How to change from a fixed to a growth mindset

Mindset refers to a set of deeply held beliefs, attitudes and assumptions that form habits of mind. Mindset can also function as a key aspect of what we consider our sense of self – how you see the world informs who you are. So, your mindset is basically the filter through which you see yourself and the world. And this affects not just thoughts but actions and behaviours too - all of which, together, influence the outcomes you’re capable of in life.


Working with your mindset

There are lots of different ways to work with your mindset. One of the most useful is looking at whether you have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. A growth mindset is the definition of resilience - and it’s tough to be truly resilient without one. 

Carol Dweck, is a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University responsible for the term ‘fixed mindset,’ She found that from a very young age, our environment encourages us to have a fixed mindset, putting us in categories of intelligence and comparing us to each other with exam scores and recognition based on ability (eg: “You’re so smart”). Unfortunately, this kind of mindset means that you’re likely to give up at the first hurdle - it could be what is standing in the way of you creating the change that you’re looking for in life.

What is a growth mindset?

Here are two basic definitions of fixed and growth mindset:

  1. If you have a fixed mindset then, very basically, you think you’re either good at something or you’re not. And when you fail at something that’s the end of your abilities and the end of the story. 
  2. With a growth mindset, you are more focused on a desire to learn, rather than to look smart, and so you tend to see failure as a chance to try again - and you know that you have the potential to evolve. 

You can see how these two mindsets will affect growth and resilience. With a fixed mindset, you’re likely to avoid anything you might fail at, take fewer chances, steer clear of vulnerability and challenge and give up quickly. With a growth mindset, challenges - and all the risks they entail - become exciting and failure is fine because it’s just an opportunity to learn. It’s easier to be resilient because you don’t keep giving up.

The good news is that we don’t get stuck in one mindset or another even if we’ve been there our entire lives so far. Studies on brain plasticity have revealed that the brain can strengthen existing neural networks and even grow new connections through regular and repetitive mental exercise. Like the actions, we do in resilience coaching. Our minds are literally able to grow (or at least become denser) depending on the actions we take, the strategies we use and the positive habits we build.

Your mindset can change in different circumstances too

What I’ve found interesting about a fixed or growth mindset is that you might be shifting from one mindset to the other depending on what area of your life you’re thinking about. It doesn’t necessarily seem to follow that if you have a fixed mindset about how you approach your career that you also have the same approach to relationships. What does happen though is, once you start becoming more growth-minded in one area, this can have a snowball effect elsewhere too.

There are so many influencing factors here that it’s worth keeping an open mind and noticing the places where you’re happily in a growth mindset and where you start to slide towards a fixed mindset instead. If you’re keen to be more resilient this kind of self-awareness is an important first step.

Why is it worth working on your mindset?

  • If you have a fixed mindset and you’re faced with a challenging situation this can be catastrophic because you’re more likely to believe that if you don’t already have the skills or intelligence to complete a task, there’s no chance of improvement. This is the opposite of resilience because it means you’ll give up in the face of any challenge.
  • If you’re someone who has given up on things because they didn’t work straight away then you could benefit from the tenacity that a growth mindset brings.
  • A fixed mindset is often linked to a very loud inner critic and being very harsh and judgmental of yourself. This isn’t helpful in terms of personal development and can mean that you always feel anxious and on edge because you have a constantly activated nervous system (because it's constantly under attack from the impact of your inner narratives).
  • Being stuck in a fixed mindset can contribute to feelings of depression and hopelessness because it makes you feel that nothing can be changed.
  • A growth mindset means you’re much more able to learn from your mistakes. Dweck’s research found a fixed mindset triggered no brain activity in study participants who were reviewing their mistakes. On the other hand, the brains of those with a growth mindset showed processing activity as mistakes were being reviewed - meaning they were processing and making new neural pathways.
  • You’re much less likely to let limits define you. If you have a fixed mindset then you can imprison yourself within phrases like “I could never do that” “I’m not the kind of person who does that” or “I’m not capable/worthy/ready for that.” In fact, most of the time none of us really knows what we’re capable of until we try something - especially if it’s something new. A growth mindset recognises the potential in the unknown.

How to shift to a growth mindset

The first thing to note is that this can take time to do. You might need to work with a resilience coach like me to help identify what your mindset really is and how and where it’s actually impacting you. Here are two easy tips you can start using to begin to shift to a growth mindset:

  1. Start reflecting on your ‘failures.’ Make a list of all the failures that have hurt the most in the past five years. Now look for the opportunities in each one. E.g. Where did the failure open the door to something new, release you from something that (with hindsight) probably wouldn't have worked or give you a chance to grow as a person?
  2. Notice the language that you use and start optimising it to your advantage. E.g. start using the word “yet” - “I haven’t done that -yet.”

Your mindset is incredibly powerful and will determine to a large extent how you see and experience the world. The more you believe in yourself and the potential you have the more enjoyable life will be whatever happens - and the more resilient you’ll be. Nurturing a growth mindset is the fastest way to achieve that.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Winchester, Hampshire, SO23
Written by Alex Pett
Winchester, Hampshire, SO23

Alex is an ICF trained and NLP certified coach focused on helping people to deepen their resources to adapt and bounce back - and go on to thrive. She helps clients build confidence and self-belief, recover from burnout, develop self-assurance, intuitive connection and move beyond limiting beliefs. Clients achieve tangible change in 6-9 sessions.

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