Life Design,  Mindset

Developing a Growth Mindset – A Beginner’s Guide

Want to live your best life? How we see ourselves plays a huge role in how our lives pan out. Our perceived characteristics and personalities are huge players in our own destinies. It’s all a case of mindset – is yours fixed or growth?



pinterest graphic depicting title of post


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Growth mindset VS fixed mindset

The power of yet:

In her 2006 book, ‘Mindset’, Carol Dweck (professor of psychology at Stanford University) details how students can be generally divided into 2 groups, showing a disposition towards either having a fixed or growth mindset.


She observes that people’s opinions of their own abilities come from either a belief that they are innate, and they are born with certain attributes and characteristics (fixed mindset) or else they believe that these abilities can be learnt or acquired through hard work and personal development (growth mindset).


Self-fulfilling prophecy

What I find fascinating about this is that BOTH mindsets are kinda true…


If you believe your abilities to be innate and invested in you from the beginning then you are basically saying “I have no capacity to change”.


You can see how this may impact the outcome of your life right? If you really believe that your life just is the way it is and you have no influence over it at all, then your life is fairly guaranteed to stay the way it is. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, you are right…


But on the other hand, if you believe you do have the capacity to change, and that life can be different, can be altered, then you will do what is necessary to create those changes. And it will be so.


Let’s take a closer look and see where you lie…


image of a woman reclining holding a tablet with a diagram of a brain
Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

What does it mean to have a fixed mindset?

You might have a fixed mindset if:


  • You believe that circumstances are beyond your control
  • You think that things are the way they are for a reason and it’s better that way
  • You’ve never been able to do x, y, or z, therefore you never will
  • You think it’s easier for them because…
  • Something is too difficult, you may as well give up
  • You feel you have no choice
  • You avoid challenges


What does it mean to have a growth mindset?

On the other hand, you might have a growth mindset if you believe:


  • You can learn from your mistakes
  • Things are not always what they seem
  • You crave learning
  • You like a challenge
  • You’re curious
  • You believe you can achieve anything if you put your mind to it


Maybe a bit of both?

It is possible to have both mindsets – for example, you may have a fixed mindset when it comes to creative pursuits (“I can’t paint…”) but a growth one when it comes to maths or other more practical pursuits for example.


Can you change your mindset?

This is the good news :

Yes! You can change your mindset, it is absolutely possible to develop a growth mindset. So if you are prone to being a bit of a negative nelly, there is hope! You don’t need to spend your life struggling and bitter, resentful of all those around you and their apparent success. If you are open to the idea and want to learn how to change your fixed mindset to one of growth, or just want some new ideas on how to improve yourself, read on:


How do you develop a growth mindset?

1) Be positive!

It’s easy to say, not always easy to do, but practice seeing the good in things. If things are not going your way, instead of defaulting to negative patterns (“this always happens/I knew this would happen/TYPICAL!”) and becoming frustrated, try looking at the situation objectively and asking yourself what you can learn from it:


If you find yourself thinking:

“I’ll never be able to do that as well as…”


Then try telling yourself:

“I could learn how to do that if I applied myself. Maybe I could even add my own unique twist to it.”



“I can’t do this, it’s too hard”


could become:

“I can do this” / “I can’t do it …yet”


Keeping a daily gratitude list is an excellent way of practising positivity if you struggle to see the good in things. Every day write down 3 things you are grateful for, have enjoyed, beautiful things you have noticed today etc… the more you do this, the more you will start to appreciate the little things.


image of a gratitude journal listing 3 daily things to be grateful for


2) Boost your confidence

Dweck argues that the growth mindset will allow a person to live a less stressful, more fulfilling and successful life. She believes that praising intelligence in children puts them in a fixed mindset, and they will not want to be challenged for fear of looking stupid or making a mistake. The same applies to adults (although it may be harder to unlearn a lifetime’s praise!)


“If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.”

Carol Dweck


Instead of praising results, praise effort. If you’ve worked hard on something, even if you don’t reach the outcome you’d have liked, be proud of yourself for trying, for the work you invested in a project, the attention you paid. You done goood!


3) Always be curious

I think that curiosity is so underrated. Long touted as being the thing that killed the proverbial cat, we are told from an early age not to question or wonder, which is ridiculous because that is all children naturally do, it’s how we learn.


Anyway, I digress – my point is, cast aside any notion you have of feline ill-doing and be drawn to things that spark your curiosity.


Be curious about what comes next in life, be curious about what today will bring, be curious about how you could make a difference, be curious about what’s for dinner…it doesn’t matter, just allow your inquisitive nature to do its thing. You might be surprised at what you learn.


Things don’t always have to be excellent, you just need to be curious about what happens next.


4) Foster a love of learning

You are here now reading this, which likely didn’t happen by chance, so you are off to a good start. Read, study, watch TED talks, make notes, read some more, have conversations with interesting people, have conversations with dull people come to that – everybody has a story to tell! Learn, learn, learn.



5) Mind your own business

I mean this in the most literal sense. This is a phrase that has come to mean “get lost/keep your nose out of my business” but I mean it in the literal sense. Pay mind to what is going on in your life/your world. Both inner and outer. Listen to your feelings. BE MINDFUL.


6) Climb your mountain!


image of a man taking a selfie from a viewing platform at the top of a mountain
Feeling the fear and doing it anyway…he’s not a fan of heights y’know…


Challenges are generally avoided by those with a fixed mindset because failure is seen as a direct reflection of their core intelligence:


If faced with a challenge in an area they lack confidence in, those with a fixed mindset are made to feel inadequate, a failure. This dread of failure is strong, as it’s not only a failure in a given situation, it is a failure in themselves. Any negative feedback or outcome is seen as a direct attack on their personal abilities.


We all experience challenges, but how we respond to them plays a huge part in how we live our lives. If you come from a place of fear, challenges will easily get the better of you. If you allow yourself the opportunity to face your challenges, usually you’ll find they really weren’t as bad as you feared, and you can always learn from your mistakes.


7) Train your brain

Your brain changes according to the information you feed it. A healthy brain is always capable of learning, helping us to grow and change, overcoming fears. Incorporate failures into a growth mindset. Look out for catastrophic and unrealistic thinking (worrying unnecessarily about worst-case scenarios) and look for the source of these fears. Are they based in old fixed pattern thinking? Call these fears out and see how you can change them.


Know your strengths and weaknesses – meditation and reflection can help here, look for negative patterns as well as positive – reflecting on your darker moods and moments can lead to unpleasant realisations but this is good and will help you grow.


Your brain can adapt and change. The more attention you give to something, the stronger the connections become in your brain.


OK, I’m no scientist, but this is my interpretation of what is happening…


Say for example that you worry about meeting people, a socially anxious type, you tend to avoid parties and events that are unfamiliar to you. This is likely something that has happened time and time again and so you’ve developed a pretty tough walkway in your brain, somewhere for your thoughts to pass from A -B into the party pit:


  • A, being ‘I am very comfy here thank you’
  • B, being ‘People are scary, panic, panic, panic’cartoon doodle of stick person standing at the top of a walkway into a pit of scary people.

Build a bridge

Building a new pathway doesn’t happen overnight, but you can build one, a bridge that passes right over the party pit, avoiding B altogether, to C, a safer and more appealing place, one we shall call ‘making a (pleasant and non-confrontational) friend’

cartoon doodle of stick person about to cross a bridge over the scary people towards new friendsEvery time you walk a pathway (ie, think a certain way or tell yourself something), you reinforce it, tying more ropes to it so to speak.


Constantly telling yourself that social interaction is scary and not something you do strengthens this message in your brain, and makes you more uncomfortable and likely to avoid social situations in future.


If you start building a new bridge, one where you tell your brain that life is one big adventure, and people are really rather fascinating actually, you start to create a new pathway.


Obviously, that first path has YEARS on the second one, so you aren’t going to have overnight success here, but the good news is that by focusing your thoughts on the more positive route, you are removing ties from the first path to create the second. That first pathway is going to come down as the second one goes up.

cartoon doodle of fear being replaced by confidence

You can literally change the “bridges” in your brain by simply not letting yourself go down those routes. This is why affirmations work. Repeatedly telling yourself you CAN do something, for example, sends a stronger and stronger message to your brain that this is true.


Be patient

Anybody can slip up. There may be times when you can’t resist – you will run to that first pathway – it’s quicker, you know it better and before you know what has happened you’ve scarpered of down it and you’re back in panic land. That’s ok. Having started building that second bridge it will be easier to get back on it this time than it was the first.


8) Stop telling yourself you can’t do something

Why not? Plenty of people have succeeded.


It’s the difference between people who say “I could never do that”, and people who say “why not me?”


Why not you? What’s stopping you? You are no better or worse than any other being who has ever lived. We are all born equal, we all have total control over our thoughts. Put them somewhere useful!


9) Believe in yourself

You want to do something different with your life? Go do it!


If your mindset is in the right place you will be unstoppable, because you know you can always adapt.


The clue is in the name ‘growth’ vs ‘fixed’.


Get out of your own way! Really it is only you who can help you. There are plenty of people who can offer guidance and point you in the right direction, or volunteer encouragement and support, but it’s you who needs to get out and do the thing.


Allow yourself to be flexible, be like the trees that bend and adapt in the wind, those that stand rigid inevitably fall.


10) Take your time

This is a journey, and potentially one with multiple twists and turns.


And not a lot of signposts.


And no wifi reception, so forget Google maps…


Sometimes you’ll get lost, and that is just fine. Just have faith, be patient and let your inner compass guide you.


Nobody ever woke up after years of doing something one way or feeling one way and turned their life around in a day. Nobody ever switched their mindset overnight. It takes time, but as long as you stay flexible, adaptable and curious, you can move mountains and master your mind.


Want more? Read: Change Your Mindset and Change Your Life!


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