How do you view yourself? Do you see your intelligence, creativity, and potential as characteristics you’re born with, or do you believe that these traits are things that you can shape? Your answer could determine your whole life.
There are two main types of mindsets when it comes to how we perceive ourselves and our potential for success: fixed mindset and growth mindset.
Most of us were raised to have a fixed mindset. We were told that our intelligence is set in stone and that our successes in life would be directly related to how smart or how creative we are. A fixed mindset teaches that failure is an end. It tells you that you shot too high when you don’t succeed and to aim lower next time.
Growth mindset is different, and developing it can be the difference between a life well lived and a life full of regret.
What is a Growth Mindset?
Growth mindset is founded on the belief that our abilities can be developed. In other words: you can train your brain. While a fixed mindset is based in “I can” or “I can’t” with nothing in between, growth mindset celebrates the journey from “I can’t” to “I can.” With a growth mindset, your intelligence is not set. You are on a learning curve.
And growth mindset is founded in science.
It all comes down to something called “brain plasticity.” Every time you push yourself out of your comfort zone–socially, intellectually, creatively–the neurons in your brain begin to form stronger connections. This means that you actually can grow and strengthen your mind by doing things that are difficult for you.
According to Carol Dweck, professor of psychology and mindset expert, there are some things that are consistently true of people with growth mindsets:
- They believe that trying hard is the key to success.
- They embrace failure and let it teach them how to do better next time.
- They are excited by difficult challenges.
- They think “not yet” instead of “no”
- They have grit.
Dweck argues that developing a growth mindset is the key to a less stressful and more successful life.
Grit and Growth Mindset
What is is the biggest indicator of a successful life? Is it how intelligent you are? How creative? How social? Most would be surprised to learn that it’s none of the above. Angela Duckwoth is a psychologist and the CEO-founder of Character Lab, a nonprofit that aims to study and promote character development. She believes the largest indicator of success is a trait that has been largely overlooked until just recently: GRIT.
According to her definition, grit is perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Grit is your mental endurance. And it goes hand in hand with a growth mindset.
But how can you possibly be gritty if you believe that your abilities are fixed? In order to push forward, you need to believe that you’re pushing somewhere.
How to Develop a Growth Mindset
Knowing about grit and growth mindset can only get you so far. It’s developing this new mental framework that will really take you places. There are certain ways you can work to foster a growth mindset in yourself.
Two of the most important things you can do? Rethink failure and commit to learning.
Once, you were a child. You went to school. When you were in school, you probably mustered up the courage to answer one of the questions your teacher asked the class. You shot your arm up towards the sky, and you were called on. You nervously gave your answer. No. Wrong. Incorrect. Your teacher shook their head and moved onto another student.
You have been taught to fear being wrong. We learn at a young age that wrong answers are gateways to shame. After a while, we stop raising our hands when we aren’t absolutely sure of ourselves. We only raise them when we know we have the answer–when we’ll be successful.
What has this really taught you? It has taught you to do what you are good at and to sit back and let other people excel in their areas while you excel in yours. It has bred a fixed mindset. You only try when you know you will succeed. You avoid failure. You work for validation from authority figures. You look for people who perform worse than you to make you feel better.
Here’s the thing: A fixed mindset leads to a fixed life. If you want more, you’re going to have to change.
You have to be able to accept failure to get better.
People with fixed mindsets hate failing. They set “realistic” long-term goals. They avoid difficulty and run from errors.
Those with growth mindsets embrace challenges. They aim high. They feed on failure. In the language of a growth mindset, failure means opportunity.
When we fail, our first instinct is often to give up. The idea behind growth mindset is not to stop trying but to try harder and better. It’s using what you learned from your past failure to help frame your future success.
To combat the sting of failure, you’ll need to sweeten your mindset. It’s time to think in terms of progress, not in the contrast of right and wrong. This means a few things:
It means praising yourself for your efforts, not only for your successes.
It means replacing the word “fail” with the word “learn.”
It means celebrating the wins and the losses the same.
In short? Don’t look at failure as a benchmark for your potential, but as a stepping stone to your success.
The Importance of Lifelong Learning
Tech genius and businessman Bill Gates is often regarded as one of the most successful men in history–but that doesn’t mean he’s done learning. Bill Gates continues to practice growth mindset activities and makes an effort to read at least one book a week. That’s nearly 50 books every year. And it’s not just him. The average CEO reads roughly 5 or 6 books every month to keep their minds fresh.
That’s because the most successful people in the world all have a growth mindset. With a growth mindset, you are always looking for ways to learn and develop and better yourself. It doesn’t matter if you’ve reached your goal. You’ve come to enjoy the process so much that you keep pushing yourself.
When you have a growth mindset, learning isn’t a chore. It’s a way of life.
How to Learn Anything on Your Own
If a growth mindset is founded on your limitless potential, that means you can learn . . . anything. Learning to learn is one of the most important skills we can develop. When you know how to learn, you become the teacher and the student.
But this is harder than it sounds. Learning new things can be a daunting task, and it can take a long time. A really long time according to Anders Ericsson, the man behind the 10,000-hour rule. This rule dictates that it takes 10,000 hours to fully master any skill. That’s just about 416 days—14 sleepless, breakless months.
But what if you don’t have 10,000 hours at your disposal? Where do you start? In his TED Talk, Josh Kaufman provides a simpler solution: four simple steps to learning anything in 20 hours. Use them to master the art of teaching yourself and become your own best student.
- Deconstruct the Skill.
When was the last time you swallowed a hamburger in one bite? Unless you’re a competitive eater or half snake, the answer is probably never. The same principle applies to learning.
If you want to master something, you’re going to need to do it one bite at a time. That means setting goals that you can accomplish within a reasonable time frame. Don’t attempt to learn everything in one day. Instead, break it up into chunks.
When you set make-it-or-break-it expectations for yourself, you are falling back into a fixed mindset. You are marking your progress as either success or failure. This ignores the process. When you don’t celebrate the process, you’re less likely to follow through with your plan.
- Learn Enough to Self-Correct.
If you ignore your mistakes, you cannot possibly grow. Your mistakes are your map to success, and you must treat them with the respect they deserve if you expect to get anywhere.
This is not always easy.
We are embarrassed by our mistakes. We want to leave them in the past and move forward. But if you want to truly learn, you are going to need to carry those mistakes with you. Dissect them. Befriend them. Use them to inform your future choices.
- Remove Practice Barriers.
Motivation comes in waves. Trusting our brains to remain focused solely on our ultimate goal throughout our process is nice in theory, but nearly impossible in practice.
Instead, focus your energy outward. Do you have what you need to be successful? If you’re learning guitar, do you have the instrument? Do you have the pick? Do you have a sheet or book of chords to learn?
Having the tools necessary to learn makes you a lot more likely to buckle up and get to work–but having the right materials is only half of the puzzle.
The other important question is: What does your environment look like? Are you surrounding yourself with distractions? It’s just as important to eliminate what you don’t need as it is to have what you do need.
- Spend the Actual 20 Hours.
Starting is the hardest part of doing anything. You’re going to make excuses to put it off. There’s going to be resistance. You’ll tell yourself that you’re busy or that you don’t have the time (probably while you’re watching Netflix on your couch).
Your barrier isn’t the clock. It’s your brain.
The pushback you feel when you start a new task comes from that fixed mindset mentality. You don’t want to do something you don’t know how to do. You are bad at it, and you don’t want to take the time out of your day to feel incompetent.
Everybody feels that. But not everybody pushes back against it. Put your 20 hours in, and maximize every second. With passion, discipline, and the internet, anything is possible.
It’s time to break free from the cage of a fixed mindset and allow yourself to dream big. With a growth mindset on your side, there isn’t much you won’t be able to accomplish. It’s going to be scary at first and it won’t always be easy, but a growth mindset comes with growing pains. You’ll thank yourself in the long run.
Kayla is WealthFit’s Associate Editor. She previously worked with Teach For America and is driven by her belief in an equal and excellent financial education for all people.