Developing a growth mindset is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do in life.
You can’t fake it even if you lie to yourself.
And because your mindset influences your behavior, it shows up in how willing you are to work for a goal.
A growth mindset is an ability to undertake a challenging task knowing that, with effort, you can improve. It’s faith in action.
This concept was developed and studied by psychologist Carol Dweck. She discovered students with a growth mindset were willing to try new things and performed better on tests. Students who had a fixed mindset were afraid to make mistakes or lose their status as “smart” so they didn’t perform as well.
A growth mindset is not the only factor needed for success but it’ll help you keep going with a much greater effort in pursuit of a goal.
Below are some steps I took to develop a growth mindset in my life. It took me years of failures and a fair amount of luck to avoid death or imprisonment. However, once I made the decision to change it was like a domino effect in all areas of my life.
1. Identify the growth areas in your life
A growth mindset and a fixed mindset are not either or. Growth can happen in some areas of your life and not others. I’ve talked at length about my struggles with alcohol and how you can overcome your vices. But if you’re looking to develop a growth mindset, your struggles may be more covert.
Humans need growth and progress to truly feel a sense of satisfaction.1 Identify areas in your life that would benefit from new skills or knowledge. This goal can serve as a motivating factor for success.
For example, some choose:
- Professional development
- Therapy to work through trauma
- Learning to manage finances
- Picking up a hobby
- Spending more time with loved ones
- Dressing in a more appealing way
2. Find your catalyst
The best way to develop a growth mindset is to face a challenge accomplishing something you desire. The key here is the word challenging. This fosters a growth mindset because it upsets limiting beliefs you have about your current abilities, which can translate into other areas of your life.
In turn, this challenge becomes your catalyst.
I chose boxing because I didn’t want to be remembered as a broke alcoholic. I went from being terrible to becoming a champion in a matter of years. Getting good at boxing showed me for the first time in my life that I could improve. My intelligence, abilities, and fate weren’t set at birth.
Without boxing, I never would have believed I could learn chess, and Spanish, or earn a physics degree.
To reach your full potential and find success:
- Pick hobbies or new skills where the goal is clearly laid out in front of you.
- Choose learning/development goals versus performance/end result goals.
- Determine your desired level of success and stick with it until you achieve it.
3. Don’t let your mind write a check your ass can’t cash
Put another way, avoid the positivity trap.
You can’t think your way out of what you acted your way into. An object in motion will continue that way until friction acts on it. If you’re going in a direction in life, you’ll continue that way until you (the friction) decide to change and take action.
In personal development, you’ll hear gurus talk about imagining your future as you desire it to be. This is supposed to motivate you to go after it. However, researchers discovered, positive daydreams about the future don’t work.2
In contrast, daydreaming about a positive future as you set goals is an indicator of future failure. Further, negative thoughts in the same scenario are more likely to yield success.
Daydreams are often exaggerated and don’t snap your mind into what it needs to take action.3 The end result is a lack of motivation to try.
Instead, try mental contrasting. In mental contrasting, you evaluate your chances for success by seeing where you want to be against the reality of where you are.
4. Track your success
Seeking validation from others is a never ending hamster wheel. But if you see your mistakes as learning opportunities they become your source of validation.
One way to do this is to track your progress and seek feedback. For some activities, your feedback will come in reflection on what went well and how you could have done better.
For others, you’ll need to seek an expert for constructive criticism.
Embrace imperfection and making mistakes as a part of your learning strategy for whatever new skill or challenge you take on. For large or long-term goals, learn from the failure and success of others.
To take it a step further, determine what obstacles you might face and how you’ll overcome them during your goal planning. And when you inevitably hit a roadblock, read my tips on how to get things done even when you don’t have the motivation.
5. Keep challenging yourself
There’s an interesting thing that occurs after a win. The further you get from it the more you start to believe it never happened. The lights of your memories grow dimmer, applause grows quieter, and before you know it, you’re questioning if it was ever that great to begin with.
Humans are uniquely set up to anticipate and crave the hunt—not the victory. So when you stop seeking new challenges, you fall out of alignment with nature. And it’s easy to slip back into a fixed mindset.
It’s also all too easy to slip into entitlement.
Instead of embracing challenges you start to avoid them. Your existing abilities make you feel like you shouldn’t have to work hard. But this is a lie we tell ourselves. Any improvements worth noting are the result of struggle and sweat equity. So whether this is your first time or your fiftieth, embrace hard work as part of the learning process.
6. Let yourself die
You can change your life in two years of hard work. When I look back over my life, I can hardly believe that I got to where I am from where I started. From growing up in the hood, seeing people get killed, facing ass whoopins from crackheads to being an alcoholic, and avoiding death and jail time, I am fully aware that people like me don’t get out of what I got out of.
To get to a place where I have a loving family, online success in an area I’m passionate about, and more growth on the horizon, I had to die.
You’ll have to die too.
You’ll have to let go of the old you when it rears its ugly head. Stop doing things that keep you stuck. And let yourself be reborn.
7. Recognize the pull of the fixed mindset
Building a growth mindset is not just about effort but how you think about your effort and chances for success. It’s the result of intention and purpose. Believing someone got lucky or is simply talented is lazy thinking. Thinking that robs them of credit they’re due for their sacrifices.
Even now that I’ve found success, I have to catch myself when I start to think of people this way.
People that have a fixed mindset say things like…
- “There’s no point in trying if I’m just going to fail”
- “I’m either good at something or I’m not”
- “I’ll never get this”
- “This is just how I am”
Final thoughts on developing a growth mindset
Failures are opportunities. You have to remember this to reap the benefits of a growth mindset in any area of your life.
Here’s how to develop a growth mindset:
- Identify areas in your life that would benefit from new skills
- Find a hobby and stick to it
- Avoid positive fantasies without mental contrasting
- Keep track of your success and get feedback
- Don’t get too comfortable with success
- Leave your old self behind
- Don’t be lazy with your thinking
Pychyl Ph.D., Timothy A. “Goal Progress and Happiness.” Psychology Today. June 10, 2008. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/dont-delay/200806/goal-progress-and-happiness. (Accessed February 23, 2023.) ↩
Oettingen, Gabriele & Mayer, Doris. The motivating function of thinking about the future: Expectations versus fantasies. _Journal of personality and social psychology. _83. 1198-212. _ResearchGate.net. _(2002).10.1037//0022-3522.214.171.1248. (Accessed February 23, 2023.) ↩
Gollwitzer, Peter & Oettingen, Gabriele. Motivation and Actions, Psychology of. ResearchGate.net.(2015).10.1016/B978-0-08-097086-8.26040-6. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/323838799_Motivation_and_Actions_Psychology_of (Accessed February 23, 2023.) ↩