever. If that’s the way you look at things, stress is inevitable.
Imagine how relaxed you’d feel if you just no longer cared. With a growth mindset, your only focus is on improving, with no element of worry about what anyone else thinks. Liberation.
7. You Lower Your Risk Of Experiencing Depression
It’s been shown in various studies that looking at life through the lens of a fixed mindset can increase your risk of depression.
It’s logical, when you think about it, as you take any setbacks far more seriously. You can start to question your abilities and even who you are as a person.
In a growth mindset, you no longer expect perfection, so you won’t be as likely to experience anxiety and depression when you fail.
8. You Gain More Perspective
In a growth mindset, you can appreciate the fact that the break up of a relationship or a bad exam result do not define who you are as a person or mean the world is ending.
You know that your intelligence can’t be summed up by a number and your self-worth doesn’t hang on whether or not your relationship stands the test of time.
9. You’re Not Afraid To Dream Big
If your fixed mindset is focused on your next test score or generally worrying about how you’ll perform in individual events, it will never dare to dream.
A fixed mindset is scared to set its sights too high because it only thinks about how far there is to fall.
A growth mindset is able to focus on the end goal and doesn’t let individual setbacks knock it off course.
A growth mindset has the confidence to shoot for the stars, without knowing exactly where it’ll end up.
Ready To Sign Up?
Sounds good, doesn’t it? No one is ever going to have a full growth mindset in all areas of their life, but through effort and determination, you can free yourself little by little from your constricting fixed mindset.
The key to making a change to the way you think is to take it slowly. Just like you can’t get off the sofa tomorrow and run a marathon, you can’t expect your brain to work in a way it hasn’t been trained to.
The first step is to recognize whether a fixed mindset dominates your life. You can do this by keeping track of your behavior and thoughts.
Chances are you already have a good idea of whether you tend more toward a fixed mindset or a growth mindset, but journaling – with a focus on the way you respond to problems and setbacks – is a great way to identify the way your brain works in certain situations.
Having become conscious of your thought patterns, try to catch yourself whenever you start having fixed mindset thoughts.
When a difficult situation prevents itself, deliberately make the effort to respond in a way that will allow you to grow and learn.
Record your successes in your journal. Forget the failures. Remember, this is all about growth.
Another good tactic is to try to encourage a growth mindset in other people, whether children or adults. Focus on the effort they make and the strategies they use when praising them, rather than remarking on their ‘natural’ intelligence or abilities.
The more you help other people out, the more you’ll help yourself.
Katie splits her time between writing and translation. She writes about travel and self-care and never stays in one place for too long. She’s currently based in beautiful Cornwall, England, after long stints in Brazil and Mexico. She spends her free time trail running, exploring and devouring vegan food.