At it’s most basic, a growth mindset is “the power of YET”.
“I can’t do it,” becomes, “I can’t do it yet.”
The idea is that with practice, anyone can do anything.
Of course, if you’ve ever practiced something diligently without making any real progress, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Growth Mindset is a load of tosh. You can practice your butt off and still land back at “I can’t do it” in the end.
The growth mindset concept is so elegantly simple that we oversimplify it and think it literally means “if you keep practicing, you’ll succeed,” but it’s more nuanced than that. Adopting a growth mindset is more about self-belief, continued growth and gathering lessons from failure.
Here are some of the ideas I keep in mind when I need to get unstuck and keep myself moving forward.
Not all practice is good practice
Many children’s homework assignments are good examples of this. My daughter’s maths homework requires her to figure out correct answers without ever reflecting on the rules underlying the calculations. So the hours spent practicing don’t necessarily lead to better maths skills.
If the practice isn’t developing the right skills, it isn’t the right practice.
When it comes things like alcohol and food – especially food – our daily habits can be considered practice. In my teens and twenties, I was either dieting, breaking a diet, getting ready to go on a diet or lying about being on a diet while secretly binging and purging.
At no point was I practicing the skills required to enjoy great health, self-care, self-respect or wellbeing. It wasn’t until I started making a habit of developing those skills that it became possible for me to free myself from the chokehold of alcohol and food.
Don’t fail the same way twice
There’s a funny clip in Bee Movie where the bee keeps smashing into the window, saying, “Maybe this time! This time! This time” That’s what my previous attempts to quit booze and sugar were like.
Eventually, I gave up giving up, conceding that there was something fundamentally wrong with me and I simply couldn’t do it. It never occurred to me that there was nothing wrong with me and everything wrong with my process. I was repeating the same actions over and over, expecting to miraculously achieve a different outcome.
I can’t even count the number of times I ‘flew into the window’ saying, “maybe this time!”
Adopting a growth mindset isn’t about repeating the action until you succeed. It’s about using your failures to make improvements to your methods and eventually find the best way forward for you.
Skills are the tools you hand to your future self
- 5 years ago
- 5 years from now
It’s likely that ‘today you’ has skills that ‘past you’ didn’t have, just as ‘future you’ has skills that ‘today you’ doesn’t have.
When I set a goal that makes me feel small and scared, I think about these versions of myself. I think about the skills ‘future me’ will have and how she might have acquired them. Then it’s my job to make sure I go out and get those skills. Thinking this way helps me break the goal into its component parts so I can think about each small thing I’m doing that will help ‘future me’ do better.
If you have big goals, the best thing you can do is work out the individual skills you’ll need in order to achieve them. Then make sure your practice actually develops those skills. If you bang into a window mid-flight, change course and find another way.
The concept of Growth Mindset has been pioneered by Dr. Carol Dweck. In her TED talk, she explains more about the power of this mindset.