How I became committed to developing a growth mindset
Have you ever spent a decent amount of time really listing the infinite number of ways you might be governed by fixed mindsets? I have. There are many. For most of my life I didn’t even think about it. That is until my fixed thinking started to get me into trouble.
I became seriously disadvantaged by my own mind. It led to all kinds of complications in my life and it flowed into so many aspects of my professional and personal existence. It started to cause me to feel like I was under threat, and feeling like this often, only caused me to defend myself as best I believed I could. My solution was to block it all out, to numb myself, and to do the best I could without having to do things that felt uncomfortable.
This strategy was a bad one, and over the years, I struggled along, only getting myself deeper and deeper into denial and difficulty. The costs of my state of mind were immense. People tried to warn me, to help me, to guide me, but I rejected them all, and kept going on my own.
The mind is a powerful thing. It determines so much of what we do, even if what we do doesn’t help us. Even if what we do nearly kills us. This is where I ended up; almost dead because of my own head. It was only when I was faced with the stark and frightening reality that I was totally broken, that I decided I was willing to start unlearning and relearning. This was were I started to rebuild myself, restructure my thinking, and heal myself from a lifetime of rigidity (thinking and feeling) which had crushed my spirit into mush.
Over the last 6 years I have worked hard on a total mindset shift. A shift from self-limiting beliefs, self-sabotaging behaviour. The journey has been bold and brave, it has been very uncomfortable, but it has also shown its rewards in ways I could not have believed possible. My life has completely changed, and the way I think has as well.
This is what brought me into contact with the concept of growth mindset thinking. It was only through finding escape from my fixed thinking that allowed me to understand exactly what growth mindset is really about. I found it so personally relevant and profoundly true for my own life that I decided to offer this incredible life changing work to anyone who could benefit from it. And so was born the program GHM delivers.
Over the last two years we have delivered this program to many groups. In every case the impact has been incredible; it has not failed to resonate and create profound person insight, with every group we have engaged with.
Coming to terms with my own fixed mindsets and the cost of them.
It was not easy at all to interrogate my own thinking and to comes to terms which its flaws. We are inherently defensive against rigorous self-appraisal by nature, which is very much part of our inherited behaviour. Self-awareness is not a rigor of humanity; we more rigorously defend against the truth rather than face it and learn from it.
In my case I needed to hit rock bottom, to become powerless, to be forced to face the hard fact that my own thinking had in many ways, caused my own downfall. It was in becoming willing to accept this that opened me up to the idea that ‘I have some fatal flaws, and if I don’t work on removing them, I would not be around much longer.
I found myself in a situation in which I needed to ask for help, I needed to be put in a situation of needing all the help I could get my hands on, to adjust myself to a new way of being. For me, the process of renewal began by acknowledging one key fixed mindset.
“The quality of my own thinking had caused me to create an unsustainable and dangerous state of mind”
I was desperate not to accept this, and I fought it for many years. My instinctual protection was to re-enforce the idea that no one can tell me anything, that I know best, and that my thinking and choices have been solid.
When I chose to accept this I opened myself up to the rest of my life.
So, what is a fixed mindset?
Here is a list of the examples of what makes a person fixed in their thinking. Fixed thinking is a mindset which is determined by our past experiences, especially in childhood. These beliefs are created my what we make things mean. The beliefs we inherit and form are influenced strongly by our childhood experiences, our role-models, and our cultural contexts.
Each example of fixed thinking below provides a growth mindset statement in bold. Have a look at each one, consider for yourself how you might be fixed in your thinking, and then complete the growth mindset sentence with an example of how you could act with a growth mindset. This will give you some personal things to start working on immediately.
Either I’m good at something, or I’m not.
This statement is limited thinking at its most basic level, so it’s a great place to start. How can we possibly know we’re bad at something if we don’t try it? Additionally, how do we know we can’t improve unless we attempt to do so?
The thing about this statement—like most fixed mindset affirmations—is that it’s based in fear.
You’ll find that’s a common thread with all of these. Specifically, this one is about letting go of the fear of appearing bad at something.
Growth mindset statement: If I’m not good at something, I can always become better at it through practice. I need to find evidence of my attempts to learn something new. I cannot allow fear or inherited influence to define my belief.
I can’t learn now; it’s too late.
It is never, repeat, never too late to become a learner. This is a notion back of not only the growth mindset but also the lifelong learning mindset. As an old saying goes, the day we stop learning is the day we stop living. By and large, this is how learning happens in the digital age. Thanks to the open Internet and the world of online education, we can learn something “just in time” as opposed to “just in case.”
Growth mindset statement: I can learn whatever I want or need to, exactly when I need to learn it. When was the last time you challenged yourself to make this statement true? What did you learn that gave you evidence to challenge your fixed thinking?
There’s no point in trying if I’m going to fail.
True, you might fail. You might fail multiple times. You might fail so spectacularly that it paralyzes you and leaves you wondering what to do next. So here again, we are dealing with the face of fear, rearing its ugly head and laughing at our efforts with utter disdain.
But every failure we face is an opportunity to look at the situation in a whole new light.
So, the question, in this case, is one that will determine every single move you make from then on: How bad do you want it? Why do you want it?
Growth mindset statement: I see failures as opportunities to learn, to reassess, and to do better next time. Are you bold enough to step into failure? It is courage that we need to try
I take feedback as a personal attack.
Here’s the rub—depending on the person, it sometimes can be. Some people don’t know how to criticize constructively (or don’t care to) or are so profoundly resentful of themselves that they take it out on the others by denouncing all their efforts. Conversely, you may merely be perceiving what people are offering as harmful when they are only trying to be helpful. The thing you have to remember about any feedback is that, even when it’s vitriol, it’s still not specifically about you. You have to try to separate the words from the intent and learn to focus only on what you can take away that’s useful to you.
Growth mindset statement: I can find the value in every bit of feedback I receive. It might not be easy, especially if the feedback is harsh or not done kindly, but hey, I need to learn when I get feedback, so I really need to toughen myself up to hear it, even if it is hard.
I always struggle with…
Arguably, the main driving principle of the new thought movement could be summed up in the famous words of Descartes: I think, therefore I am. What this means is that such a statement as the one above is self-affirming. If we believe that we always struggle with something, we permanently close off that part of our brain that could potentially help us understand it better. The limits we impose on ourselves through sheer force of cognitive will can be tremendously powerful when they drive us to either struggle or improve.
Growth mindset statement: I can always do better at something if I want to, but it will take effort.
I feel threatened/intimidated by the success of others.
Why are we so determined to be put out by the prosperity of others? If anything, it’s something we should be celebrating. Why? Because more often than not, these sensational stories are all about people just like us—average, everyday, ordinary folks who knew what they wanted and weren’t willing to stop until they got it. This serves to remind us that such potential is an inherently human trait and something that is accessible to all of us, rather than a chosen few.
Growth mindset statement: When I see others succeed, it makes me think that I can too. What did these people do that made them so successful, and how can it be my model?
I can’t make this any better; it is what it is.
The growth mindset means always looking for ways to improve. Even the greatest minds in our history who have engineered the world around us asked themselves, “How could I make this even better?” It means that no matter how exceptional something turns out, those who debrief their processes and outcomes diligently are those who understand improvement is, indeed, all in our mindset.
Growth mindset statement: What could I have done better? How can I carry this forward?
My current abilities are the measure of my outcomes.
This is similar to number 2, and it comes back to the eradicated notion of fixed intelligence. For a long time now, we’ve been researching the brain and how it works, and we understand how much it changes as we use it. Like a muscle, the mind needs exercise to stay vigorous and functional. We do this by continually finding ways to improve and enhance what we know and what we can do. In doing so, we shift our results dramatically.
Growth mindset statement: My determination and effort are the measures of my outcomes.
I already know everything I need to know.
This sounds like a pretty dangerous assumption. However, what it sounds like more is someone who has decided to stop growing. Historically, how many times have we claimed everything that was ever going to be invented had been already? Remember back when you thought 128K of RAM was all you’d ever possibly need? Look at what’s happened since then—my, how things have changed. It benefits us to approach life believing that no matter how smart we may be (or think we may be), we always have something new to learn.
Growth mindset statement: I enjoy learning and growing, and learning is a lifetime pursuit for me.
I’ve always been told that I can’t ______.
When a young impressionable brain is continuously bombarded with a specific notion, again and again, it can become an unconscious “truth” for that brain. Unfortunately, a destructive or limiting idea can also become true for that brain. We can’t blame ourselves or others for being surrounded by the beliefs we were brought up with when we were young. What we need to understand right now is that someone else’s opinion of us needn’t become our reality. No matter what we believe about ourselves because of what someone else in the past has told us, we can change those beliefs into ones that empower us, rather than hold us back.
Growth mindset statement: No one can know my potential. I must discover it for myself, independent from outside opinion and influence.
So, this is a very good starting point for you. I am sure you thought at least once, “This is me”. It is ok if you did because we all have some fixed thinking in our heads. The important question to ask and give serious thought to is “how has this thinking cost me in my life and work?”
The main reason I have committed 1000’s of hours of effort to shifting my fixed mindsets is because I knew how huge the cost had been. It was staggering. I didn’t need to find a reason why. It was clear. If I didn’t change the way I thought, if I didn’t grow, I would cease to be. Bear in mind though it took 15 years for me to come to this conclusion. I don’t think we all need to wait for a calamity to raise this level of awareness. We can proactively develop ourselves gradually and consistently over time; so we don’t end up broken and at rock bottom.
The other important thing I have learnt about growth is that we cannot grow in isolation. Fixed thinking is usually something we hold onto in the privacy of our own minds, which is one of the reasons it is so costly. We don’t ask for help, learn from others, or create supportive networks of people who can guide us, walk along side us, and we don’t create supportive accountability for the things we really want to change. Developing a growth mindset is something we do with other people, not alone.
I have found that I still have a lot of fixed thinking. The aim is progress (growth mindset), not perfection (fixed). As I deal with unlearning and re-learning I come up against new fixed mindsets. It is a life-long process to be sure.
Steps to Developing a Growth Mindset
By now I am sure you have a couple of places to start working. Choose one fixed mindset and start deciding how you are going to begin challenging it.
Step 1: admitting that it is fixed thinking
(Where does it show up and how does it show up)
Step 2: understand how it is costing you
(What have you lost out on / not received / how does this thinking hold you back personally, in relationships, in career advancement)
Step 3: become willing to accept help and guidance in how to shift it
(I am willing to be courageous in walking into new territory and facing fear)
Step 4: set a hypothesis that you aim to prove or disprove through experimentation (be like a scientist looking for DATA)
(What experiment am I conducting / how long will it run / how will I work out if it is working / how will I try alternative strategies and use guidance from people around me)
Step 5: commit to daily, weekly and monthly opportunities to act with a growth mindset, no matter how uncomfortable it is to do so. You need to create habits from this.
(Suspend your judgement of progress for long enough to see the results begin to emerge)
Step 6: keep a log of your efforts.
(Commit to rigorous recording of progress made, and reflecting on your thoughts and feelings) throughout the process.
Step 7: make sure you remind yourself of the importance of prioritising this effort over time.
(Why do I need this? How badly do you want it)
Step 8: ensure you are building a supportive network of people who are in your corner, and who can encourage you to keep going when it gets hard or when you want to give up.
(connected support systems are essential for growth mindset learning to occur)
This may seem like a lot to consider, which is why you need to start with one or two areas at the beginning. Start intentionally and be consistently focussed on the area/s you feel are most important right now. As you develop a rigour around spotting fixed thinking in practice, and then developing a growth mindset response to it, you will establish a foundational awareness. Once you have experienced growth in certain areas, you will move on to other related fixed mindset situations.
Remember, this is a life-long process, so think of developing these competencies for the long term. In the short term you need to commit the process you are learning into a daily, weekly, monthly reflection process.
It is also important that you are willing to seek information and resources through your own active research. There is a huge amount of helpful content available. You just need to look for it. This will help you to activate your own agency.
You need to really want to grow
I have no doubt in my mind why personal growth is essential to my life and work. I never question its value. I have become completely convinced by this work, and I have become a person who seeks growth and learning as a default setting. It was not always like this but it is now.
Not all growth has the same value to a person, but we all have specific areas of personal growth which are essential to our ability to overcome self-imposed limitations. It is vital that you find the reason why it is so important to identify and work on these growth areas.
Nothing and no-one can force you to grow. It is a choice you make, sometimes on a daily basis. Courage is the essential factor determining whether you will tackle your growth requirements or not. Without courage we will always let our growth needs suffer.
For me, I knew that if I didn’t grow I would surely die, and perhaps not in the physical sense, but rather, I would live a life in which I was refusing to grow beyond my limitations, which would indicate a slow death over time.
For some of us growth may not be such a serious need, but still, most of us are stuck in a prison or two of our own making, which are self-imposed because of how we think. We all deserve freedom from them. We all deserve to experience the freedom and advancement of courageous growth.
Check out our other Growth Mindset Article here.