Updated: Aug 17, 2021
A growth mindset is the opposite of having a ‘fixed’ mindset, you may have seen the phrase used increasingly in recent years as the detail of Professor Carol Dweck’s work has been spread around the globe. The immediate overriding impression from reading about a growth mindset is the notion that we can increase our intelligence in a way that was not clear before. Essentially intelligence is often presented as a fixed commodity, either you have it, or you do not… Dweck and colleagues takes serious issue with this idea though, having conducted a great deal of research into mindsets and discovering, amongst many other findings, that a growth mindset may alleviate stress and reduce anxiety and depression (Schleider & Weisz, 2016).
First let’s take a fixed mindset- which essentially suggests you have learned/been told that intelligence and other physical capabilities are innate and so as a result there is a tendency to prove yourself and that this may also lead to thoughts and behaviours which in many ways limit you, for example not wishing to take on things you ‘know’ you are no good at because you will fail and indeed seeing not being very good at something as failure rather than a process about learning, growing and enjoying the journey, in her book: Mindset, Dweck gives us the quotation: ‘becoming is better than being’.
In a growth mindset we are in a position that suggests where we are now is just a starting point and that we can get smarter and better in different areas of our lives via training, persistence and learning from mistakes and set-backs. Can you be world beating, top of the pile the best? What Dweck suggests is you can likely become a hell of a lot better and that the thing that keeps you, your ability, your performance and ultimately your intelligence 'fixed' is your mindset.
A good analogy from my own experience strikes me here, at fourteen I was 4 ft10 and weighed 63lbs 28/29 kgs. I wanted one day (after seeing an advert in the newspaper) to become a bodybuilder. I had no business becoming a bodybuilder, I did not know any bodybuilders, it wasn’t popular, and I didn’t have the genetics… To top it all, it was hard for me to gain weight/build muscle and I could not afford to go to the gym, in fact everything that I can think of was against the whole venture, except for the inside of my head. The idea consumed me, I read about bodybuilding, I talked about bodybuilding, I learned everything I could about diet and exercise in relation to building muscle and I went to the gym as often as possible. To my extreme annoyance nothing much happened, I laboured on and on and after two years I competed in my first competition and placed third, it was my local town’s competition (not the Mr Universe) buoyed by this I went back the following year and placed nowhere and again the year after and placed nowhere again, finally after 5 years of non-stop dieting, training and competing and losing (with a year gap between losses) I won the competition, at which point it may as well have been the Mr Universe! It turned out to be the highlight of my bodybuilding career. Yet I realise now, without a doubt, becoming is better than being. Let me be candid, gaining a place at University, completing a master’s degree, graduating for my doctorate, none of these things seemed or felt difficult by comparison to me. I am not boasting about ability or exaggerating it is just that after five years of an unerring belief that I would and could do something (that nobody else really believed in, I was ridiculed at school (I weighed 63 lbs!) and seen much more as a mascot than a bodybuilder by the monsters in my local gym. I have learned that I probably could do something that I did not immediately seem to have the potential for (my grades at school were all very poor but now I am Dr Trevor). As I look back, I realise that my bodybuilding efforts set the tone for both literal growth and a growth mindset, I was not Mr Universe, but I improved year after year (after year!) and that was good enough.
So can you be the best of the best with a growth mindset? Who cares? Maybe you can and maybe not, but you can be better and you are much more likely to reach the moon by shooting for the stars…
Dweck, C. (2017). Mindset-updated edition: Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential. Hachette UK.
Schleider, J. L., & Weisz, J. R. (2016). Mental health and implicit theories of thoughts, feelings, and behavior in early adolescents: are girls at greater risk?. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 35(2), 130-151.