Self-development

What Is Growth Mindset and How to Achieve It

by Intelligent Change — 11 min read

What Is Growth Mindset and How to Achieve It

How do you rate your life so far?

Do you enjoy learning new stuff? Or would you rather stick to your well-known routines?

Are your relationships based on mutual love, trust, and respect? Or do you feel like you’re constantly competing with someone?

Are you having fun and taking risks? Or do you fear failure?

If you relate more to the “or” questions and problems, perhaps it’s time to change your mindset. Bear with us to find out how to switch from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset and achieve your goals in every area of your life.

What Is Growth Mindset and How to Achieve It

What Is a Growth Mindset?

Success is not final; failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts. –W. Churchill

These wise words by Churchill unfold what the growth mindset is all about: seeing opportunities instead of obstacles.

That means seeing failure as a chance to develop your abilities further, instead of rolling into your cocoon and hiding from the world.

As scientific evidence shows, your intelligence, talents, and abilities don’t necessarily stop growing once you reach adulthood. According to psychologist Eric Ericsson, humans go through several stages of development throughout their life. Every stage is defined by the challenge you need to overcome in order to continue to the next stage.

However, as we grow up, it sometimes happens that we change our perspective: we stop believing that we are capable of growth and development, and we build a debilitating and static self-image instead.

Luckily, science and modern psychology can shed light on a completely different approach to life. Let’s for a second focus our lens on Stanford University, the institution where Dr. Carol Dweck has been studying human motivation for some 30 years.

Dr. Dweck noticed that there was a significant difference between different students’ approach to success and failure, which inspired her to start doing research and build a theory around it.

She coined the term growth mindset to describe those people who believe they can achieve great things only through hard work and strong relationships with others.

Growth Mindset: Definition by Dr. Carol Dweck

As we mentioned earlier, a growth mindset is an approach to life in which an individual believes that their talents, intelligence, and abilities can be developed further. People with a growth mindset seek opportunities to learn, gain new skills, and enhance their existing skills.

When presented with a challenge, an individual with a growth mindset doesn’t see it as a chance to fail, but rather, as an opportunity to grow. They believe that hard work, and not luck or chance, can take them far in life. However, believing is not enough - it’s the gestalt of your beliefs and actions that make a growth mindset work.

As doctor Dweck nicely put it:

The growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments, everyone can change and grow through application and experience.

But, in order to understand the concept of growth mindset better, we should introduce its opposite concept—fixed mindset. This concept is also a product of Dr. Dweck’s research, and here are a few words about it.

Growth Mindset vs Fixed Mindset

Contrary to the growth mindset, a fixed mindset means that you believe that your abilities, talents, intelligence, or personality traits are given and unchangeable. You’re born with what you’re born with—and that’s it.

How we view what we consider to be our personality is one of the most basic beliefs a human being carries around through life. Dr. Dweck found that people with a fixed mindset believe that success is just the affirmation of our inherent traits—our intelligence, abilities, or talents. There is no point in trying to do or learn new things, because if you were to be good at it—you already would have known it.

Dr. Dweck claims that these two mindsets manifest from an early age, and shape a great deal of our behavior, relationships, and approach to failures and successes. In her words:

Believing that your qualities are carved in stone creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character, well then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.

As you can see, unlike the growth mindset, a fixed mindset is very debilitating and can cause different hurdles throughout our lifespans. The fear of failure forces us to stick with what we’re good at, and never take a step forward.

What’s even worse is that a fixed mindset doesn’t only affect a person who has this attitude, but their whole social sphere. These people tend to see others as competition, rather than find them as inspiration. The fixed mindset causes people to have a hard time being happy for other people’s successes. Therefore, it’s hard to be true friends with them.

To make the distinction between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset clearer, we have provided this table with growth mindset examples, and fixed mindset examples, derived from her theory:

Fixed Mindset

Growth Mindset

Intelligence is static Intelligence can be developed
“I desire to look smart” “I desire to learn new stuff”
Avoids challenges Embraces challenges
Gives up easily Persists even when it’s hard
Ignores constructive negative feedback Sees criticism as a chance to learn
Sees the success of others as a threat Sees the success of others as inspiration
“Failure is the limit of my abilities” “Failure is an opportunity to grow”
Deterministic worldview Sense of free will
“Efforts are fruitless, I can achieve what I can achieve”

“Efforts are a path to mastery”

Reaches the plateau early in life and achieves less than they’re capable of

Has higher levels of achievement

Now that we’re clear about what growth mindset actually is, let’s move to the next important question: how to achieve it.

What Is Growth Mindset and How to Achieve It

How to Achieve a Growth Mindset

Five Minute Journal

The first step out from the fixed mindset is believing that you can step out of it and that growth mindset is possible to achieve.

So, ask your gut. What does it say? Are you ready to take some steps towards a more open attitude in life? Are you ready to even fail sometimes, and take responsibility for it, by accepting failure as a challenge and opportunity, instead of bowing down before it has even happened?

In order to help you elevate your state of being and achieve a growth mindset, we’ve prepared this thorough list of advice. We hope it will serve you well!

A Challenge Is an Opportunity

This first tip is probably the most difficult one to embrace. Fear of failure is deeply rooted and related to the fear of the unknown. The best way to start seeing challenges as opportunities is to experiment with them, analyze your mistakes, and learn to be patient: every time you start over, you’re one step closer to becoming a master in whatever it is that you’re doing!

Embrace Your Imperfections

If you’re trying to hide from your weaknesses, you’ll never overcome them. Embrace your imperfections, they’re what makes you—you.

There Are so Many Tactics…

The typical fixed mindset always uses the same, proven tactics in problem-solving or learning. It’s all related to the fear of failure. What if this new method doesn’t work? Just because other people around you study or work using one method doesn’t mean that method will necessarily work for you. It’s not a competition between you and the rest of the world: it’s a competition between the person you’re today and the person you were yesterday. The larger the variety of tactics you’re able to apply, the wider spectrum of problems you’ll be able to solve!

Pay More Attention to the Words You’re Using

Do our words reflect our thoughts, or is it vice versa? This is the famous Sapir-Vorf hypothesis. We can’t determine which answer is right, but we can assume there is a correlation. As the famous German philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said: The limits of my language mean limits of my world.

If you say that you have failed every time you don’t achieve success, it’s much more likely that you’ll build a debilitating self-image. On the other hand, if you try replacing the word failure with the word learning, and say that you’ve learned something every time you don’t succeed, you’ll much more likely build a positive picture of yourself. That, of course, should be followed by analyzing why you didn’t succeed and trying one more time, using different methods.

Do Your Research: Learn More About Brain Plasticity

If the organic structure of your brain is capable of changing, why wouldn't you be?

Brain plasticity means that our brains are able to change and adapt, as a result of experience.

For example, the brain can change its physical structure, as a result of learning processes or move functions from one area to another in case of damage. The word plasticity doesn’t refer to plastic, it refers to the brain's malleability.

Now that you know what your brain is capable of, don’t you think it’s time to let your mind become “plastic” as well?

The Process Is More Important Than the End Result

This is another crucial shift you need to make if you want to exit the headspace of the fixed mindset and enter the more productive and happier growth mindset.

The fixed mindset is, typically, always focused on the end result:

  • Will it be good enough?
  • Will someone else do it better?

As we said already—do not compete with others. Every human being is different, it’s fruitless to compare yourself to others. Also, the end product loses its value if you didn’t enjoy the process.

If studying or working is torture to you, receiving that university degree, or finishing a project won’t put a smile on your face. It’s far more important that you enjoy the process: solving puzzles, reinventing solutions, memorizing interesting facts or stories, having “a-ha!” moments.

Stop Seeking Others’ Approval: Enjoy the Learning Process

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Valuing approval over learning is similar to valuing the end product over the process—it just kills the enjoyment!

A moment in space and time in which everyone finds you the most beautiful, the smartest, the most talented, or capable will never happen. So, drop the perfectionism, and enjoy your learning process! Every time you fall, you’ll get up bigger and better.

Cultivating self-acceptance and approval helps you become more confident, and consequently, makes you trust yourself more.

Be Happy for Other People’s Growth and Celebrate with Them

Seeing other people as friends and inspiration can take you much further than viewing them as competition. That way, you’ll create honest and strong relationships with others, and enhance your own chances for growth.

Cultivate a Sense of Purpose

When you’re doing something, do you feel like there’s more to it? Like all the things that happen on your path are there for a higher reason?

Dr. Dweck’s research has shown that students with a growth mindset have a higher sense of purpose than those with a fixed mindset. It’s quite simple—a sense that there’s something greater than yourself and more important than petty competitions with others is the strongest driver you can have.

Keeping a gratitude journal can be very helpful when cultivating a sense of purpose. The Five Minute Journal takes only five minutes of your time, and it’s designed to gear you towards greater positivity. Remembering every day what you’re grateful for can help you shift your mind towards a growth mindset. If you don’t like to carry a notebook around, you can always download The Five Minute Journal app to your phone and set up a reminder to fill out your gratitude journal.

If you’d like to find out more about keeping a gratitude journal, feel free to read our Ultimate Gratitude Journal Guide.

The Five Minute Journal
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Growth Is More Important than Speed

Allowing yourself to make a mistake takes time. Learning things well takes time. Getting things done properly takes time. So keep calm and take your time. You’re racing only with yourself.

Actions Are What Matters—Not Traits

Doing something smart or in a smart way is far more important than being smart.
Being inherently smart is great, but this still doesn’t mean you’ll act that way. If you show off your intelligence by exhibiting how great you are with puzzles, riddles, numbers, or school grades, you’ll just look like you’re bragging. But, if you approach problems with interest and a wish to learn, that’s irreplaceable.

Making mistakes is a chance to change your approach to things in life. This can take you far closer to achieving a growth mindset than calculating how to leave the best possible impression.

Talent Isn't What Makes a Genius—Hard Work Is

We’ll just cite Albert Einstein’s famous quote: Genius is 1% talent, 99% work. Yes, sometimes things do happen by chance. Some people are lucky to be born with a beautiful voice, while others can’t hit a note even if their life depends on it. However, hard work always pays off. A neglected talent doesn’t go far, while hard work is always recognized.

Criticism Can Be Good for You

The typical fixed mindset person often ignores criticism as an unbearable strike to the ego. Try to let go and see criticism as a gift. Every bit of criticism is a suggestion to improve your work. This is exactly the kind of shift necessary for building a growth mindset.

“Room for Improvement” vs “Failure” Definition

Just like you need to change your vocabulary and include more encouraging words, you also need to stop seeing everything as black and white. Life is not an all-or-nothing game. There’s always plenty of room for improvement, nothing can be done perfectly. Just because you or somebody else notices that there’s room to improve something, it doesn’t mean you failed. On the contrary! It means that you should work harder to achieve what it is that you want to achieve, which is the very basis of a growth mindset.

Reflect, Reflect, Reflect

You know how we said you need to learn from your mistakes and value them as opportunities to grow? Perhaps we left you wondering how to do this. As one example, you can commit to keeping a reflective journal. This means taking time to write about your experiences, analyze them and yourself, and see what could be done better.

How is reflection connected to a growth mindset?

Well, it’s literally impossible to learn something new or to understand where you’ve been wrong if you don’t reflect on that experience.

The reflective journal should be your safe space to stress out all your thoughts, and what’s even more important, they’ll stay there, so you can return and re-analyze them.

Abandon the Idea of Building an Image

Luckily, we no longer live in the time of phrenology. Intelligence and success are a result of both nature and nurture. Some psychologists, like Berhus Skinner, believed that it’s only nurture that counts. He even said:

Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select—doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors.

This may be a bit of an extreme point of view, but it proves a point. There’s no such thing as “natural talent”. If there’s no hard work involved, that talent may never even be discovered.

Other People’s Mistakes are a Valuable Learning Resource

Try expanding the “Learn from your mistakes” to “learn from others’ mistakes” as well. Whichever path you’re taking, somebody must have been there already. Our experiences may seem unique, however, they’re not. Yes, there are certain things that are case-specific, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t relate to other people’s similar experiences. This doesn’t mean comparing yourself to them, just seeing that other people have similar weaknesses as you do.

Here are 10 inspiring and famous failure stories you might be able to relate to.

Take Risks even if Others are Watching

Stop taking yourself too seriously. Loosen up a bit. Be goofy. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes in front of other people.

For instance, are you aware of how many people feel anxious to do something as simple as eating in front of other people? We don’t know the exact number, but honestly: a lot. Perhaps you’re one of them, of at least you know somebody who feels that way.

The reason for that anxiety is simple: the fear of looking silly or stupid in front of others. What if we spill everything, or stain ourselves?

What if?

Nothing! You can always laugh at yourself, and make a joke. It’s no big deal.

Get Realistic About Your Goals

In order to achieve a growth mindset, you also need to get good at planning and organization. This means adopting time-management skills and having a fine-tuned reality checker.

Realistic goals are specific, measurable, attainable, and time-bounded. The best way to get in touch with your organizational self is to sit with a pen and paper, write down your goals, analyze them, define how you’re going to achieve them, and give yourself a realistic time limit.

But that’s not enough. You also need to stick to this plan and track your progress. In order to do this in the simplest and most creative way, we recommend using The Productivity Planner. The Productivity Planner is a highly structured daily planner based on the Focus Time Technique. It empowers you to focus your mental energy on the most meaningful tasks of the day and accomplish them on time.

Productivity Planner
Productivity Planner $24.95 USD

Own Your Attitude

Once you fully instill change and manage to achieve a growth mindset—own it! Acknowledge your new role, and let it guide you throughout both your relationships and professional career.

What Is Growth Mindset and How to Achieve It

Final Word

Intelligent Change Tools

How do you feel after reading this article? Was it helpful?

Which advice sticks with you the most?

We believe that you now understand the difference between a fixed and a growth mindset as well as how to make this shift. Don’t forget that making such a radical change in your psyche is a process, and can’t be achieved overnight. So, even if you notice some leftovers from your previous strategies and behaviors, don’t judge yourself. Analyze, reflect, and accept your imperfections and failures.

To sum up, we’ll cite Dr. Dweck:

We like to think of our champions and idols as superheroes who were born different from us. We don’t like to think of them as relatively ordinary people who made themselves extraordinary.

It all starts with you and how much you’re ready to give: work, fail, start over, plan, experiment, and celebrate success.

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