Growth Vs Fixed Mindset: How to Become Who You Want to Be

When Henry Ford first saw the gas-powered engine, he instantly knew it would be his life’s task to be a pioneer in developing the automobile. But the industry was ruthless and highly competitive. As Robert Greene explains in his book Mastery:

To manufacture automobiles in the late 1890s was a daunting venture. It required a tremendous amount of capital and a complex business structure, considering all of the parts that went into production.

Despite the challenges, Ford found financial backing and designed an automobile. But by 1901, a year and a half after starting the Detroit Automobile Company, the board of directors dissolved it. “They had lost faith in Henry Ford.”

Ford wasn’t deterred by this failure. He analysed it and decided he was trying to meet too many consumer needs. He decided to try again. He managed to convince his financial backer to give him a second chance, which was very rare in the industry. Together they formed the Henry Ford Company. But less than a year later, Ford left because of “interference from people who knew nothing about design or the high standards he was trying to establish for the industry.”

Everyone wrote Ford off in the automobile industry. "He had blown his two chances and nobody was ever given a third, not with the amount of money at stake."

At this point, you’d think Ford would throw in the towel and move on.

But to friends and family, Ford himself seemed blithely unconcerned. He told everyone that these were all invaluable lessons to him—he had paid attention to every glitch along the way, and like a watch or an engine, he had taken apart these failures in his mind and had identified the root cause . . .

So after two failed starts, Ford produced what is now known as the Model A. And he went down in history as the pioneer he set out to be.

 The original Model A produced by Henry Ford in 1903.

The original Model A produced by Henry Ford in 1903.

. . . And by 1904 the Ford Motor Company had to expand its operations. Soon it would be one of the few survivors from the early era of the automobile business, and a giant in the making.

Ford’s resilient attitude and ability to learn from failures is what we now refer to as a growth mindset. Research has found that it is one of the strongest predictors of personal and professional development. It shapes and affects every aspect of our lives. So, what is growth mindset? And how can you use it to develop as a person?

What Is Mindset?

Carol Dweck is a world-renowned Stanford University psychologist with decades of research on achievement and success. She discovered a simple but powerful idea known as mindset. Dweck defines mindset as:

Mindsets are beliefs—beliefs about yourself and your most basic qualities. Think about your intelligence, your talents, your personality. Are these qualities simply fixed traits, carved in stone and that’s that? Or are they things you can cultivate throughout your life?

In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.

In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.

Here’s a quick infographic to sum up how our behaviours change when we approach life with a growth versus fixed mindset:

 Image source:  mindsetworks

Image source: mindsetworks

How Mindset Shapes Your Life

While mindset may seem like another self-help cliché, there’s a body of research that shows it has a profound impact on your life. As Dweck puts it: “It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you commit to and accomplish the things you value.”

We all have fixed mindsets in some situations. Some of the common things we tell ourselves are:

  • I’ll never lose weight.
  • I could never do X or Y.
  • I’m not smart.
  • I’m not creative.
  • I shouldn’t risk following my dream. I need to play it safe.

These fixed mindset scripts protect us from getting outside of our comfort zone and potentially failing in the short term. But long term, they stop us from growing, learning new skills, or following our true passions.

We don’t need science to tell us that a fixed mindset can hold us back. It’s obvious when you think about it. If you truly believe you can’t win the job or lose weight, you’ll avoid trying. Your brain will look for ways to confirm that you can’t do it to 'protect' you. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I’ve held back on many things in my own life because I had a fixed mindset (and still struggle with it). For years, I told myself I was too uncoordinated to try martial arts. I held back to save myself the embarrassment of getting outside of my comfort zone and learning something new. When I finally bit the bullet and tried it, it wasn’t easy and I did struggle with some aspects of technique. But no other fitness experience has had more of a profound impact on my life than training in Krav Maga.

On paper, examples like mine don't seem that scary. But we all have personal weaknesses that we build up in our heads to monumental proportions. We essentially create a barrier of excuses and fears (most of which are unfounded) because of a fixed mindset.

It’s easy to see how we can miss out on life-changing opportunities to grow and learn with a fixed mindset. The fixed mindset Liam says “I better not try anything outside of my comfort zone because I might look stupid.” The growth mindset Liam (much better bloke, I reckon), says “I’m going to give this a shot. I’ll probably suck at it at first. I’ll feel really uncomfortable. And won’t have a clue what I’m doing. But that’s all right. I’ll grow and learn from it.”

So if you start to apply this to your own challenges, you’ll see how you can either build bars that exist only in your head. Or bust out of the fixed mindset prison on the back of a unicorn yelling 'bring it on'.

How Do I Know What Type of Mindset I Have?

I don’t think there are many areas of our lives that can be pigeon-holed. In reality, we’re a blend of fixed and growth mindsets. Good and bad habits. Struggles and achievements. But I do think that we tend to take on a dominant mindset. So how do you know which one is dominant? Here’s a quick test you can take:

How to Change From a Fixed to Growth Mindset

Making changes in our lives is tough. But it’s also one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do. When you learn that your brain is plastic, you open new doors and insights. And it all starts between your ears.

I believe one of the major drivers of change is first addressing your habits. You can learn how to build good habits and break the bad ones in this post.

Dweck also provides a framework for building a growth mindset, which fits in with the habit building post I wrote.

Step 1 - Hear and Recognise the Fixed Mindset Voice

Every time you approach a challenge or difficult situation, listen to the self-talk. Are you saying “I’m not smart enough to do this.” Or you might be trying to protect your ego by saying “what if I fail?”

When you experience a setback, is your self-talk negative? Are you using it to reinforce the thoughts that prevent you from trying?

When you face criticism, can you stop for a moment without an automatic response and use it as feedback? Or do you respond on the defensive, as if you have to protect your intelligence?

Step 2 - Recognise That You Have a Choice

Your thoughts and feelings determine the lens through which you see the world. I’m not suggesting you can simply switch on a growth mindset and get on easy street. It takes work. But you can interpret challenges, setbacks, and even criticism as valuable feedback. Signs that you’re not quite there yet. That you need to do a little more work. Or you can take a fixed mindset approach of “I’m not good enough” or “I don’t have the talent to do this.”

So, as you start to listen to the fixed mindset voice you can now make a choice to change it. Just like lifting weights to build muscle, practice is key.

Step 3 - Talk Back With a Growth Mindset Voice

So, you start to change the internal self-talk from:

The fixed mindset: “I can’t lose weight."

To the growth mindset: “I don’t have the knowledge right now, but I can learn or get help.”

The fixed mindset: “what if I fail? It would be so embarrassing."

To the growth mindset: “we learn more from failures than our successes. Failure is not only part of success, but without it there is no success.”

The fixed mindset: “I didn’t get the job, I must not be smart enough.”

To the growth mindset: “nothing of value comes easy. I need to identify where I fell short and work on improving.”

You get the idea, just start noticing and changing the self-talk. Then it’s all about the most important part—taking action.

Step 4 - Take Action

Over time, the voice that you pay attention to and act on becomes your dominant mindset. You could do this by:

  • Looking for the positive in setbacks or perceived failures. How did you grow? What did you learn?
  • Take on challenges that are outside of your comfort zone. But start small and build up so you can get confident.
  • When you receive criticism, practice holding back an immediate response. If it's valid, consider it important feedback that you can use to improve yourself. Most of the people around you won’t ever give you honest criticism. Friends and family don’t want to rock the boat or upset you. So when you get honest feedback, use it as a tool.

There will always be a devil and an angel competing for your attention. Listen to both. But act on the angel’s growth mindset advice.

Summing up – Key Points

  • Failure is an important part of success. How you respond to it is what matters.
  • In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits.
  • In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work.
  • Mindset determines whether you become the person you want to be and whether you commit to and accomplish the things you value.
  • There are four steps to changing from a fixed to a growth mindset. Practice and repetition are key.

Do Something – Anything!

Don’t just consume information. If you’ve read this far, I’m assuming you find this post useful. You’ve now got two choices: 1) close the screen and think ‘that’s nice’ and move on with your day or 2) follow the strategy for developing a positive mindset and practice it. Start with one step at a time. Make it so small you can’t fail. And as Nike says, just do it! Decision creates action. Action creates results.

I Need Your Help

I’ve also got a huge favour to ask of you. No, I don’t want your money. But will happily accept it! I’m trying to get this blog off the ground and I can’t do it without your help. Simply sharing this post on social media (you're so close to the share buttons—look down below) or emailing it to a friend makes a HUGE difference in my life. In return, I promise we can be best mates and you can reach out anytime. Seriously. If you need help with any health, fitness, or Jedi Knight goals you can contact me here.

You can also share some love by adding a comment below. Let me know if you lean towards a fixed or growth mindset and how it’s impacted your choices in life.

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