We have been bantering around the word mindset lately - in our talks about Not Heeding the Warning Signs, and Change. But do we truly know what the word means - and the research that stands behind it?
For many of us, mindset is an equivalent to attitude. You have to have a healthy attitude in order to do any number of things in this world. And happiness is certainly tied to your attitude. But, mindset goes a bit deeper. The implications are found in the name - mind and set. Your mind is set or programmed to react in a certain way - and this stems from your early childhood and beyond. How your parents raised you can certainly be tied to how a person views the world and its challenges. I believe mindset is formed from these early experiences, but is it genetic or learned? Can we change our mindset?
According to Dr. Carol Dweck, mindset is the very thing that determines success in life - or rather how successful one can be. In her book, Mindset, Dweck outlines the theory that people have either a fixed or growth mindset. A fixed mindset is limited in that a person doesn’t believe that their efforts will change anything. Such a person might believe that he/she was born with a finite amount of intellect, and that nothing they do can change that. A growth mindset is infinite in possibilities. This type of person doesn’t limit him/herself with restrictive parameters of ability. They see every opportunity as a chance for growth and learning. With hard work, they can achieve anything!
But wait! Aren’t we genetically born with our talent and intellect?” Most people think that the level of intelligence a person is born with cannot be changed. Dweck cites Alfred Binet, inventor of the IQ test in her book. Now, isn’t he the guy who put a limit on intelligence? I thought so too, but his work was actually to stretch the brain and train it to keep growing. Here’s a summary of his work, written by Binet himself:
A few modern philosophers … assert that an individual’s
intelligence is a fixed quantity, a quantity which cannot be
increased. We must protest and react against this brutal
pessimism… with practice, training, and above all, method,
we manage to increase our attention, our memory, our
judgement, and literally become the more intelligent than
we were before. (Modern Ideas About Children)
So, he created a way to measure a person’s intelligence not to show the limitations, but to have a frame of reference to prove growth.
Others may argue that a person’s upbringing - how they were raised - plays a big part in the acquisition of intelligence, and they would also be correct. We can’t deny that certain experiences in our lives help to shape us. And those with fewer of these experiences could not be expected to have the same level of knowledge. But knowledge and intelligence are not the same thing. If you were to expose a child from a low socio-economic background to the same events that a middle-class or wealthy child had access to, you would put those children on an even scale.
So, intelligence is a combination of nurture and nature, but with the remarkable ability to change and grow!
So, where does mindset come in? Mindset makes the difference between a person digging in to overcome a challenge, versus giving up. Mindset is the difference between I’ll try and I can’t. It is the attitude of I can’t do that… yet versus I’ll never be able to do it. Parents, as a side note, you can greatly affect your child’s mindset by praising effort over smarts. As a former teacher of the gifted population, I heard too many people praise a child with “You’re SO smart!” That child begins to identify as “smart” but when a challenge comes along, those with a fixed mindset may give up, thinking “I’m not THAT smart.” Those with a growth mindset will be excited by the challenge, and not limited by what they perceive is a deficit in their brain capacity. In their mind, they perceive failure as, “I’m not smart enough.” So, whenever you want to encourage your child, praise the effort that went into the work. They didn’t ace a test because they were smart, right? No. They aced a test because they worked hard to accommodate the information. They studied, they questioned, and they assimilated the information until it made sense and could stick to their brain.
A good example of mindset is the story of the tortoise and the hare. At the beginning of the story, it seems silly that these two animals are even racing. But the tortoise has a growth mindset. He will finish the race, no matter what. He sets off to do his best, without preconceived notions, just hard work. The hare, on the other hand, doesn’t think about hard work. He already believes he will win the race, and he doesn’t even have to work hard to do it. When he loses, it’s catastrophic for him because he couldn’t predict a way that the tortoise would ever beat him, and yet he loses. The hare was relying on talent alone, and success is built from hard work and dedication.
Mindset is fueled by the growing research in neuroplasticity. Once thought to be a stagnant indicator of our potential, more and more research points to the elasticity of the brain. Our brains can change, grow, and accommodate not only new thinking and behaviors, but it can also expand upon demand. There are two types of neuroplasticity - structural and functional. Structural is more about explicit learning - that which a child or student engages in, and refers to learned behaviors. Those behaviors may be consciously learned, or inherently learned through daily life. Functional is more of an internal reaction when, in instances of damage to the brain, such as during a stroke, the areas of the brain associated with certain functions may be damaged. Eventually, healthy parts of the brain may take over those functions and the abilities can be restored. Case in point - look at all the patients who have relearned behaviors lost to a stroke or other illness. And those who have had to learn a new behavior altogether due to the loss of a body function.
Now, we’ve established the difference between fixed and growth mindset, so the big question is, can you change your mindset? If you are finding yourself in the “fixed” category, you may be thinking it’s time to acknowledge your thinking and begin to change. Well, hurray! You’ve taken the first step to a growth mindset - accepting that you can change! (And probably should!)
On the website, informED, you will find a list of 25 ways to change from a fixed to a growth mindset. One of my favorite suggestions is to replace the word “failing,” with the word “learning.” Makes sense, right? Another is to place effort over talent. Even the most talented people will not be successful if they don’t put in the work. I often told my gifted students that being smart was not going to automatically give them success in their lives. The person with a lesser IQ, but with more stamina, effort, passion, and work ethic, will undoubtedly go farther than the gifted student who only relies on their talent of intelligence. The work is what makes the difference, and the growth achieved through problem-solving and fortitude.
Let’s go back to the common definition of mindset, namely attitude. The dictionary describes mindset as the established set of attitudes held by someone. Attitudes - plural? So, it’s a collection of attitudes (and most likely, beliefs) that shape how a person views and or reacts to a given stimulus. When we talk about our mindset, it is a deeply personal collection of beliefs and attitudes, unique to each of us. We often say, “It’s all about perspective,” right? That’s what mindset is – the way you look at yourself, the people in your life, and the world around you.
Can we have a collective mindset? Of course, but it is limited to a specific topic. As an essential oil enthusiast, I would think that I share a collective mindset with all the other oilers regarding natural wellness. But that mindset can vary even within a group of like-minded people.
Can a person have a fixed mindset in some areas of their life and a growth mindset in others? The Growth Mindset Institute answers that question for us by quoting Dr. Dweck, herself, who acknowledged this idea in a later book.
We will never be 100% growth. Instead it’s a continuum and our goal
should be to develop a more persistent growth mindset. You don’t get
a growth mindset by proclamation. It takes effort to recognise and
manage our fixed mindset and develop strategies to help shift us out of
our fixed mindset thinking.
So, it is up to us to recognize in what areas our attitude needs adjusting. Where are we limiting ourselves because we think we can’t? When are we hesitating because our self-doubts interfere with our ability to try? I like how Dweck says that we are never 100% in a growth mindset. (Just think of living up to that standard!) We are constantly in a state of change and growth, but we can do so much more when we accept the challenge and ready ourselves for the hard work. And how much more rewarding is it to succeed when we thought we couldn’t - rather than when we already possess the talent? It’s invigorating to be the instigator of our own success. Kind of like being the hero of your own movie.
Do this instead Start asking yourself the kinds of questions that make room for positive outcomes, like ''What if I get the new job?'' or ''What if I make more time'' or ''What if I find a healthy, loving relationship?’’. Instead of focusing your thoughts on what you don't want, get used to thinking about all that's possible. Do this instead Replace words that are associated with lack or negativity with words that represent what you Do want. So if your goal is to get rid of debt, since debt is a word that is associated with lack, instead, get in the habit of using phrases that mention being financially free. Do this instead Take your time and be strategic in your goal setting. The Law of Attraction works best when you get specific about what it is that you want to reveal. Instead of trying to manifest general concepts, like ''I wish I had a lot of money,'' customize your affirmations to your life. Focus on more specific, smart goals. Do this instead Think and act as if you already have what you want and lean into that feeling wholeheartedly. This is when you can use visualization, and even meditation, to shift your mind into a peak state of flow. Do this instead Be persistent. Remember that everything is happening for you in divine timing, so when you keep at it, everything will happen for you just as you want it, at precisely the right moment. Examples of Mindsets If you think of a mindset as the fundamental belief that shapes how you see things Here are some examples:
Victim Mindset – the world’s against me, it always happens to me
Hero Mindset – you can rise above your challenges
Scarcity Mindset – there’s not enough for everyone
Abundance Mindset – there’s plenty for everyone, or we’ll make more
Fixed Mindset – you are born that way, things are stuck the way they are
Growth Mindset – you can learn how to get better at something if you try
Agile Mindset – embrace change
The key thing to really notice is that each mindset is really rooted in a belief that shapes how you see the world, show up in the world, and how you respond and react with the world.