How to Develop a Growth Mindset to Pretty Much Conquer Life
Growth mindset may be a phrase you've heard gurus such as Glennon Doyle, Brené Brown, and Mark Mason use off the cuff. But far more than a woo-woo filler phrase, a growth mindset is a specific approach to the world (and yourself) that can set you up for success in all avenues of life.
Read on for a complete breakdown of exactly what a growth mindset entails, as well as exactly how to develop it. (Trust, after learning what having a growth mindset can do for your quality of life, you're going to want to start immediately.)
What Is a Growth Mindset, Exactly?
Simply put, a growth mindset is a belief that you have the capacity to grow and improve. "It's when someone feels confident that if they work hard they can grow, change as a person, and achieve their goals," says psychotherapist Courtney Glashow, L.C.S.W., founder of Anchor Therapy LLC. A life approach rooted in self-belief and self-care, the growth mindset supports a positive outlook, she says. "In essence, it's the idea that tomorrow can be better than today," adds licensed counselor Sydney Reece, L.P.C. at Connections Wellness Group, a Texas-based mental health facility.
Most commonly, the concept of a growth mindset is used to mobilize employees and support workplace success, according to Glashow. An underwriter who aims to one day become a partner at their law firm, for example, exemplifies a growth mindset — they believe that they can achieve that status with hard work.
However, a growth mindset can benefit all avenues in life, not just your career. Beyond helping someone climb their way up the corporate ladder, a growth mindset helps you become better partners, friends, and parents, she says. "It helps you reach your highest physical, spiritual, and mental potential." (See: The Power of Setting Intentions — and How to Do So Correctly)
Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset
The opposite of a growth mindset is a fixed mindset. "Fixed mindset is the belief that your qualities and characteristics such as talent, intelligence, social-emotional intelligence and more, can't be changed," says Heather Hagen, M.A., L.M.F.T., director of clinical program development for Newport Healthcare. "It's the idea that people are fixed, stagnant, rigid things," she says. At its most distilled, people with a fixed mindset believe that people are who they are, and can't change.
Learning about a fixed mindset may make its inherent inferiority to a growth mindset pretty apparent. Unfortunately, the fixed mindset is a much more comfortable place to live than the growth mindset, which is why so many people live in a fixed headspace, according to Glashow. "A growth mindset is a very risky place to be," she explains. It requires bravery, vulnerability, and a whole lot of chutzpah that a fixed mindset does not.
No doubt, having a growth mindset can pay off in major ways, she says. "But having a growth mindset can also create a lot of challenges and obstacles along the way," she says. It also requires an asinine amount of perseverance, she says. "It can take years for you to accomplish the goals your growth mindset helped you make for yourself."
A fixed mindset just doesn't require the same amount of grit or fortitude. "Someone with a fixed mindset doesn't have the desire to create long-term changes for themselves or their circumstances," says Glashow. And if you're not striving for anything? Well, you've got way less work to do.
What Does a Growth Mindset Look Like IRL?
Most of the work of developing and nurturing a growth mindset is internal, explains Reece. "So to the outside world, having a growth mindset may not look like much of anything," she says.
Achieving goals may not be perceptible to the outside world, either. "Goals vary depending on a persons' stage of life and/or lifestyle," she explains. So how "visible" the achievement of those goals is will vary.
"For a single parent after a busy day, growth might look like finally getting the kids fed and to bed without a tantrum, leaving time for her to finish that book she started last year," she says. Meanwhile, for a person in the workforce, growth might look like scoring a promotion after years of hard work, she says. (Also read: How to Manifest Something — and Why It Works)
But — and this is important! — how someone's growth mindset is perceived by the outside world doesn't change the fact that "if someone has a growth mindset, they genuinely believe that they can be better today than they were yesterday and the day before," says Reece. And that's what matters — aka what others can "notice" isn't what drives your growth.
Are There Any Downsides to Having a Growth Mindset?
By now, the benefit of having a growth mindset likely seems obvious. And, yes, all in all, having a growth mindset is a good thing, but it's not uncommon for people with growth mindsets to overwork themselves on the way to those goals, according to Glashow.
For some folks, achieving a goal becomes more important than anything else in life, including their overall happiness, health, or interpersonal relationships, she says. In worst-case scenarios, someone could become so narrowed-in on one goal that they actually burn out before achieving it. And if you're so invested in the pursuit of a specific goal that you self-worth is wrapped up in it, failing could send you into a downward spiral.
But becoming brutally aware of how your body and mind are feeling can help you navigate around these downsides, says Glashow. Self-awareness allows you to identify when you're starting to feel depleted or "off" so you can adjust your sleep schedule, ramp up your stress-management practices, bolster your nutrient intake, and alter movement practice so that you can start to feel and act like the best version of yourself again, she says. (See More: Self-Work Is Not About Trying to Be Perfect)
How to Work Toward a Growth Mindset
Ultimately, having a growth mindset comes down to the belief that you always have the ability to become a better version of yourself. However, you don't want to jump right to thinking about the future without taking inventory of who and how you are right now. Reflecting on your current life is the first step toward making (and achieving) realistic goals, says Reece.
"Spend some time journaling on (and acknowledging) your imperfections," she says. "If you don't enjoy reflecting in a paper journal, there are journaling apps that allow you to save your entries securely to the cloud." (Related: 75 Journal Prompts For Reflection)
2. Set goals.
People who have a growth mindset are big goal-setters. So, if you're in the process of cultivating your own mindset, start setting goals. As the saying goes, fake it 'til you make it.
To start, Reece recommends asking the following questions:
- What satisfies you in the workplace?
- What kind of relationships do you want to have with others?
- At the end of your life, what do you want to be proud of?
"Pursue the answers to these questions with excitement and determination, and you'll be well on the way to leaning into a growth mindset," she says.
3. Go to therapy.
"Therapy can definitely help someone to cultivate a growth mindset because it allows you to work with an expert to outline your goals," says Glashow. "It can also help someone develop the confidence they need to go after those goals," she says. (For the record: It is possible to go to therapy when you're broke AF.)
She notes that therapy can also help individuals avoid the dark side of growth. "It can be beneficial to have a third party around while you're going after your goals, who can help you avoid burnout," she says.
4. Purposely do hard things.
"Embracing the challenges of life will allow you to live and love in abundance, not fear," says Reece, which is something people with growth mindsets exemplify.
That means registering for and training for the half-marathon you've always wanted to sign-up for or trying out that CrossFit class you've been too intimidated to try. Conquering these scary and/or hard things will help you prove to yourself that you can do hard things. And when once you learn you can do one hard thing? Well, you'll be more willing to go after future hard(er) things, says Reece. And confidence in doing so, too. And that is what it looks like to have living, breathing growth mindset.
5. Do your research.
Reading up on how to cultivate a growth mindset actually can help, says Reece. So it might be time to hit up the self-help section of your local library or book shop. Her top recommendation is Brené Brown's Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (Buy It, $12, amazon.com). "It's like a power ballad on how to embrace the growth mindset and become a more authentic version of yourself," she says. In other words, a must. (More here: The Best Self-Growth Books for Changing Your Life and Perspective)