Growth vs. Fixed: How The Right Mindset Can Take You Further

By Jen Comas

“I’m so nervous! I’ve never been, but I can’t wait to learn!”

I was with a close girlfriend, and we were talking about our future plans to go mountain bike riding this spring. When she made that remark, I couldn’t help but admire her enthusiasm and willingness to learn. Her comment is a fantastic example of what a growth mindset looks like.

What is a Growth Mindset?

A growth mindset, also referred to as the learning stance, is the power of believing that your abilities and skills can be developed, improved upon, and cultivated through effort and practice.

People with a growth mindset thrive when they are stretching themselves, which creates a joy and passion for learning and working toward their goals, making the process much more enjoyable. A growth mindset allows you to engage deeply in the process itself, viewing missteps as learning opportunities and using that information to course correct.

A cornerstone of a growth mindset is refraining from viewing or labeling certain experiences as “failures”, and instead, looking at them through a neutral lens, collecting information from the experience to figure out how to handle things differently the next time around for a different outcome.

A person with a growth mindset says and thinks things like:

  • “I love a challenge!’
  • “I was hoping this would be informative!”
  • “This is a chance for me to try something new!”
  • “This is a learning opportunity; I can use this information for next time for a better outcome!” 

The Opposite of a Growth Mindset

The opposite of a growth mindset is a fixed mindset. People with a fixed mindset don’t believe that they can improve their skills or abilities. They believe that their intelligence or their skills are up for judgment, and if things don’t go well, they view it as a failure and take it all very personally. People with a fixed mindset thrive only when things are firmly within their current reach. The challenge here is that when things are within reach, they rarely try for anything new, or anything that stretches them.

A person with a fixed mindset says and thinks things like:

  • “But this is the way that I’ve always done it.”
  • “Of course I failed. That’s just my luck.”
  • “I can’t ever get it right.”
  • “I always mess it up.”
  • “I have no willpower; I will always give in.”

Learning how to lean into a growth mindset is crucial because the road to success will rarely be a smooth one. It’s bound to be full of bumps and pot-holes, and a growth mindset will help you understand how to navigate that course.

How to Cultivate a Growth Mindset

1. Eliminate Failure.

Start by working to eliminate the word ‘fail’ from your vocabulary. By embracing a growth mindset, you know that there are no failures, only learning opportunities. However, in order to get to a mental place in which you’re willing to learn from undesirable situations, you must de-dramatize any seemingly negative situations and reframe them in order to look at things from a rational, learning vantage point. Tell yourself, “Here is why it’s not as bad as you think,” and then list the reasons. If you are having a hard time coming up with reasons, imagine what you’d say to your best friend who was struggling with the same situation. When we panic and spiral, it’s nearly impossible to tap into that valuable learning mode.

2. Look at setbacks as steps forward.

Acknowledge that learning a way to not do something is still a step forward. Many of us have heard the quote from Thomas Edison that says, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” This is an excellent example of a growth mindset. As we slowly figure out what doesn’t work, it gets us closer to figuring out what does work. Have you done something that didn’t pan out the way you’d hoped? Well, woo hoo! You learned something valuable and now you get to try it again, but this time you are showing up armed with even more experience and knowledge, which is better than the last time.

3. Be open to trying things a different way.

If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten. If you are looking for a different outcome, it’s important to stay growth-minded and optimistic and try things a new way. “This is the way that I’ve always done it” is not a good enough reason to continue to participate in certain behaviors that are not eliciting the outcome that you desire.

Embracing a growth mindset is all about developing the skill to reframe a situation, and look at it as an opportunity to improve.

When you’re able to zoom out and look at a situation critically, rather than taking things so personally, it can provide you with the chance to learn, grow, try again, and eventually succeed.

Coaches’ Corner

The language that your clients use is very powerful, and can have a big impact on their results. They are less likely to work hard on something if they believe that they’ll never achieve it. If you notice that your client has a fixed mindset, there are a couple of things you can try:

Open up a dialogue about the importance of the language that they use, and how it will affect their outcome. Teach them about the two different mindsets, and let them know that you believe that they could get better results if they are able to harness the power of a growth mindset. Be careful to avoid sounding judgmental, and let them know that almost everyone struggles with a fixed mindset in certain aspects of our lives. It’s something that we have the opportunity to develop awareness around and then work to improve it. Suggest that they read Mindset by Carol Dweck, for more information, or direct them to this article for a brief primer for further conversation.

Ask your client if they are comfortable practicing with you to re-frame fixed mindset comments into growth mindset comments. This can be a fun exercise, and in my experience, clients are usually very receptive to this and even start to call themselves out after making a fixed mindset comment. Eventually they start to re-frame it on their own without any prompts from their coach.

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About the author:  Jen Comas

Jen Comas is a Girls Gone Strong co-founder and GGS Coaching Head Coach, as well as a NASM Personal Trainer and USAW Level One Weightlifting coach. She has competed in figure and trained as a powerlifter, teaches and practices yoga, and is obsessed with motorcycles, dirt biking, and downhill mountain biking. Learn about Jen on her website and follow her adventures on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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