5 Steps to Get in the Growth Mindset
In high school I once won an award that recognized unused potential called the “Kick-In-the-Butt” award. My art teacher had nominated me. The prize? An excuse-busting kick-in-the-butt to get creating- $50 to the art supplies store. Normally, you’d think a student would be excited, right? But, what I did with that gift certificate was consistent with what someone with a fixed mindset would do: I gave it away to a friend who I felt was better at art than I was. They would get more use out of it, I thought.
If you are unfamiliar with the idea of fixed vs. growth mindset, let me give you a quick rundown. Professor of Psychology at Stanford University and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck, defines fixed mindset as believing you have a certain amount of brains or talent that cannot be changed. In other words, whatever you are naturally good at is all there will ever be. In contrast, those who operate in the growth mindset tend to see qualities as “things that can be developed through dedication and effort.” The good news is, no matter the mindset you have right now, it can be changed for the better.
By receiving this award, my teacher was telling me I had the ability to do great things- if I would just put in the work. While students with the growth mindset were eager to try, fail, learn from mistakes and try again, I had decided that art was not my strength. At the time, practicing and potentially being bad was scarier than just identifying with a lack of artistic talent. My fixed mindset told me that I didn’t have it in me.
In the age of personal branding and content curation, transitioning into the growth mindset can feel difficult. These social media practices give us the ability to appear flawless, showing only our successes to the outside world. With a fixed mindset it’s common to look at other’s success and assume they achieved it by just showing up. This belief is flawed, and in the second chapter of her book, Dweck writes, “just because some people can do something with little or no training, it doesn’t mean that others can’t do it (and sometimes do it even better) with training.” Now I feel fearless in my ability to create, but more importantly, my ability to fail, learn and move on. If you’re struggling with the creation process because of your fixed mindset, these steps can help you to push through and stay on track:
Realize you have a choice. When you hear the voice inside your head telling you to quit, recognize it and challenge it. Our feelings are real, but sometimes they aren’t reality. Breaking this cycle of self-doubt is the first step to leaving your fixed mindset behind.
Try everything not once, but twice. My dad always used to tell me “life minus expectations equals happiness.” While it’s good to set goals, having unrealistic expectations can be harmful. Unless you’re a genius or a prodigy, you probably aren’t going to be perfect the first time you try something. Try everything twice and reflect on how you’ve improved the second time, even if it’s in a small way.
Keep a journal of accomplishments. When you’re stuck in a fixed mindset, it’s easy to have tunnel vision and only focus on mistakes and shortcomings. Start a journal that celebrates every small victory, from making a recipe better the second time, to graduating from a difficult academic program, your list is sure to add up.
Calm yourself with breathing exercises. Deep breathing exercises are one of the easiest and quickest ways to sooth frustration. When you feel yourself getting agitated or fed-up, try closing your eyes and breathing in through your nose while counting to 3. Breath out a long, slow breath from your mouth and repeat 3 more times.
Practice alone. Comparison is the fixed mindset’s favorite pastime. Practicing your craft, skill or hobby alone can help you escape from distractions and get comfortable making mistakes without fear of judgment. When self-judgment starts to creep up, refer to #1.