Do you ever feel like you’re “not good enough” to succeed at something? Like you’re not “meant to be doing it” just because you’re not great at something right away? Do you QUIT every time you meet an obstacle, don’t see immediate results, or experience a setback?

I’ve got news for you. Those are ALL signs that you’re operating from a fixed mindset.

Now if you’re perfectly fine with living that way, then please go right ahead and click the little ‘x’ to close this post, because it’s not for you.

BUT if you want to develop perseverance, if you want to THRIVE on challenges, and if you want to see what your true potential REALLY is, then keep reading, because this post is for you.

In fact, that’s EXACTLY what happens when you go from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.

Here’s a little background on the two mindsets.

The Fixed Mindset and the Growth Mindset

The two mindsets come from decades of research by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck. In her research, she explored people’s beliefs about the nature of human attributes and the consequences of those differing beliefs. 

Carol Dweck identified two distinct mindsets in people; the fixed mindset, and the growth mindset. People with the fixed mindset believe that their intelligence and abilities are fixed and unchanging whereas people with the growth mindset believe that their intelligence and abilities can be developed.

Because beliefs form the starting point for many thoughts, attitudes,and behaviors, the two mindsets manifest themselves in everyday life. For example, a person with a fixed mindset may make a mistake at work, and berate themselves for not being good enough and subsequently lose motivation. Whereas a person with a growth mindset would see the mistake as a part of the process of learning, as feedback, and be more motivated to try again.

Think of it this way: If you believe that your traits and abilities are set in stone, then any setback you encounter, will “show” you that you don’t have what it takes to succeed in that endeavor. In that same vein, criticism, no matter how constructive, may be construed as a direct attack against who you are and what you are capable of. Also, anything you have to put lots of effort into which may come easier to other people, would be “definitive proof” that you’re not meant to be doing that thing. That’s the way of the fixed mindset.

However, in the world of the growth mindset, with its emphasis on the belief that cherished qualities can be developed, things are very different. When you encounter a setback, it’s just information that the strategy you tried did not yield success. That means you can learn from the setback, and approach it with a new strategy and greater effort next time. In the growth mindset, you seek out constructive criticism because you’re focused on getting better, and knowing where you stand is what allows you to know what areas you have to improve in.

By the way, in the growth mindset, you don’t by any means believe that you can do everything yourself but you DO believe that your intelligence and abilities can be developed through hard work, the right strategies, and input from others.

So then if the growth mindset is so beneficial in overcoming self-limiting beliefs and persevering through obstacles, how exactly do you develop one? Here’s 5 ways to develop a growth mindset and unlock your potential.

#1 – Reframe your challenges

People with a fixed mindset prefer when things are safely within their grasp. So when they encounter a setback, a new task they’re not skilled in, or a “difficult” customer at work, they’re likely to deem it to be beyond their intrinsic talent/abilities, lose interest, fear failure, or quit altogether.

In contrast, people with a growth mindset THRIVE when they’re working on something challenging. That new task is an opportunity for them to learn and get better. That “difficult” customer is an opportunity to confront a challenge, stretch themselves, and learn how to better serve future customers.

An essential step to shifting to a growth mindset is to shatter your negative perceptions of challenges.  

Reframe them as fruitful learning experiences that you would not have gotten otherwise. To put this into practice, keep the following questions in mind the next time you come across a difficult task/situation:

  • What can I learn from this challenge?
  • What skill can I develop or improve?
  • What opportunity does this challenge give me? 
  • How does this challenge help me grow?

Asking these questions forces you to change your mental model (i.e. how you understand the world) relating to life’s trials. The truth is that most challenges life throws at you have their advantages, learning points, and opportunities. 

#2 – Make criticism work for you

Individuals with a fixed mindset often try to avoid criticism at all costs. Their aversion to criticism stems from the belief that any negative feedback is a sign that they’re not smart, talented, or “good enough”. Unfortunately, people with a fixed mindset have the tendency to be defined by failure.

However, those with a growth mindset see it as an opportunity to work toward a better self/outcome by acting on that criticism. 

So, one of the quickest ways you can shift into a growth mindset is to see criticism as a necessary part of getting better. In fact, don’t even view critical evaluation as good or bad. Don’t view it as validation or judgement. View it as necessary feedback to gauge where you’re at at that point in time. 

Recognize that open and honest feedback is one of the best ways for you to improve in meaningful ways. For example, if a performance review shows some areas of “weakness”, that’s great because now you know what to focus on to become better at your job, create greater value for the company and the customers, and become more valuable to your company and other companies in your industry (for greater future job opportunities). Actually USE the evaluation, ask for clarification, and ask for suggestions for ways to improve.

The next time someone tells you how to do things better, stop your first reaction–especially if it’s to lash back or become defensive.

Take a deep breath and give the feedback some thought. Focus on the merits and content of the feedback.

This will enable you to evaluate if the criticism is valid. Is there something you can improve on? If so, you want to use that information to change to make yourself better. 

#3 – Get the full story

It’s easy to see someone who’s super successful and assume that they’re just somehow inherently better than you. It’s equally easy to assume that they’ve just had a bunch of lucky “breaks” in their life to get to where they’re at.

That’s why you have to get the full story. Chances are, once you get their full story, you’ll see that for them to succeed, they had to overcome a LOT of obstacles, put in tons of hard work, try different strategies, and utilize help from many people along the way.

Just take a look at the story of Bryan Cranston becoming an actor. You probably recognize him as the protagonist in Breaking Bad, and as the father in Malcolm in the Middle. It took Bryan Cranston YEARS to develop his acting skills and get acting parts. Starting out in the acting business, it was all about hustle. In his autobiography, A LIfe in Parts, he writes:

“When you first start out in the business, you have to expend a lot of energy. Hustling isn’t complicated. How much energy you put out dictates how much heat you generate. I decided to be a furnace. I felt the hotter I can get, the higher the odds of something catching fire. I did psychotherapy, I did improv, I did stand-up comedy solely for the purpose of conquering my fears.”

In fact, Cranston tried anything and everything, including learning to repel, just for a CHANCE to be in a commercial. He got the part BECAUSE he learned to repel. In addition, he worked 9:30pm to 8am on a loading dock, loading and unloading trucks, (primarily on the weekends) so that he would have money to survive, and so he could have the day time available for building his foundation as an actor and for going to auditions.

Still, even as he gained acting skills, he was facing rejection after rejection at auditions. He realized, through the help of Breck Costin, a private coach,  that the reason he wasn’t getting the parts was because he was approaching it all wrong. He had been going to the auditions to GET something (a part, money, validation) and it came across that way. So he changed his approach and decided to provide value, to GIVE something instead, to GIVE a performance. He began focusing on the process instead of the outcome; On GIVING an interesting, compelling, enjoyable performance. That shift in strategy, and that shift in approach, is when he started getting more parts.

So my challenge to YOU, in your journey to develop a growth mindset, is to get the full story, both from the people whom you admire in your life, as well as the people you admire in the public eye.

  1. Ask people in your life who you admire about their story and what they had to do to get to where they’re at. Ask them how long it took them. Ask them about their struggles along the way, the mistakes they made, the setbacks they experienced.
  2. Read, or listen to, autobiographies. That way you get an inside look into what it actually took your heroes to achieve what they achieved and what it took them to get to where they’re at. I bet you’ll find that it wasn’t all talent and luck, but also took a lot of hard work, learning, adapting, perseverance, and even help from others along the way.

Don’t know where to start? A few of my favorite autobiographies are, Total Recall by Arnold Schwarzenegger, A Life in Parts by Bryan Cranston, and Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins.

Autobiographies that live the growth mindset - Schwarzenegger, Cranston, Goggins

#4 – Discover the neuroplasticity proof

At their most basic, the mindsets are just sets of beliefs, and they can change as a result of new, compelling evidence.

The field of neuroscience has just that: evidence that the brain changes and adapts in response learning. Your brain’s ability to adapt in response to learning, new experiences, and even injuries, is called neuroplasticity.

Here’s some fun neuroplasticity proof:

Researchers in Germany took people that had never juggled before, scanned their brains, taught them to juggle, then rescanned their brains. 

The result? 

Learning to juggle caused structural changes in the brain. That’s right, using an MRI machine they were actually able to see and measure gray matter increases in the brain.

Crazy, right?

Specifically there was an increase in gray matter in the brain areas associated with hand eye coordination, visual attention and perception of motion. Fun fact: these structural changes were seen as early at 7 days after beginning juggling training.

(A note on gray matter: gray matter is the processing neurons of the brain and an increase in gray matter corresponds to improved functioning in the relevant area.)

The study above isn’t anything out of the ordinary. In fact, numerous studies show that our brains physically change in response to learning new skills. And just like your brain is capable of changing, adapting, and improving, so are you.

#5 – Become more self-aware   

One way to step into a growth mindset in any situation or aspect of your life is to become more self-aware.

By becoming aware of a fixed mindset when confronted with a challenge, it is possible to begin putting in the necessary effort, identifying and applying useful strategies, and persevering to reach your goals. 

After all, how can you steer yourself away from a fixed mindset if you don’t even know you’re stuck in one in the first place? 

An excellent way to become more self-aware is to pay close attention to your self-talk when you come across novel situations. Let’s say you’re taking a yoga class. If your thoughts are something like, “I’ve waited too long to take up yoga, and now I’m too inflexible to learn it!” you would have missed the opportunity to shift to a growth mindset, and with it, you would have missed the opportunity for greater well-being.

Instead, once you catch yourself in such unhelpful self-talk, change the message you send yourself. Remind yourself: “Hey I’m not taking yoga class to PROVE how flexible I am, right? Exactly, I’m taking it to IMPROVE my flexibility. And each yoga lesson brings me greater flexibility.”

If the goal is greater flexibility, greater peace of mind, and better health, don’t put yourself down, but instead approach it from curiosity, interest, and an emphasis on learning. Instead of “I’m out of shape, my mind’s a mess, and my health is horrible” ask yourself “How can I get in better shape, calm my mind, and improve my health?” Focusing on the “how” gives you options and opportunities for improvement. Insulting yourself does not.

It’s up to you

Operating from a fixed mindset can cause you to take criticism and setbacks personally, leaving you feeling helpless and unmotivated. Instead, try developing more of a growth mindset with some of the five strategies above (and comment below with your favorite one). 

Don’t think of yourself as a finished product out in the world just to be judged, and deemed “a success” or “a failure”. Think of yourself as a constantly changing, improving, and evolving being with immense potential just waiting to be tapped into.

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