10 minute read.
You will never get anywhere in life if you don’t have a growth mindset. What is a “growth mindset”, you ask? It is a particular frame of mind that allows you to keep learning and grow your mind as you age. Based on experience, I’ve compiled a list of what I think are the most important elements for a growth mindset. Let’s explore these concepts and find out together.
Growth Mindset #1: Discover the secret about your brain.
Neuroscientists have studied the brain for years, and they’ve discovered a fascinating concept. Your brain is a muscle, just like any other muscle in your body. You have to exercise it the right way to get the most out of it. You are not born smart. You are born ignorant with a clean slate, just like everyone else. “Smart” is and always has been a relative term based on human perception. And it’s always changing.
For someone to say “You’re not smart” is complete bullshit. That is a general statement with “absolute” language within an absolute frame of time, about a subject that is always changing. It is completely unfair. You are smart about some things because of experience, and not smart about other things because of lack of experience. For anyone to make an absolute statement about a person and say he or she is “smart” or “not smart” is…well, not very smart. Don’t get caught up in that kind of ridiculous label trap.
For example, if you love math and learn how to do it well, sooner or later you are going to run into more challenging concepts. Eventually, you are going to say “I am just not smart enough!” and you may feel like quitting. But quitting would be the worst thing you can do. We have about 80% negative thoughts in our head in at all times. You need to tap into the 20% of your positive thoughts and know that your challenge is just momentary. The more you work at it, the sooner you will overcome your challenge and become “smarter”. Then move on to the next challenge.
Discover the secret about your brain. You will always become smarter if you keep challenging your brain.
Growth Mindset #2: Don’t give up. Bounce back.
Mistakes are inevitable when trying to learn something new. Don’t ever let yourself or anyone else tell you that mistakes are bad. Mistakes are necessary to the process of learning how to do something well. You need to factor in enough time and resources (and patience from yourself and others involved) in your projects to allow for mistakes.
It all depends on how you handle mistakes. If you handle them with embarrassment, shame, and negativity, then you will feel like you are not good at anything, feel like quitting, then shut down, and never get anything done. If you stop trying, your brain gets lazy.
If you handle mistakes with dignity, pride, and a sense of moving forward, you will eventually figure it out and succeed. If you focus on learning from mistakes, you may start to love what you do wrong, so you can figure out what to do right, and then do it even bigger and better. Each mistake is just a step along the way to building something great.
So, stop throwing your shit in the trash if it doesn’t work. Use patience and a positive frame of mind to understand that mistakes are inevitable and necessary for success.
Growth Mindset #3: Discover the incredible power of “yet”.
One day, something unsettling happens. You are working on a big project with your team. You just come out of your big kickoff meeting, and they are all excited and ready for the next steps. But for some reason you have a mental block, and you just don’t get it. The concepts they are all talking about seem too challenging for you.
So instead of asking questions, you are afraid of looking stupid in front of your team and end up not saying anything. You don’t want to put yourself out there and appear “not smart”. Then when it’s time to starting working, you get extremely down on yourself, and your negative feelings get worse and worse.
But then you eventually bite the bullet and talk to a trusted co-worker on the project, and you know this person has made mistakes in the past, but she wasn’t afraid to admit them and she moved on to achieve great things. You explain that you just don’t understand this concept and that you are struggling with what you actually need to do next. But then you follow it up with “It’s not like I can’t do this. I just can’t do it YET.” Wow, good revelation there! That’s exactly the frame of mind that helps.
Fortunately, your friend knows exactly what you mean, and she helps you through figuring out your current struggle. That’s the power of “yet”. You can do lots of things. Some things you can do right now because you’ve had the experience. Other things you may not know how to do right now, BUT YOU CAN DO IT, you just can’t do it “yet“. Once you get some help and experience from someone you trust, it will make all the difference.
Get rid of your foolish pride and ego, and just ask for help. Your friends trust you enough to ask for help when they need it. So why would it be any different for them helping you? They know you would help them in a heartbeat if they needed it. The energy you spent on being embarrassed could be energy spent on learning something new. We all learn from each other at one time or another.
Growth Mindset #4: Your neurons are trillions strong.
Find out how your brain really works, and use that to your advantage. Forget all the negative thoughts and aspects of limited mindset. It’s not helpful. How the brain works is just science.
A common myth is, you were born with certain abilities and these do not change over time. The fact is, people once believed that the brain developed into its full form by the age of three, and that what developed afterwards was just a matter of refinement. In fact, we now know that the brain is elastic and malleable. It changes with experience and development… FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE.
Evidence shows that rather than ending development at the age of 5, or even 12, brain development continues into your twenties. For some adolescents, frontal lobe growth may not end until age 25. For others, frontal lobe maturity may be reached by the age of 18 or 19. For this reason, some adolescents may require additional time before they are ready for college, while others are ready at an earlier age.
The environment can increase your ability to learn or it can lower your ability to learn. A child with average ability in an enriched environment may well accomplish more than an intelligent child in an impoverished environment. Although it is heartening to believe that enrichment can be effective at any point, recent research indicates that early enrichment is more beneficial than later enrichment.
The brain grows in spurts, particularly in the 24th to 26th week of gestation, and between the ages of one and two, two and four, middle childhood (roughly ages 8 to 9) and adolescence. They coincide with periods of fast learning of language and motor skills in the one to four year old child; concrete operations in middle childhood; and formal operations in adolescents.
Your brain is made up of trillions of neurons. Electrical signals are sent back and forth at an astounding rate. Everything you can do, reading, writing, talking, motor skills, riding a bike, using a computer, etc. only happen because your neurons connect. The fascinating part about all of this is that you have the power to change how your neurons are wired together, and learn how to do things you never thought you could do.
But there is only one way to do this. Learn challenging things all the time.
Growth Mindset #5: Accept that challenges may seem too difficult, and you may fail.
Understand that even on your best days, you may get knocked down hard. But you can’t let it stop you. You may encounter people along the way that are not very helpful, or not helpful at all. In fact, they may even see you as a threat and try to counteract your progress.
Whether they’re stealing your credit, criticizing your work in front of others, or leaving you in the lurch on a project, difficult coworkers can make you look bad. You may need to fight every instinct to retaliate, but don’t resort to mud slinging.
First, listen to your gut. If every fiber of your being is telling you something important, listen. Don’t be too trusting, and keep that person close. If you suspect foul play, take it very seriously. Approach the person with direct intent, and see if you can work it out. It may very well be a misunderstanding. If you know for sure that it is not a misunderstanding, protect yourself and get your boss involved. State the facts, and leave emotion out of it, but let your boss know you are concerned.
Then connect yourself with the right people, get back on course, and do whatever you can to make your project a success.
The best takeaway I can give is this…
Don’t beat yourself up over mistakes! We have enough external pressure in life without dishing it out internally to ourselves as well.
To give you an example, I used to follow very strict training plans for myself when training for competitive 5K races. I would use this plan and follow it to the T when doing intervals and tempo runs, because that is what made me stronger and faster.
But once in a while, I would not hit my training paces, and be a few seconds slower than what was stated on the training plan. I would tell myself that I FAILED! Wait, what??? Now that I look back on that today, I was such a fool!
I would run 1600 meters (roughly a mile) on a track, 4 times in a row, with a goal pace of 5:45-5:50 for each mile. And I used to beat myself up when I got maybe a 6:02 on one of the 1600 meter splits. CRAZY! Instead of beating myself up and telling myself I failed, I should have said “You just ran one hell of an excellent speed workout, and you will benefit from this in your race!”
If you beat yourself up for “mistakes” like I used to do in my speed workouts, STOP IT RIGHT NOW, YOU BIG WEIRDO! Stop being so strict and forgive yourself if not everything goes according to plan.
Whether its an athletic training plan, or academic plan, or business success plan, you should always be flexible and correspond to changing variables. I hope this list of growth mindsets was helpful.
Keep growing your mind and challenge yourself everyday!
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