Do you think your chances of success—at work, in life, even achieving a fitness goal— are largely predetermined by the abilities, talent, and intelligence you were born with?
Or do you believe that, though raw talent may be a starting point, ability and intelligence can improve with sustained effort and hard work, seeking new information, and forming new strategies?
How you answer reveals whether you have a fixed or a growth mindset.
According to pioneering researcher Carol Dweck, someone with a fixed mindset believes that their qualities and abilities are fixed traits, set in stone; that you either “have it” or you don’t. They perceive even the smallest stumble as proof of their limited intelligence or capability. When it comes to working toward goals, they give up easily because they believe they can’t improve.
With a growth mindset, you see failure simply as a temporary setback
Alternatively, if you have a growth mindset, you perceive a failure as a temporary setback—and a learning opportunity to figure out what you can do differently next time to achieve a different outcome. You see setbacks as a chance to build on your abilities and knowledge base. You believe that effort influences success, so you spend more time practicing or learning, which in turn leads to greater achievement.
"I work on not only having and holding a growth mindset, but framing the way I use language to support this mindset,” says MYX coach Shaun Patrick Tubbs. “For instance, I stopped referring to things as a loss but instead as a ‘learn.’ So to me, it's not win or loss, it's win and learn."
Of course, intelligence and natural talent count for a lot: If you were sitting under a tree and got bonked on the head by an apple, chances are you (like Sir Isaac Newton) would not have discovered the law of gravity. But ability is also something that can be developed, nurtured, and teased out with consistent hard work.
Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, was born with a unique body structure (an unusually wide arm span that propels him through the water), but he didn’t rack up 23 gold medals lounging around the pool, working on his tan. He spent six grueling hours a day, six days a week in the water training, refining his stroke again and again.
"To me, having a growth mindset is also understanding that, with my 5'7" frame and average wingspan, the equivalent time and effort in the water won’t turn me into Michael Phelps,” says coach Shaun. “But it would allow me to squeeze out every bit of my potential. And that's the key, my potential.”
Your mindset influences your behavior more than you might imagine, and can determine whether or not you pursue and accomplish your goals. If you trust the science that says human beings (and their brains) are designed to grow, learn, and adapt, you’ll be more willing to put in time and effort to work toward your goals, and to make those goals more ambitious.
If you believe your abilities are limited, fixed traits, you’re likely to avoid situations that might be uncomfortable or could lead to failure, and to throw your hands up at the first roadblock.
If you have a growth mindset around fitness then you believe you can get fitter, stronger, and even more athletic, no matter where you’re starting from. “Let's say you believe you’re good at running, so you actively work to improve at it and get better. Conversely, let's say you don’t believe you’re good at upper body strength work, so you avoid working on it, and as a result, don’t make any upper body strength gains. A growth of mindset directly affects our capacity for physical growth."
The first step to a growth mindset: Tell yourself a different story
When we run up against a wall or a difficult situation, how we interpret and react to them depends on our beliefs about ourselves. Our actions are a manifestation of those beliefs.
The first step in cultivating a growth mindset: The moment those self-defeating thoughts arise, picture a big red stop sign. And then shift the narrative.
Instead of telling yourself
- I’m not good at this
- I can’t do this
- It’s beyond me
- I can do it; I just can’t do it yet
- It’s only possible if I try
- It’s OK to fail because I’ll learn from my mistakes
Yes, failure is painful. It burns in our mind and makes us doubt ourselves. But rather than allowing it to define you (or your perceived limitations) and make you shrink from new challenges, reframe it as a springboard for growth. What you believe is what you achieve. How you choose to interpret your experiences can determine what you will, or won’t, accomplish.
Consistency is key
In her bestselling book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance Angela Duckworth, psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, talks about consistency, “of showing up and continuously trying to make progress…. As any physical trainer will tell you, it’s not necessarily that you should kill yourself in one workout, it’s whether you’re going to exercise regularly. It’s a consistency of your effort, and focus, over time. A growth mindset means there’s a belief in change.”
Be a lifelong learner
A growth mindset creates a powerful passion for learning. “Why waste time proving over and over how great you are,” Dweck writes, “when you could [spend that time] getting better?”
It’s never too late (and you’re never too old) to learn. Research has shown that our brain’s neuroplasticity, its ability to adapt and change, continues throughout life. When we stretch ourselves and push out of our comfort zone, our brain forms new connections. With practice, these connections get stronger and what seemed daunting at first can soon become a cakewalk.
And don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. Because you know what they say: If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.