Skill #28 Fostering a Growth Mindset

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In this post you’re going to learn how to tell if you have a growth or a fixed mindset, how to develop a growth mindset in regards to mental health, and why having a growth mindset can completely change how you feel about your mental health.

Why is boredom such a difficult experience for people? Because we have an innate drive for growth and knowledge through new experiences. When we make our lives about growth, any difficulty can be for our benefit. But so often we get stuck in our growth because we develop a fixed mindset. 

Carol Dweck, the author of Mindset (which this chapter is based off of), said, “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work — brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” 

The opposite of a growth mindset is a fixed mindset, a belief that you were either born talented or defective and that your skills are due more to luck or chance than to effort. 

With a fixed mindset you may say things like “I’m just bad at math,” or “I’m depressed, and there’s nothing I can do about it,” or, if you see an amazing artist, “She’s so talented.” 

Feedback is seen as a personal attack. Things are either all or nothing: “I can either do it or I can’t.” “I need to look smart or look like I’ve got it all put together to others.” “I’m never going to get better. I just have to cope.”

Why a Growth Mindset Is Essential for Mental Health

When it comes to mental health, having a growth mindset is essential. 

Because of so much bad pop psychology out there and some misunderstandings of the research, people often believe that if they experience anxiety or depression, it is 100% biological — that it’s a brain chemistry defect or some innate problem with them, with their identity, and that there’s nothing they can do to change themselves. 

But the truth is, most people feel stuck because they just don’t know how many options they have, how many skills they can develop to improve their mental health. Most people have never received any formal education about how to process emotions or how to improve their mental health. 

I really believe there’s about 500 skills to try or resources to use when it comes to treating depression and anxiety, and you shouldn’t say change is hopeless unless you’ve at least tried a good number of them. 

If you think about problems as an opportunity to learn, it gives you flexibility to develop new skills to solve old problems. A growth mindset can change the nature of all difficulties. Instead of painful emotions being negative, they are seen as an opportunity for growth. 

A growth mindset says, “What can I learn from this? “What resources can I reach out to? If I put in effort, I can get better at this. I can show my emotions because there’s no shame in weakness. I haven’t learned how to do that yet, but I’ll keep trying.” Feedback is seen as an opportunity to grow.

What a Growth Mindset Looks Like

Sometimes I experience huge, intense, overwhelming emotions. But when I take a step back and say, “What can I learn from this?” suddenly everything changes. 

As you work to develop a growth mindset in your life, every single problem, every painful emotion or difficulty that comes up becomes a learning opportunity, a chance to learn a new skill, an opportunity to try to see things differently or change your perspective. 

When you see difficulties and imperfections as an opportunity to grow, suddenly how you feel about problems changes. How you feel about painful emotions changes. 

So if you feel anxiety and you say, “This is so terrible. Why am I such an anxious person? This will never go away!” Thinking this way is going to leave you feeling stuck, and it shuts down any options to improve. 

If, on the other hand, you feel anxiety about a situation and you say, “This is not fun. This is uncomfortable. What can I learn from this? I wonder if there’s a skill I can develop that will help with this. I can learn new things,” then your experience changes. 

Maybe the anxiety doesn’t go away, but you see it as an opportunity to learn something new about yourself. Or maybe you see your anxiety as a chance to gain more empathy for others who also experience anxiety.  

Looking at emotions with a growth mindset also says, “Is there something I can learn that may change this for me?” So you may ask “Hmm. Maybe I can try to learn the skill of biofeedback or sleep hygiene, or maybe I can talk with my doctor about medical options.” A growth mindset leaves you open to improve and progress instead of to stagnate and wallow.

How to Develop a Growth Mindset

Instead of believing that your emotions are either good or bad, or that you are either a good or bad person, consider yourself as a work in progress. These emotions and experiences are an opportunity to learn and grow.

Little skills practiced daily add up to big improvements over time. Instead of waiting for your circumstance to change or wishing your depression or anxiety would just go away, you can actively seek to create a fulfilling life through growth. 

If you believe that you or the way you feel is unchangeable, that belief will undermine your ability to succeed in this course. 

Your brain has an incredible capacity to learn and grow throughout your lifetime. It’s called neuroplasticity. The music section of the brain of kids who play the violin for a year physically expands. People who meditate get thicker wiring in the emotion regulation part of their brains. 

We all have an immense ability to learn and grow. But if you believe that it’s just luck or talent, then you won’t be able to get much out of this course.

The following are a few things you can do to develop a growth mindset:

  • Embrace imperfections. Don’t hide them. See them as an opportunity to grow. Focus on progress, not perfection.
  • Replace the word “failure” with “not yet,” as in I haven’t figured out how to be a good listener yet”.  
  • Try different learning opportunities. My Emotion Processing course has readings, worksheets, exercises and activities. You can also try books, support groups, therapy, coaching, etc.
  • Focus more on your values — the kind of person you want to be — than on approval from others. 
  • Get good at asking for and receiving feedback.
  • Give yourself credit for the effort you put in, not just the outcome. 

So I’m going to challenge you, as you work through this course, that you push yourself to have a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset. Instead of just trying to make emotions go away, identify a challenge and see what you can learn from it. 

When you see an emotion with a growth mindset, you can change your whole experience to one of growth and positivity by transforming challenges into growth.

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