Think about the last time you messed up.
I don’t mean a small mistake, like you forgot to return your library books for a week and racked up a few bucks in late fees.
I mean, something huge. Like, you wrote a series finale for a beloved sitcom. But instead of leaving things on a positive note, you wrote something that completely unraveled the entire character arc of the protagonist and rendered the whole series unwatchable.
(No, I’m not over How I Met Your Mother yet. Grieving takes time, guys.)
After the episode bombed (or whatever), how did you react? Did you…?
A. Sink into a bottle of wine, spend the night calling yourself mean names, and decide that writing isn’t for you. Maybe you’ll go back to school and become an accountant or something?
B. Take a deep breath and give yourself a break. Accept that the finale didn’t turn out how you (or anyone else) hoped it would and use the experience as a learning opportunity.
Why Do I Ask?
Well, research suggests that the way you approach failure is more important than the fact that you messed up. So, let’s unpack that.
What Is a Fixed Mindset?
If you related to option A more in our little scenario, you’re rocking a Fixed Mindset.
You might agree with a handful of these statements:
I’m just not good at math.
I’m not a creative person.
I’m pretty smart, so I usually do well on tests.
Are you catching on to a theme here? If you have a fixed mindset, you believe that your strengths and weaknesses are – you guessed it- fixed. You’re always been good at baking and bad at soccer, and you always will be.
You probably believe that your traits are pretty much locked in at birth, too. You’re creative, stubborn, and sarcastic. End of story.
More importantly, you are deathly afraid of failure. You would rather bake that one chocolate chip cookie recipe your family loves for the hundredth time than try out that lemon souffle you saw on Pinterest that might fall flat.
You value the safety of sure success over the risk of taking on a new challenge – and maybe not nailing it.
Okay, So What’s a Growth Mindset, Then?
If you’re more an option B kind of girl, you are the lucky owner of a Growth Mindset.
You might throw out a few of these phrases in your daily life:
I’m not too happy with how I did on this test, so I’ll study more for the next one.
I can’t run for very long yet, but I’ll get better with more practice.
It sucks that that guy from the gym didn’t want to go out, but I’m happy I pulled myself together enough to ask.
Do you see a few key differences here? People who have a growth mindset aren’t delusional. They accept the fact that they’re good at some things and not great at others. But they also know that they can get better.
Having a growth mindset means that you:
Accept your potential to change
Embrace the magic of meaningful effort
If you have a growth mindset, you’re not afraid to take a risk because you’ll either achieve something amazing or learn something from your failure.
Does Your Mindset Actually Matter?
But wait. A growth mindset might make you popular on Instagram (#inspiration), but can your mindset actually impact your life? Actually, yes.
Research suggests that people with growth mindsets are more likely to take on new challenges than people with fixed mindsets. They also have better attitudes toward failure. Actually, they don’t tend to perceive themselves as having failed. Instead, they see setbacks as learning opportunities.
To watch a growth mindset in action, please do yourself the favor of watching or reading Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture, which includes countless gems like this one:
Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted. And experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer.
Can You Change Your Mindset?
Are you firmly planted in the fixed mindset camp and feeling a little salty about this whole glorification of the growth mindset? Don’t worry. If your mindset isn’t doing you any favors, you can learn to develop a growth mindset (and start reaping the benefits, too.)
Thanks to neuroscience, we know that it’s possible to change the actual physical structure of the brain through dedicated practice. (Science is so cool, you guys. This is called neuroplasticity if you want to learn more!)
I sense a follow-up post…
Want to learn how to start developing a growth mindset? Feel like this whole thing might be a bit more nuanced than it looks at first glance? You’re so right. You can learn more here.