“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,” writes renowned psychologist Carol Dweck in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
The truth is: Ordinary people who become champions and idols do so because of how they think about their abilities, not because of what their baseline abilities are. Your mindset sets you apart from living in mediocrity versus becoming the best version of yourself.
Studies indicate that up to 70% of individuals fail to accomplish their goals, often due to closed-mindedness, self-doubt, and self-limiting beliefs (characteristics of a fixed mindset). When you have a growth mindset, you’re more likely to reach your goals because you are dedicated to learning from setbacks and failures. When you cultivate a growth mindset, you believe your intelligence and skills can be improved, pushing you to continue pursuing your goals even after setbacks.
In this article, learn why growth-minded people are more likely to persevere in the face of difficulties, focus on continuous learning, and adapt as needed, all of which support their personal development and success.
- “Mindsets” are assumptions and expectations about ourselves, our lives, and the world in general.
- While mindsets can be helpful in simplifying complex information, they can also be maladaptive in some cases, leading to problems such as guilt and inadequacy.
- Having a growth mindset means you embrace challenges and continually develop your knowledge and talents through hard work.
- Studies show being growth minded is correlated with better academic achievement, lower stress, greater love for learning and exploring, and enhanced resilience and self-esteem.
- On the other hand, having a fixed mindset is linked to a higher risk of depression, anxiety, shame, unhealthy defense mechanisms, and self-sabotage.
What Is a Growth Mindset?
A growth mindset is a concept developed by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck who defines it as “the belief that one’s abilities and intelligence can be developed through effort, learning, and perseverance.” For those with growth mindsets, the focus is less on achievement and more on the development process.
A growth mindset opposes a fixed mindset, characterized by the belief that one’s skills and talents are fixed traits that cannot be significantly developed or improved upon.
In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dweck explains that people with growth mindsets accept mistakes and learn from them rather than seeing them as indicators of low self-worth. To adopt a growth mindset, she recommends pursuing knowledge, projects, and tasks that are intrinsically rewarding, meaning ones you enjoy doing, even if they don’t lead to praise or accolades.
Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset
“Some people believe their talents and abilities are fixed traits (a fixed mindset). You have a certain amount and that’s it. But other people believe talents and abilities can be developed through hard work, good strategies, and good manager-ing from others.”Carol Dweck
According to the Mindset Scholars Network, while people with growth mindsets embrace mistakes and learn from them, those with fixed mindsets avoid challenges and often have traits of perfectionism. Fixed-minded people fear failure and deeply blame themselves when errors occur. For these reasons, they also tend to avoid taking risks or embracing new situations entirely.
Top Traits of a Growth Mindset
- Understanding that skills and qualities are not fixed traits but can be cultivated and expanded
- Embracing challenges and risks
- Learning from mistakes
- Seeing effort and setbacks as part of the developmental process
- Viewing failure as “the beginning of the story: time to try again”
- Leading with a desire for growth and personal development
- Experiencing greater resilience against stress
Top Traits of a Fixed Mindset
- Experiencing fear of failure
- Avoiding taking risks
- Learned helplessness
- Seeing failure as “the end of the story: time to give up”
- Living with a constant need to prove oneself
- Believing one is either good at something or isn’t (“black and white” thinking)
- Blaming oneself when things aren’t done perfectly
- More likely to give up when things become difficult
- Unlikely to step outside of their comfort zone
- Greater chance of dealing with shame, self-doubt, anxiety, and depression
6 Benefits of Being Growth-Minded
Adopting a growth mindset, as opposed to a fixed mindset, boosts the odds that someone will be successful because it helps them cope with stress, protects their self-esteem, encourages them to challenge themselves and seek new experiences, and is correlated with better mental health outcomes.
Here’s more about the many rewards of having a growth mindset:
- Boosts Self-Esteem and Confidence: When you regard everything as an opportunity to learn rather than as one to fail, you stop being so hard on yourself. This gives your self-esteem room to flourish and exposes you to more opportunities to build your confidence and improve your weaknesses.
- Reduces Depression and Anxiety: A 2022 study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that young adults with a growth mindset scored lower on measures of mental health issues (such as anxiety and depression) and dealt better with stress due to life events compared to those with a fixed mindset.
- Increases Resiliency: Seeing setbacks as useful moments to repivot or adapt improves your outlook and makes you better able to handle problems when they occur. This explains why a 2021 review found that being growth-oriented increases perseverance and resiliency.
- Enhances Learning and Performance in School: Researchers across many studies have found that students who receive training in being growth-minded, on average, earn more course credits, get higher grades, and receive higher scores on standardized tests.
- Improves Relationships: Dr. Dweck explains that people with fixed mindsets believe relationships should be effortless and reflect instant compatibility. Growth mindsets, however, understand that healthy relationships require ongoing work, communication, and compromises. Additionally, developing a growth mindset extends beyond just close personal relationships; it also contributes to societal progress. When individuals adopt a growth mindset, they become catalysts for change, innovation, and positive impact.
- Keeps Life Interesting and Fun: Caring less about results and performance creates space for the exploration of new interests. You may fail at something new, but who cares? The fun is in the novelty, challenge, and experience, all of which can open new doors for opportunities. Studies suggest that being growth-minded leads to a greater love for learning and even enhanced cognitive gains among both young and older adults.
Sara Blakely is a successful business leader with a growth mindset. When Blakely took the leap from selling fax machines to starting her own shapewear company from the ground up, she leaned into the mindset her father taught her. During dinner every night growing up, Blakely’s father asked her to share her failures from the day—normalizing the process of accepting mistakes and learning from them.
Years later, to accomplish her dream, Blakely relied on this mindset and overcame any self-limiting beliefs she may have had about her abilities. As a result, she became the sole owner of SPANX, a self-made billionaire, and a mentor to other entrepreneurs, including on the show Shark Tank.
How to Develop a Growth Mindset in 8 Steps
1. Embrace Challenges and New Experiences
“Challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.”Joshua J. Marine, author
From a neurological perspective, taking risks and embracing new things is necessary for growth and neuroplasticity. Dweck and other researchers have discovered that neurological activities—including actual changes in one’s brain—occur in those intrinsically motivated to focus on learning rather than outcomes or validation. Because of this, it’s important to lean into new experiences, including those you enjoy and those that you worry are above your current skill level.
Examples of challenges and novel experiences that can stimulate neurological growth and develop your character include:
- Taking on a new project or responsibility at work
- Taking classes in subjects that you’re unfamiliar with
- Learning a new language
- Cooking new recipes
- Going somewhere you’ve never been before
2. Cultivate a Love of Learning
“Change is the end result of all true learning.”Leo Buscaglia, author and motivational speaker
When Thomas Corley, an author and speaker, spent five years studying self-made millionaires, he found that the vast majority (86%) spent their free time reading—but mostly for fun. Research indicates that many successful people foster a curiosity-driven mindset and maintain a passion for continuous learning and personal development, including long after they’ve reached professional milestones. This shows that continuous learning promotes confidence, adaptability, problem-solving skills, resilience, and networking opportunities.
Here are tips for continuously expanding your knowledge by being a lifelong learner:
- Approach new subjects or skills with an open mind, eager to widen your perspective. Then find ways to implement what you’ve learned.
- Dedicate regular time in your schedule for learning activities. Treat it as a priority and commit to it consistently.
- Stay updated and adapt to changes in the job market by reading, researching, and taking courses.
- Leverage the power of technology for learning. Use online platforms, educational apps, and e-learning platforms to access a vast array of courses, tutorials, and resources.
- Participate in learning communities or groups where you can interact with like-minded individuals or mentors.
3. Ditch Perfectionism and Praise the Process Instead
“Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame.”BRENÉ BROWN, THE GIFTS OF IMPERFECTION
According to recent studies, when we tell children they’re talented or smart without acknowledging their efforts, it contributes to a fixed mindset and may make them less eager to learn and try new things. Instead, we should strive to have children practice embracing mistakes and expanding outside their comfort zones, even if this involves messing up and not doing things “perfectly.”
Below are tips for ditching a perfectionist mindset, which we can also teach to our children:
- Accept that perfection is not real and that perfectionism actually has many drawbacks, such as leading to rigid thinking and less innovation.
- Understand mistakes are a part of life that we must all deal with and are a step toward becoming greater. As Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed 10,000 times—I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.”
- Embrace that failure is a likely possibility, but it doesn’t mean it is the end of the story. It’s just an opportunity to learn, go back to the drawing board, try something new, and do better next time.
- See challenges as adventures that add to your unique skill set and perspective.
- Praise the process, not the outcome.
4. Identify Limiting Beliefs That Hold You Back
“Words matter. And the words that matter most are the ones you say to yourself.”David Taylor-Klaus
An essential aspect of moving away from a fixed mindset is paying attention to your engrained beliefs, as well as their origins, validity, and their impact on your quality of life. Believing that the past dictates the future or that the skills you’re born with are the only ones you’ll ever have, are among the most common limiting beliefs holding people back. The problem with viewing oneself this way is that it implies improvement is nearly impossible. Identifying your thought patterns and taking steps to rewire them is one of the most significant moves a person can take to improve their sense of self-worth.
Tony Robbins lays out strategies for working through limiting beliefs:
- Identify all of your limiting beliefs about the world, other people, and yourself.
- Take responsibility for your life; believe that “life happens for you, not to you.”
- Let go of the need for certainty and lean into uncertainty.
- Notice your “inner voice” and replace negative self-talk with positive affirmations.
Here are other tips for shifting away from negative self-talk:
- Be mindful of the language you use, both internally and externally, when facing challenges or setbacks.
- Instead of saying “I can’t do it” adopt phrases like “I haven’t learned it yet” or “I can learn with effort.”
- Foster self-compassion by being kind and understanding toward yourself when facing setbacks or making mistakes.
- Recognize that setbacks and failures are part of the learning process, and treat yourself with the same kindness and encouragement you would offer to a friend.
5. Practice Saying “Yet”
“If you get a failing grade, you think, I’m nothing, I’m nowhere. But if you get the grade ‘not yet,’ you understand that you’re on a learning curve. It gives you a path into the future.”CAROL DWECK
Elvis, Steven Spielberg, Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, Michael Jordan, Henry Ford, and James Dyson are all examples of successful people who initially failed on their way to leadership positions and fame. These same people kept trying even when obstacles stood in their way.
The next time you think to yourself that you’ve failed at something or lack certain skills, practice adding “not yet” to the ends of those thoughts. This will not only help keep your self-esteem and confidence strong but also keep your mind open.
Here are examples of thoughts to add “yet” to:
- “I am not the best at solving this problem . . . yet.”
- “I don’t know what changes to make with my team at work . . . yet.”
- “I’m not calm when giving presentations . . . yet.”
- “My finances aren’t stable . . . yet.”
- “I’m not where I want to be in life . . . yet.”
6. Keep Your Eye on the “Big Picture”
“Define success on your own terms, achieve it by your own rules, and build a life you’re proud to live.”Anne Sweeney
Those with a fixed mindset seek immediate results and worry about short-term benefits. This is what Dweck refers to as “the tyranny of now.” On the other hand, being growth minded requires that you focus on the big picture, your primary values, and the overarching vision that you have for your life. This way, when you fail at some of your smaller goals, you can rest assured you’re still on the right track.
Here’s how to define personal success, according to career experts at Indeed:
- Focus on what truly matters to you long-term, not immediate gratification or what matters to society.
- Establish clear goals for yourself that align with your desired growth and improvement.
- Write a list of steps to work toward your new definition of success. Break down these goals into specific, actionable steps.
- Regularly evaluate your progress and make adjustments along the way.
7. Recognize Your Weaknesses and Areas for Improvement
“In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity.”Albert Einstein
Identifying your shortcomings is an ongoing process that requires self-awareness, humility, and a willingness to step outside your comfort zone. In the book, Insight, organizational psychologist Tasha Eurich found that only 10–15 percent of people are self-aware when 95% of people think they are.
Accepting your areas of weakness provides valuable adaptability in a changing workplace landscape. Additionally, it sets you up for success in personal areas by boosting your empathy and ability to apologize when needed.
To identify areas that you can afford to improve, try these strategies:
- Ask others for feedback and view constructive criticism as a gift.
- Practice self-reflection by purposefully thinking about or journaling about your experiences, actions, and outcomes.
- Stay curious about the moments you experience a setback rather than dismissing and avoiding them/pretending they never happened. Become a student of your failures; analyze them, pinpoint where things went wrong, and ask yourself why.
- Evaluate your skills, knowledge, and expertise in various areas relevant to your personal or professional goals. Consider areas where you lack confidence or feel less competent compared to others.
- Take assessments or tests, such as personality tests or skills assessments, that can help you gain insights into your strengths and weaknesses.
8. Help Others Grow
“Life is not accumulation, it is about contribution.”Steven Convoy
When the focus shifts from always criticizing yourself and worrying about being judged to instead raising up others, you gain a greater sense of purpose and self-worth by acknowledging your contributions. Whether as a parent or an employee (such as through servant leadership), concentrating more on others is a win-win. Approaching work and life with this perspective fosters a growth mindset because it creates a ripple effect of growth as well as a supportive environment where failure isn’t feared.
Here’s how to put a growth mindset into practice as a leader and encourage the same mindset in others:
- Be a role model by talking openly about your own learning process and highlighting the value of effort and perseverance.
- Provide constructive feedback focusing on effort, progress, and strategies rather than simply praising intelligence or talent.
- Foster an environment that values and rewards effort, resilience, and a love for learning.
- Don’t listen to respond, but instead, practice active listening where you give others your full attention.
- Sharpen your awareness of how your emotions impact others. Build emotional intelligence and maturity so you can respond to others in a thoughtful way.
- Practice empathy by holding space for others without judgment.
- Surround yourself with growth-minded individuals who value growth and continuous development.
You Have the Power to Change Your Thoughts
“The good news is mindsets are highly changeable, and if you are willing to learn the technology of changing your mindset and defeating your distorted thoughts, you can have significantly more happiness.”Dr. Jacob Towery, Psychiatry Professor
Your mindset influences every aspect of your life—and it all depends on your thoughts and beliefs. These will determine how far you go, your opportunities, the people you meet, and, ultimately, the life you lead. To begin sparking changes, start shifting your mindset toward growth, learning, and development.
Keep the momentum going by:
- Reading self-help books, such as Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
- Creating a vision board.
- Reflecting on previous accomplishments.
- Identifying deeply held beliefs you have about yourself.
- Practicing positivity through self-affirmation and analysis.
Continue your journey toward personal growth by reading “20 Life-Changing Personal Development Goals” next.
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