Whether you have a laundry list of resolutions for 2022 or have decided to scrap the whole goals thing altogether, here’s a powerful pledge for everyone to take: adopt a growth mindset.
Here’s why: It doesn’t matter whether you’re having a stellar month or are going through some stuff. A growth mindset helps you shore up your resilience and lead a meaningful life, wherever you’re at.
That might sound like a tall order. But it’s true.
When you have a growth mindset, every experience, both the highs and lows, helps you learn, improve, and flourish, says Mimi Winsberg, M.D., co-founder and chief medical officer of Brightside. If that’s not #goals, we’re not sure what is. It’s that learning and growing that can pull you out of a rough patch, help you get the promotion you want, or simply be a little kinder to yourself or someone else.
Ready to kickstart your personal development? Here’s why you need a growth mindset vs. a fixed mindset, the major benefits, and expert tips on how to develop a growth mindset.
What is growth mindset vs. fixed mindset?
Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck coined the terms “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset.” People with a fixed mindset believe their intelligence and talents are innate traits. They may think: “I just don’t have a mind for math,” “I’m not an athlete,” or “I’m not a money person.”
In contrast, people with a growth mindset believe they can grow their intelligence and abilities by learning, persevering, and working hard.
People don’t solely have one type of mindset over another. Rather, we’re a mix. Some situations may spark a fixed mindset, while others trigger a growth mindset.
What do growth mindsets vs. fixed mindsets look like?
To get a better idea of each mindset in real life, here are some common examples from Dr. Winsberg:
A couple sees an issue differently:
- Fixed mindset: Our relationship is doomed!
- Growth mindset: This is an opportunity to work on understanding each other, so we can bridge the gap.
A manager gives a team member negative feedback:
- Fixed mindset: Clearly, this is a sign that I’m incompetent and not cut out for this job.
- Growth mindset: I can zero in on what I need to improve. Maybe I can get some coaching around this area and grab a book on the topic?
An athlete competes on race day:
- Fixed mindset: I have to meet my sky-high expectations, or else I’ve failed.
- Growth mindset: This race is a great challenge. I’ll give it my best shot and I’ll come out stronger.
In short, a fixed mindset often leaves us stuck and spinning our wheels. A growth mindset propels us to evolve and gives us energy to endure.
Is it nature or nurture?
While genetics may play a role, largely, our mindsets are shaped by those around us—parents, teachers, and mentors, says Dr. Winsberg. Growth mindset vs fixed mindset has been well-studied in children and students. Children praised for their intelligence versus their effort lean toward a fixed mindset. They tend to believe traits are stable and feel helpless when they fail or they’re criticized.
Parents’ views of failure also may predict their children’s mindset. In this 2017 study, the researchers concluded: “parents who see failure as debilitating focus on their children’s performance and ability rather than on their children’s learning, and their children, in turn, tend to believe that intelligence is fixed rather than malleable.”
So what does all this research mean for you? You are capable of growing and developing at any time. You can absolutely learn to view things with a growth mindset, and the benefits of shifting your thinking can have a big payoff.
Benefits of growth mindset
Since the 1970s, Dweck and her colleagues have been studying the effects of fixed vs. growth mindsets and the interventions that may help. Dweck features some of this research in her 2006 book, Mindset: The Psychology of Success. Overall, having a growth mindset has been shown to boost everything from academic performance to mental health.
A 2014 study found that when teens were taught that people are capable of change and that negative social experiences aren’t a reflection of who they are or who they’ll become, the teens had higher grades, lower stress, and better health. In a 2015 study, teaching these same concepts to teens reduced depressive symptoms by almost 40 percent nine months after the intervention.
A review of 17 studies with over 6,500 students found that a fixed mindset was linked to more mental health problems: Children and teens with a fixed mindset were 58 percent more likely to have symptoms of anxiety, depression, or aggression compared to students with a growth mindset.
It’s not just talk though, lower-achieving students whose school environment encouraged mistake-making and growth in addition to learning that intelligence wasn’t fixed improved their grades, found a 2019 study. Sign-ups for advanced math classes also increased.
At the end of the day, what cultivating a growth mindset does is remind us that nothing is permanent. So, while we may be struggling at this moment, in this month, we can change our situation and even ourselves.
“Ultimately, this understanding helps us to move through difficult experiences rather than staying stuck in them, or attempting to avoid the tough stuff altogether,” says Jamie Goldstein, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist and therapy experience lead at Coa.
Because the truth is that we can’t avoid heartache: As Dr. Goldstein further explains, “We can’t stop painful experiences from happening, but we can develop the strengths we need to better navigate them as they come.”
8 ways to cultivate a growth mindset
You can foster a growth mindset in 2022 by making a few small shifts—namely in how you think about your capabilities and certain situations. Here’s how.
Since you can have a growth mindset in one area of your life but not in another, it’s helpful to dig into your thinking each day.
Dr. Goldstein suggests taking just 5 to 10 minutes at bedtime to ask yourself: “Did my response to XYZ-thing communicate my ability to grow, develop, and learn?”
You could also do it as part of a guided journaling practice.
Know your triggers.
Since mindsets can shift in every person, it’s important to know your personal triggers. Cultivating this greater awareness helps you better understand yourself and shift your perspective.
When does your fixed mindset typically arise? For example, it might come about when you’re:
- being criticized
- going through a conflict
- starting something new
- dealing with a mistake
- not meeting a goal
Focus on the process.
Whether you want to make specific changes or grow as a whole, avoid focusing on results. Instead, focus on the process and the habits you’d like to build—without making anything contingent on a certain outcome.
Have a mantra at the ready.
Sometimes, we’re so overwhelmed or frustrated that we don’t even see our fixed mindset or a way out of the situation. For an instant reminder, have a few phrases scattered around your home, car, or other places.
Here are some sample phrases:
- How can I grow from this?
- I can start at any time.
- Process, not perfection.
Cultivate your curiosity.
Curiosity is a powerful tool in kick-starting learning. When you find yourself making statements like “I’m always this way” or “I never,” try instead: “I wonder.”
According to Dr. Goldstein, this can mean replacing “I’ll never get it right” and “I always screw up” with:
- I wonder how I could do that differently next time.
- I wonder what I’m missing.
- I wonder who I could practice with.
Certain situations may trigger a fixed mindset because we see them as threats to our identity and abilities.
Instead, Dr. Winsberg encourages seeing situations as challenges and opportunities to stretch ourselves.
Here’s a real-life example from Dr. Goldstein: You’re starting a new role at your company and need to learn an entirely new system. Using a growth mindset, you:
- tell yourself: “I’ve never done it before, but I can definitely give myself the chance to learn this new work.”
- let your manager and coworkers know it’s a new skill you’re excited to develop
- ask for feedback as you go
Another great (and simple) way to cultivate a sense of learning is to add “yet” to any problem, situation, or goal.
As Dr. Winsberg says: “I haven’t figured this problem out yet.”
So the next time you’re facing something new (and intimidating), remind yourself that you don’t know how to do it now. But with some learning and guidance, you will.
Turn your critic into a coach.
Your inner critic might be a loudmouth whose harsh words prevent you from putting yourself out there personally or professionally. But remember that it just wants to protect you from potential rejection and hurt.
Try to “look for ways that [your critic] might serve as a coach, and give it a compassionate and encouraging tone,” says Dr. Winsberg. Look for concrete habits you can adopt and skills you can sharpen.
For example, your inner critic may tell you “You’re a terrible public speaker.” Switching into coach mode, you can translate those words to mean: “I need to do more talks to get more comfortable in front of an audience.”
Cultivating a growth mindset can be an ongoing practice that takes time and repetition to master, but when you view potentially difficult and new-to-you situations as opportunities to grow and flourish, the benefits are worthwhile.
Remind yourself that you can build whatever you’d like to build. The key is to get curious, identify the necessary skills you need to sharpen, and know that you’re capable of so much.