Some ideas are like a portal to a new reality – they create paradigm shifts.
For me, the growth mindset has been one of them. Learning about it has been an instrumental factor in letting go of several unhelpful beliefs.
In this post, I’ll first cover what the growth mindset is, and why it’s a big deal. Then I’ll describe 10 powerful examples which you can start using in your own life.
Recap: Growth Mindset vs Fixed Mindset
In Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck draws a distinction between the fixed and growth mindset.
Here are the main differences:
The mindset you occupy most often will radically affect how you navigate life.
Personally, any time I stagnate or stall there’s usually an unruly fixed mindset tripping me up.
And when I find myself taking healthy risks, or making decent progress, the growth mindset is usually spurring me onwards.
When you see the world with a fixed mindset, the realm of what’s possible starts to contract around you.
When you see the world with a growth mindset, your horizon begins to expand.
Dweck sums up why this is so vital to understand:
“Becoming is better than being. The fixed mindset does not allow people the luxury of becoming. They have to already be.”
If you’ve just realized you’re tangled in a web of fixed mindset beliefs, know that (a) you’re not alone and (b) the growth mindset is learnable.
In fact, believing your mindset can change is in itself one of the most fundamental growth mindset shifts of all.
Like any other skill, it becomes a force of habit through conscious practice. For anyone, at any stage, this is a tremendous opportunity.
But like any other skill, you also need to start with self-awareness.
Where exactly is the fixed mindset holding you back? And what’s the nature of those beliefs?
Note you can be growth mindset around certain areas (e.g. your physical health) and fixed mindset about others (e.g. your intelligence).
But when it comes to deep beliefs we hold about who we are, the fixed mindset can hold us back most. Beliefs about our identity can seep into all other areas of life, putting a fake ceiling on what we’re capable of, or even worthy of.
I’ve honed in on 10 examples which I believe are most powerful, especially when it comes to personal and professional success. At some point, each of these beliefs have served me well at some point.
As you scan through, I invite you to consider which ones are most pertinent in your life at this moment.
10 Growth Mindset Examples
Fixed Mindset – I’m inherently bad/inadequate
Growth Mindset – I’m on a journey of continuous growth
Many people believe they’re ‘damaged goods’, or deficient down to the core. I’m no stranger to this popping up, more than I’d prefer.
Ironically, there’s possibly nothing more damaging than the belief that we’re damaged. It implies we’re fixed, rather than dynamic.
The trouble is, it’s really hard to believe you’re broken and also believe you’re capable of change at the same time.
We all have flaws, but that doesn’t make us ‘flawed’. Notice the difference? In the same way, we all have strengths, but that doesn’t make us ‘perfect’. It’s pure delusion to generalise one way or the other.
Instead, focus on your journey of growth. But remember that every journey has ups and downs. By doing so, you’ll give richness to the story you’re telling yourself about who you are. And you’ll also make that story so much more palatable.
Fixed Mindset: I lack the personality traits needed for success in work, love or life
Growth Mindset: The way I show up in the world is a work in progress
The word ‘personality’ comes from the Latin word persona, which means ‘mask’.
Early in life, you figured out which masks to pick up. You had a mask for being accepted by friends, and a mask you wore around parents.
When you got older, I’m willing to bet some of these personas weren’t as unhelpful.
I’ve suffered from having a ‘shy persona’ for much of my life. It’s still something I’m training myself to let go of.
The core insight? Personality isn’t written in the stars. Once you learn how, you can pick up and put down various personas.
The key word is ‘learn’.
With a fixed mindset, learning gets taken off the table. Genetics and upbringing become your destiny. It’s simply in your nature to be ‘quiet and introverted’ or ‘loud and boisterous’. It can be tempting to think of these qualities as immovable parts of our identity.
But with the growth mindset, it’s possible to learn another way to be if those personas don’t help in certain situations. Genetics and upbringing continue to shape your natural tendencies, but with a commitment to growth you can start circumventing them if needed.
Fixed Mindset: I just wasn’t born to [insert skill] like other people
Growth Mindset: With effort, I can learn to [insert skill]
As a culture, we’re enamoured with the idea of ‘genius’.
We create a huge chasm between ‘normal’ people and those with God-given ability. Michael Phelps must be a miracle of genetics, right?
While some people have buckets of innate talent, most of us are on a level playing field. In any case, perseverance is where the magic happens.
The fixed mindset has us disregard the blood, sweat and tears many ‘geniuses’ sacrifice on the way to greatness. Take Mozart.
Mozart started playing the piano at age three, and his early music was poorly received. Yet he worked feverishly until the day he died, and the rest is history. He just did his thing for the love of it.
As Dweck says, much of the problem is what we get told in childhood.
It’s counterintuitive, but every time you tell a child they’re “smart” or “a natural”, you’re actually taking the wind out of their sails. The messaging is clear – you don’t need to work for anything to succeed. Complacency and demotivation swiftly follow suit.
Conversely, labelling children as “lazy” or “bad” installs a potent inner critic.
Whether you’re talking to yourself, another adult, or a child, the solution is to focus on the journey.
Rather than praising traits, praise effort. And instead of branding someone as hopeless when things don’t go well, focus on giving balanced feedback.
Everybody has to start somewhere. Remember your own journey is going to be completely unique. Believe that with time, effort and an open mind, progress is pretty much universal.
Fixed Mindset: His/her success reflects badly on me
Growth Mindset: How can I learn from their experience?
Comparison is a seductive beast. Left unchecked, it can give way to crippling envy.
At the root of it, there are two powerful fixed mindset beliefs at play.
First, you might fall prey to believing you’re playing a zero-sum game. This is where someone else’s gain becomes your loss, which usually isn’t the case at all.
And as usual, the second issue is seeing both ourselves (and the other person) in a static way rather than being on separate journeys of growth.
Without seeing this reality, someone else’s success becomes a reason to feel resentful.
I’m putting my hands up here – having a competitive, driven nature means my knee-jerk reaction to other people’s success is often jealousy.
There will always be someone out there who knows more, can do more, and achieves more.
But the growth mindset has reminded me their existence is a blessing, not a curse. I’ve taught myself to get inspired rather than jealous.
This is a win-win scenario for all parties. Not only do you become more supportive and encouraging, but learning about their experiences can add to your own journey.
Fixed Mindset: I’m set in my ways – you can’t teach an old dog new tricks
Growth Mindset: It’s never too late to try something new
Many fixed mindset thoughts have a basis in fear of failure. This case is no different. The scars of life cause people to clam up, drawing false security from the idea they’re ‘past it’.
However, neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to rewire and learn new things – doesn’t just stop in its tracks at a certain point.
While younger brains are more flexible, being on the older side needn’t take growth out of the equation.
The difference between those who excel and those who flounder is adopting a growth mindset.
It’s much more empowering to get excited about the limitless possibilities for learning, especially in the current technological age.
For instance, at what other point in history could you decide to completely switch careers, or start a profitable side hustle from the comfort of your own home, using mostly free resources?
Fixed Mindset: I know everything there is to know
Growth Mindset: I always have more to learn – I’ve never ‘made it’
Believing you’ve arrived at some final, fixed level of knowledge leads to stagnation at best, and calamity at worst.
The further some people rise in a hierarchy, or the more they’re positioned as an expert, the less open they become to constructive criticism. They think “I’ve made it”, or “I know best”. Dweck calls this ‘CEO disease’.
The powerful growth mindset shift is this: no matter how advanced your knowledge becomes on any subject, approaching it as a beginner prevents complacency from setting in. In Zen Buddhism, this is called ‘Beginner’s Mind’.
Remember, your potential for growth is infinite, and the ceiling on your achievements is unknowable.
This is vital for anyone positioning themself as an expert, or leader.
The humility to step back and take on board ideas is not only good-natured, but fundamental to avoiding catastrophe. This makes it important to surround yourself with reasonable people who give a good balance of support and honest feedback.
This growth mindset belief also helps if you ever switch careers.
When I left medicine and transitioned to the advertising industry, I had to leave my ego at the door in a big way. I suddenly wasn’t surrounded by patients who saw me as having all the answers.
To get through, I had to quickly take on the growth mindset. I reminded myself that it’s ok to feel lost and confused. In fact, they became signs I was staying humble and showing up receptive to feedback/learning.
Fixed Mindset: I don’t have enough purpose in my life
Growth Mindset: Purpose isn’t something I ‘have’, it’s something I cultivate
With the fixed mindset, purpose becomes something you have or don’t have, or something you ‘find’ through luck.
But purpose is actually something you cultivate. You mould it throughout life, like clay.
And as usual, the key ingredient is a commitment to growth. In this case, the growth comes from devotion to a lifelong process of self-discovery.
You may not know where you’re going, or how you’ll get there, but taking pressure off yourself and trusting that time will tell is the first step.
I’m not suggesting you sit around and wait for inspiration to strike. Purpose really takes shape when you (a) regularly make decisions to move in a certain direction, and (b) reflect on your experiences.
The reflection part is critical.
You need to constantly ask yourself what you’re enjoying, what makes you come alive, what your strengths are and how you want to contribute to the world.
Above all, give yourself permission to feel confused. In fact, recognise that as a useful signal from your intuition. Perhaps it means you need to do some fact-finding, or take more action.
Over time, perhaps through journaling and support from others, your purpose will take shape as you get to know yourself.
Fixed Mindset: I’m out of my league/unworthy
Growth Mindset: Feeling like an imposter is useful feedback
When I worked as a doctor, the feeling of not measuring up would rear its ugly head all too often. I’m no stranger to what many call ‘imposter syndrome’.
Feeling out of your element can be jarring. It can force you into black-or-white thinking – you’re either worthy or unworthy, with no room for error. Any small mistake gets blown out of proportion, signalling your inadequacy. And the culprit is often a fixed mindset.
While imposter syndrome isn’t necessarily something to eliminate, taking on a growth mindset helps to keep it under control.
It’s all about changing perception.
Firstly, realise that it’s incredibly normal to feel this way – even more so when settling into a new role.
Secondly, repackage the feeling as a useful signal. It could be reminding you that you’re engaged in something significant. But ultimately, it could be a signal you’re outside your comfort zone – which is where you stretch and grow as a person.
Drop the idea that you’re a flawless, superhuman entity and grant yourself the space to both ebb and flow.
By doing so, you give yourself the gift of freedom to learn from mishaps and mistakes rather than letting them define you.
Fixed Mindset: I never have enough money
Growth Mindset: The more I focus on making a difference, the more money will flow to me
I once read that there’s something like 50 trillion dollars floating around in the world. It’s a phenomenal amount. You’re literally surrounded by money.
But when you focus on scarcity, that’s exactly what you get.
The fixed mindset can turn the concept of wealth into a zero-sum game. We have our slice of the pie, and other people have theirs.
When you adopt the growth mindset instead, this self-fulfilling prophecy gets turned on its head. You begin to see money as a by-product of how much you’re growing as a person through making a difference to others.
You start to focus on what’s coming in, rather than fixating on how little you believe you have, or how financially insecure you believe yourself to be.
Beyond this, there’s also the simple fact that learning how to manage money is a skill you can learn. Specifically, how to think about money, retain it, and make it work for you.
Fixed Mindset: I don’t have what it takes to [insert dream job]
Growth Mindset: If I invest enough time, energy and commitment, no dream will stay out of reach
When you’re making a big change, whether that’s switching careers or starting a business, it’s only natural for torrents of fear to rain down on you.
Even when you’ve carefully weighed everything up and know you’re making a logical move, strong evolutionary forces will kick in to try and keep you safe.
One exercise I find helpful is simply writing my fears down then hunting for the underlying fixed mindset beliefs.
For instance, notice the language of the above fixed mindset belief: “I don’t have what it takes”.
If I don’t try, how will I know whether or not I ‘have’ it (whatever ‘it’ even is)?
But more to the point, if I’m deficient in some area, why can’t I develop whatever’s needed to succeed? Or even more prudently, find someone more capable to collaborate with?
The truth is, I only fail when I decide I’ve failed.
Setbacks are inevitable whenever you leave your comfort zone. All that matters is identifying the next ONE concrete step towards making your dream a reality. The journey is where the magic happens anyway.
Once you understand the principles of the growth mindset, you’ll start seeing all the areas of life where you are holding yourself hostage rather than letting your true potential shine through.
Personally, I’ve decided to make a point of regularly uprooting fixed mindset beliefs.
The fixed mindset leads to insecurity, with each mistake wreaking havoc on my confidence. It creates an impossible ideal: being the complete, finished, superhuman package.
By seeing things this way, I’ll never allow myself the luxury of imperfection that the growth mindset can give me.
My invitation to you?
Start giving yourself that luxury too.
Thanks for reading,