If you’re like me, your mind is periodically filled with judgments of your abilities, limitations, and failings – about what you can do, and more importantly, what you can’t do, what you could never do.
In many areas of your life, you are who you are and there isn’t much that you can do to change, right? Wrong – and science is proving it.
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, written by Carol Dweck and the focus of this three-part series, discusses a basic yet powerful idea: your life, your character, your abilities, your talents, your skills, your relationships, are not crystalized, rather they’re malleable, and through effort and persistence, you can develop in practically anyway you choose. In other words, you are bound not by your ability but by your limiting beliefs.
The fundamental distinction, made by Dweck in Mindset, is between the ‘fixed’ and the ‘growth’ mindset.
The fixed mindset is responsible for much misery. The basic premise is that bogus labels given to us, whether by ourselves or our peers, are taken as truth and over time, we become confined by them. You see yourself as ‘good’ at this, yet ‘bad’ at that. These misperceptions become a source of personal judgement, fear, and self-imposed limits – “I’m not capable of doing something like that… I don’t have what it takes… I don’t want to make a fool of myself… Why would I even try?”. These types of thought patterns needlessly limit potential.
It’s as though we spend our lives building a box around ourselves – a comfortable place where we feel safe from the horror of being labelled – whether by ourselves or our peers – as a failure, as incapable, as inadequate. However, this comfort comes at a cost since over time, we lose the ability to see past it. We come to believe it’s impossible to transcend the box – our place of comfort soon becomes a prison.
And so, we stagnant.
Thankfully, it’s possible to bulldoze the box by adopting a growth mindset which stands in sharp contrast to the fixed.
In the growth mindset, frustrations and limitations are understood not to be caused by limited ability but rather lack of education, improper attention, and finally, capitulation; we give up or perhaps never even try in the first place.
With this mindset, it’s understood that what’s required to move past an obstacle, or a problem, or a limitation, is focus, determination, and the natural ability to learn and refine. The focus here is not on judgment, but instead, development. You’re not ‘bad’ at anything, you simply haven’t acquired the skill yet.
With the growth mindset, you have the opportunity to surpass yourself in surprising ways. According to it’s tenants, the only reason we don’t achieve a certain something is because we don’t give that something the required attention. Ironically, confronting these somethings, these challenges, is exactly the sort of activity that improves both our immediate experience and our outcomes.
You’re capable of much more than you realize. Through focus and determination, it’s possible to surpass self-imposed limits and blow past what you once considered impossible.
Here are a couple of traits that separates the fixed mindset from the growth mindset:
Talent vs. Effort
Those with the fixed mindset credit innate talent for one’s success. They believe that those who achieve the exceptional are blessed with the inborn ability to do so. They believe that it would be impossible for them to achieve something similar because unfortunately they simply don’t have that sort of natural talent or ability.
That theory is easily struck down through considering all the stories of the once rejected, who later, through effort, achieved the extraordinary. JK Rowling. Walt Disney. Michael Jordan. Bill Gates. Abe Lincoln. Oprah. Albert Einstein. The list goes on.
It’s not about talent, it’s about a belief in yourself, effort, and persistence.
In the growth mindset, the focus is on the process, not the product. If you’ve tried something unsuccessfully, what happened? Where did you go wrong? How could you approach it differently? Magical talent isn’t going to get your anywhere, instead, deliberate effort will.
To begin the process of moving from a fixed to a growth mindset, pick one key area of your life – your relationships or your career or your health or your education – where you’re stagnant or where you can easily identify a need to improve; next, set a reasonable goal and formulate a plan for achieving it. Then get to it. I bet you’ll be amazed.
Once you prove to yourself that this isn’t just New-Age positive thinking bullshit, you’ll have the confidence to tackle challenges and excel past your limiting beliefs.
In the fixed mindset, failure is typically met with self-criticism, guilt, and, even worse, shame – we internalize and identify with our failures – we believe that to fail is to be a failure. We beat ourselves up, we never let go, we never forget. In other words, failure becomes synonymous with pain – and so we avoid it.
Consequently, we avoid challenging ourselves in meaningful ways because that could mean exposing our inadequacies.
On the other hand, in the growth mindset, failure is seen for what it is: an unsuccessful attempt. It’s not a conviction of incompetence but rather an experience to be learned from. In other words, there’s value in failure. Think of it as a spectrum – on the left end, the shitty end, there’s ‘do nothing’; in the middle, ‘failure’; and on the right, ‘success’. In this view, failure is a necessary step on the path toward accomplishment. Therefore, to fail doesn’t make you a failure, instead, it makes you courageous for having the strength to push yourself outside of your comfort zone.
Attempt, fail, learn; attempt, fail, learn; attempt, succeed. That’s the formula for the good life – plus or minus a few failures.