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What Is a Growth Mindset and Why Does It Matter?

Up-front disclaimer: I have a love/hate relationship with "mindset" language. Mindset theory has been co-opted by the toxic positivity movement to assert that relentlessly focusing on the good in life to the exclusion of our frequently difficult reality is the only path to wellbeing.


Spoiler alert: It's often a one-way ticket to depression instead.


So while certainly the field of positive psychology offers valuable insight into a wealth of practices and orientations that support subjective wellbeing, a "positive mindset"—at least in the "good vibes only" sense—isn't one of them.


A growth mindset, however, is.


You hear a lot about cultivating a growth mindset in personal development circles, but the concept is widely misunderstood.


Developed by Stanford’s Carol Dweck in 2006 and described in her book Mindset, mindset theory is based on the idea that your beliefs about yourself—about whether or not you’re capable of evolving and improving over time—have a significant impact on your success in life:


“Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts).”


Believe you can improve, Dweck says, and you’re more likely to persist through difficulty. You’re more willing to take chances, and less devastated by mistakes. Persist and take chances often enough, and you’ll inevitably see positive results.


Believe you’re stuck with the abilities you already have, however, and you’ll prove yourself right.


"Believe" as a dictate here is where we tend to go sideways, I think. In this context, it sounds like something you have to work at—as if beliefs are diligently and consciously formed. They're not. They're shaped over time by our experiences. That's why unlearning a core belief is such arduous work. It requires new kinds of lived experience to create the cognitive change we want, not the other way around.


So if I tell you that you just need to “believe” in your ability to do something in order to do it, you’re going to call bullshit, and rightly so. And if I ask you to change your "mindset," I'm implying that your mind is something you can just tune to a particular station at will. (If only, right?)


But the truth is: Having a growth mindset doesn’t require a leap of faith at all.


It doesn’t even require adopting a new belief. It just requires letting go of an untrue, maladaptive story you’re telling yourself about being stuck.


Your ability to grow and evolve isn’t a belief. It’s a fact.


And here's your lived experience that proves it:


How many new skills have you gained in the past year? The past decade? Are you any better at cooking than you were when you were at 18? Or driving, for that matter?


The skills that make you more successful at work, a better partner in relationships, more capable of recognizing and cultivating joy, and showing up more fully and authentically in your life are not different than the skills you’re already developing and honing every day.


They just require attention and practice.


That’s all a growth mindset is. It’s accepting the scientific fact that you can get better, and—armed with that scientific fact—pursuing the precise type of “better” you want.


Need some help figuring out the type of "better" you're looking for? A 30-minute free consultation is a great way to explore some ideas and see if I might be the right coach for you.


 


Photo of Kelly Judd, life coach for women, a white woman with dark hair and large tortoiseshell glasses, slightly smiling at the camera

Hi, I'm Kelly. 👋 I help you make hard decisions and do hard things. Like you, I spent decades putting others' needs before my own. After almost 20 years of leadership roles and a lifetime’s worth of plot twists in my personal life, I made the empowering decision to seek greater meaning and purpose in my work, helping others to reconnect with their authentic selves and discover the joy, peace, and clarity that comes with finally identifying and prioritizing your own needs.




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