Growth Mindset Guide: How to Develop and Master New Abilities

What is a Growth Mindset?

Let's start by defining a fixed vs. growth mindset. Carol Dweck, a Stanford psychologist, popularized the concept of the fixed and growth mindset when she studied the behavior of thousands of children and noticed that some children rebounded while others are devastated by setbacks. In Mindset: The Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck found that our simplest beliefs, consciously or unconsciously, can have profound impacts on our lives.

A fixed mindset assumes that our qualities (e.g. character, intelligence, creativity) are static and immutable. It looks at success as an affirmation of inherent intelligence and avoids failure at all costs to maintain a sense of self-worth.

A growth mindset looks forward to challenges and sees failure as a way to stretch our current abilities. It seeks adversity and uses it as an opportunity to leap into future success. It believes that with extra time and effort, our abilities can be developed and sharpened.

These mindsets determine our behavior and shape the way we see success and failure in our lives. It molds our ability to learn and challenge ourselves, and our level of achievement in life. The hope is that by reshaping our relationship with failure, we can work to become the ideal versions of ourselves through continuous learning and improving.

Why this Matters to You

Research in neuroscience has seen that our brains are far more malleable than we previously thought. Research on brain plasticity has revealed that connectivity in our neural networks can change and grow with experience. Our neural networks are able to grow new connections, strengthen existing ones, and speed up our impulses.

Carol Dweck writes:

For twenty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value. How does this happen? How can a simple belief have the power to transform your psychology and, as a result, your life?

Believing that your qualities are carved in stone — the fixed mindset — 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.

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I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving themselves — in the classroom, in their careers, and in their relationships. Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser?

There’s another mindset in which these traits are not simply a hand you’re dealt and have to live with, always trying to convince yourself and others that you have a royal flush when you’re secretly worried it’s a pair of tens. In this mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. This 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.

Do people with this mindset believe that anyone can be anything, that anyone with proper motivation or education can become Einstein or Beethoven? No, but they believe that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training.

In order to move forward in your life, you need to get out of your comfort zone. Adopting a learning process where you are consistently stretching yourself (just enough) creates the belief you are able to overtake smart or talented people through sheer perseverance.

How to Apply a Growth Mindset to Your Life

People with a fixed mindset have difficulty with failure. Carol Dweck's research saw that students who were praised for their ability pushed them into a fixed mindset, while students who were praised for their effort wanted a challenging new task they can learn from.

Create a passion within yourself for learning rather than approval. Spend your time adopting learning strategies that will challenge you to grow. This is the attitude that allows you to shine during the most challenging times in your life.

All Growth Mindset Articles

Here is a complete list of articles I have written on the growth mindset. Enjoy!