With the new school year fast approaching, I think it is useful to recognize that people generally have one of two different mindsets when it comes to learning. Some people think you “just have what you were born with” as far as smarts or intelligence goes, while others live their lives with the belief that you can always learn more and become more with effort. Which are you? Sort of like a brain “operating system,” believing and behaving with either a growth mindset or a fixed mindset will go a long way towards determining your success and happiness in this lifetime. The good news is, if you haven’t been getting the results you crave, you can always change your mindset and go from there.
So, what’s the difference? The terms “growth mindset” and “fixed mindset” come from Carol Dweck who is a professor of psychology at Stanford University and author of “MindSet: The New Psychology of Success”. After three decades of systematic research Dweck studied why some people succeed in spite of the odds while others with the same abilities languish. She discovered it wasn’t the “talent” of the individuals. Instead Dweck determined that it boiled down to whether a person looked at their ability as something inherent that needs to be demonstrated, (fixed) or as something that can be developed (growth).
A good explanation of that is my writing skill. I basically have no training for my writing. Sure, I have taken some creative writing classes through college, but I have never known anyone who was a professional writer or studied specifically for the craft. But somewhere around 30 years ago, I just decided it was something I could and would do—and I started writing. Of course, some people may not think much of my skills, but believe me, I have learned over the course of the last thirty years how to write. At no time did I think—oh, I couldn’t do that. I never thought that I didn’t have the ability or skill—only that I could learn what it was that I needed and eventually I could become a decent writer. When people ask me how I did it, knowing that I have two published books and have been making money writing for about 20 years now, I just say I did it by doing and learning as I went.
Meanwhile I happen to know dozens of people who would like to be writers. Everyone has a story inside them and just about everyone would like to share it with others. Some people think being a writer is glamorous—NOT! Others think it is an easy way to make a lot of money—NOT! But overall, most people believe that you either have the talent to write or you don’t. That, or some people believe it is a matter of luck. And it doesn’t seem to matter that I tell people repeatedly that it isn’t about the talent—it is about sitting your butt down and writing. Then if you do it long enough, learn as you go and don’t give up, you will be a writer. In other words, do you have a fixed mindset about writing or do you have a growth mindset about writing—I believe we all make that choice.
If you believe, “that’s just the way I am” about yourself regarding anything, then you are exhibiting a classic case of fixed mindset. A person with a fixed mindset sees obstacles as insurmountable and gives up. They also see effort as fruitless or worse, and if they get criticism or negative feedback, they assume that it is about them personally. Ultimately they feel threatened by the success of others because they see that achievement as unavailable to them. Eventually they stop trying with the “music” still in them.
Meanwhile the growth mindset sees the brain as a muscle that can be developed and nurtured so those who hold that belief embrace challenges. When setbacks come they don’t identify with upsets, or take them personally, they just keep plugging away. Gradually they see effort as a “path” or a journey to mastery. They also tend to learn from criticism and find lessons and inspiration in the success of others. Ultimately they reach higher and higher levels of achievement and experience a greater sense of free will and autonomy. Now which mindset do you want to operate from?
As I mentioned before, the good news is that you can switch from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset with effort—of course you have to believe it if you want it to happen! There are some amazing stories of how just a few minutes a day can dramatically switch a child’s/adult’s belief from the fatalistic fixed mind set to the empowering growth mindset. Not only can we change our own mindset, we also can dramatically influence a child’s mindset and help them for the rest of their lives. But again, you have to believe you can for it to help.
I am a writer not because I have some special talent for it—but because I believe I can continue to grow and become better as I go. Want to be a writer too? All you have to do is start NOW!
“How you interpret challenges, setbacks, and criticism is your choice. You can interpret them in a fixed mindset as signs that your fixed talents or abilities are lacking. Or you can interpret them in a growth mindset as signs that you need to ramp up your strategies and effort, stretch yourself, and expand your abilities. It’s up to you.” –Carolyn Dweck
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” –Albert Einstein
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