What is a growth mindset and how do I get it?
Updated: Jan 28
Don’t say “I can’t do that”. Say “I can’t do that – yet”.
A growth mindset is a powerful tool for thinking well. It allows for a more positive perspective and gives you the opportunity to learn new things, further develop yourself and better coach others. It empowers you to confidently navigate any change or challenge that comes your way, knowing that personal growth will likely follow.
It's a really practical and valuable skill, and once you understand how it works, it becomes something you can use in everyday life.
What is a growth mindset?
Carol Dweck, an academic leader in the field of motivation, says there are two kinds of mindsets: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.
People with a fixed mindset – or who happen to be utilising one at any moment in time – believe skills are mostly innate. They can either do something, or they can’t – “I’m not good with numbers”, “I could never give a speech in front of a crowd”, “I’m not creative”. A fixed mindset is an acceptance of the status quo, and the conviction that nothing can change it.
On the other hand, a growth mindset is about learning, growing and evolving mentally. It’s the belief that you can acquire any given ability, provided you invest enough effort and dedicated practice.
Underpinning this is an understanding of brain elasticity. To put it simply, brain elasticity is the idea that your brain remains changeable throughout your life. We think of the brain growing and expanding as something that’s confined to childhood, but research has shown the brain remains pliable into adulthood and throughout your life.
How a growth mindset can improve your life
When you talk about a growth mindset, it might seem a bit academic, but it's actually a fundamental thought process and attitude. When used effectively, this stronger form of thinking can set you up to achieve your goals, maximise what you learn from experiences and put you in a greater position to thrive in life.
If you have a fixed mindset or you fear failure, you usually don't commit to trying. You just don’t fully put yourself out there, so you’ll never know how good you could become at something. A growth mindset is about casting aside self-judgement and that fear of failure, and having a go for the pleasure of trying.
There’s a real joy in having a go – which is how we approached things when we were kids. Remember back when we were young? We didn’t expect to get something right the first time. We took the time to learn the rules or the skills required and then we practised until we could do it. As adults, the same thinking and process should apply.
The four steps to a growth mindset
Carol Dweck outlines four steps to develop and build a growth mindset.
The first step is actually listening and recognising what the voice in your head is saying, and what kind of mindset it’s using. If it’s saying, “I can’t do this” or “I’m no good at this”, then you’re in a fixed mindset.
Next, it’s about realising you have control when it comes to your mindset, and making the active choice to approach the situation differently.
The third step is replying to a fixed mindset with a growth one. So if you think, “I’ve completely failed at this”, then you need to correct yourself and say, “I should come back more rested tomorrow and have another go." Talk to yourself like you would coach someone else through that situation.
The final step is taking a growth mindset action. If you’re really struggling with something – like writing a report at work – it’s good to stop, take a breath, and go outside for a walk. Or if you haven’t eaten for a while, maybe your blood sugar levels are low, so stop for a snack. It's not saying, “I can't”; it's saying, “I can, but just not right at this moment in time”. Then making sure you come back to give it another go later.
A simple way to practise a growth mindset
One of the most effective ways to practise a growth mindset is to use the word “yet” on yourself and others. With a growth mindset, there is no failure – it’s just that you haven’t got there yet.
If someone – say your child or a colleague – says “I can’t do that”, you can jump in with this short but powerful word. You can say, “You can’t do that – yet”, or you can build on it by saying, “You can't yet because you just haven't put in enough time and energy to work through it.”
I use this little technique with my children, with upcoming athletes and with professionals that I coach. A “yet” is a bridge to the next chance to try again. It’s seeing the potential and opportunity in life rather than the negatives. It’s about opening your mind and your heart. It’s a door still open and a way forward.
How a growth mindset promotes resilience
Adopting a growth mindset is also important in building resilience against stress suggests Dr Justine Gatt, a Group Leader and Senior Research Scientist at Neuroscience Research Australia and the University of New South Wales.
“Resilience is not simply a coping mechanism that only some people are born with”, says Dr Gatt. “It’s the series of steps taken to effectively deal with stress and to thrive for optimal levels of wellbeing.”
One way this can be achieved is through the principle of ‘Mastery’, for which a growth mindset is key. “To optimise Mastery, we need to build on our strengths but also work on our weaknesses. This requires stepping out of your comfort zone to learn new things.
“For example, if you are a little shy or hate socialising, try taking a course in conversation-making. With a growth mindset, you will find you can master such things, becoming more self-reliant and self-confident over time”.
Originally published on www.onelife.aiavitality.com.au on November 16, 2017.
Alisa Camplin is an Olympic Gold Medalist, in-demand Keynote Speaker, Corporate Ambassador, and Human Performance Consultant who delivers results-driven Resilience and Human Performance Training and Development Programs. Connect with Alisa.