I’ll start with a question: What is it that determines if a person will be “successful” or not at a difficult task?  

Take a second and think about how you would answer that question. 

For many years my answer might have been “innate ability,” “willpower,” or some combination of the two. Recently, however, I came across the work of Carol Dweck. Ph.D. and it drastically changed the way I think about this question. 

In her research, Dr. Dweck theorizes that our “mindset” and how we conceptualize intelligence will drastically change how we approach difficult situations and tasks. She presents the idea of a continuum, with one end being a “fixed” mindset and the other end being a “growth” mindset. 

In a “fixed” mindset, a person views intelligence as static and ability as fixed. On the other end of the spectrum, people with a “growth” mindset view intelligence as something fluid that can be developed. 

What she found next is fascinating! 

She found that people with a fixed mindset tend to avoid challenges and difficult tasks, give up easily when presented with obstacles, and see little point in putting a great deal of effort into goals and tasks. Furthermore, people with a fixed mindset tend to see any failure as a threat to their identity and therefore ignore, avoid, or dismiss critical feedback and feel threatened when others succeed. People with a fixed mindset want to look smart but tend to achieve less than what they desire and this feeds a bleak outlook on the world. 

Alternatively, people with a growth mindset see challenges as an opportunity to grow and embrace them. These individuals tend to see obstacles as opportunities to gain more information and learn. For them, effort is meaningful and is what will allow them to accomplish great things. Feedback and criticism is not seen as a personal attack, but rather a helpful opportunity for growth in previously blind spots. People with a growth mindset tend to champion others who are succeeding and see them as an inspiration. They desire to learn and are always achieving more and more which gives them a greater sense of free will. 

If this is a continuum, where do you fall?

Fixed <———————————————————-> Growth

If you are like me, you might read these descriptions and think that of course I subscribe to a growth mindset. However, my challenge to you is not just think about what you logically believe, but rather to look at how you operate.

Draw this continuum and place a dot where you logically think you fall on the continuum, and a different dot for what you tend to function or operate out of. 

You may find that those dots are in different places. That is ok! Often these mindsets were developed through what we were modeled in our households or in our educational environment. Many times we inherit more of the fixed mindset. 

If, however, you see the appeal of the growth mindset, there are ways to move toward it. 

One of the most effective ways I have seen is to pause and reflect on how you are viewing the obstacle or task. So much of changing a mindset is simply about awareness. While you may not get to choose how well you do the first time you try a task, you do have choice over how you respond to failure and if you allow it to mean something about your identity or not. 

When you feel you have failed, pause. Instead of letting it mean that you are a “failure,” don’t let it be wasted. Ask yourself what you can learn from the experience that will make you more likely to be successful next time you try.

As you begin to change your mindset, you might just realize how much this outlook dictates your overall mood and how you view the world!

Here are some resources if you would like to dive deeper into these topics:

Overview Video by John Spencer 

Ted Talk by Carol Dweck

Flow Chart 

**The information contained herein is not therapeutic advice nor a substitute for therapy. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any mental health problem. If you are located within the United States and you need emergency assistance please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. If you are located within Colorado you may also call the Colorado Crisis Line at 844-493-TALK (8255).

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