Our thinking styles, which most psychologists agree are laid down early in life, largely determine the way we approach a new challenge or any kind of change in our lives. They also determine the explanatory style we use when we find ourselves faced with adversity when we are attempting to implement change.
Amongst the many researchers on the subject of thinking styles is Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, who has spent decades researching mindset and learning about how it impacts or inhibits the choices we make in our lives.
In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dweck describes two specific styles of thinking that she calls ‘fixed mindset’ and ‘growth mindset’. She explores how these mindsets impact our motivation, our productivity and our relationships.
If you’re someone with a fixed mindset, you believe your intelligence, your talents, your creative abilities and your capabilities in relationships are largely unchangeable. Dweck claims that people with this view spend a lot of time documenting their existing intelligence and talent, instead of developing it. They believe that it’s innate talent rather than ongoing effort that generates success, and they prefer to hide their own deficiencies rather than owning up to or challenging them.
Thinking this way leads to less risk-taking and less of a willingness to challenge yourself or go beyond your comfort zone. Your most important objective is to avoid failing and in order to do this, you continue to operate within the boundaries of your current abilities.
Those with a growth mindset, on the other hand, are keenly interested to understand how they can develop and learn. They believe their abilities can be cultivated through dedication and hard work. They’re not afraid to make mistakes and they see their basic talents and their level of intellect or creative ability as a starting point only. Because of this, these people are committed to continuous learning and they see setbacks as opportunities to build resilience rather than failures.
Fixed mindset thinking suggests that you don’t have the ability to tackle a certain task or solve a problem, while a growth mindset perspective is that you don’t have the ability ‘yet’.
Fixed mindset thinking often means you’re unwilling to try anything new. When you’re not sure you’ll be able to do something well, it’s easier not to try. You feel anxious about receiving negative feedback and you worry about getting it wrong.
Growth mindset, on the other hand, sees effort as the pathway to growth. When we adopt this mindset, we feel inspired and motivated by others’ success. We view challenges as an opportunity to learn and we prioritise learning over a need for approval.
Using growth mindset when you learn a new skill
When you find an activity that takes you out of your comfort zone, remind yourself that you might not be good at your chosen skill ‘yet’, but that every bit of practice and every small failure is an opportunity to learn.
Try one of the following activities (or a similar example of your own) and commit to staying with it and practising on a regular basis for at least a few weeks.
- Take up a new sport that you have no experience in.
- Join a class to learn a new creative skill such as drawing, painting, ceramics or sculpture.
- Learn a new language and be open to speaking in front of your class.
- Persist with a sudoku puzzle or the crossword if you’ve typically found these things difficult.
- Learn to master a new software program or another piece of technology through trial and error (and being willing to fail).
This is an excerpt from Kate’s book, Change Your Thinking to Change Your Life.