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I’ve been researching success principles and psychology for decades. First, it was for myself and the growth I knew I needed to be a successful entrepreneur. Later, it was to help others and to be able to explain some of the things that I knew intuitively but couldn’t quite put my finger on.
Carol Dweck is a psychology professor at Stanford who researches social development, personality and motivation. She’s mainly known for her work on mindset and how your essential mindset determines the level of your success. Her books and TED Talks describe the difference between “fixed” and “growth” mindsets. After reading Dweck’s work, I realized our mindsets’ value and impact. Harnessing the power of a fixed mindset is the key to your success.
Traits of a fixed mindset
A person with a fixed mindset believes that we’re dealt a particular hand at birth, and that’s it. Our intelligence, skills, talents and basic abilities are fixed, and there’s nothing we can do about it. People with this mindset spend more time hiding their weaknesses and shortcomings than doing anything to strengthen them. They avoid challenges or doing anything out of their comfort zone for fear of failing or looking stupid.
They believe that “you either have it or you don’t.” That everyone’s potential is pre-determined, and no effort will change that. They spend a lot of time judging themselves and feeling threatened by others’ success. They hate criticism and surround themselves with people who will never challenge them. They often cave or make excuses when the going gets tough: “I have no control over this!”
Traits of a growth mindset
People with a growth mindset are different. They’re eager for situations and interactions that make them grow and try new things. They see their natural abilities as just the starting point, not the final verdict of their potential. They feel inspired by others’ success. They believe that effort to learn and improve will pay off and that failure is something to learn from.
When the going gets tough, people with a growth mindset get determined. If they had a mantra, it would probably be, “my effort and my attitude are what determines my success.” They don’t think we can all become geniuses, but they know we can become more competent and skilled with our work ethic.
Where it begins
We adopt a fixed or growth mindset pretty early on in life. In the classroom and at home, kids are taught to be either “right” or “wrong.” More often than not, the results are rewarded, not the effort or progress made. Many kids start using “right” or “wrong” to judge themselves and to draw conclusions about their abilities and potential.
In one of Dr. Dweck’s experiments with 10-years-olds, she gave the children problems to solve that were way beyond their abilities. Some of the kids (the ones with the fixed mindset) felt horrible and were failures because they couldn’t solve the problems. Some focused on other students who had done worse to feel better about themselves. Others said that next time they would try to cheat.
In the same experiment, the kids with a growth mindset were excited by the challenge even when they couldn’t find the answer. Dr. Dweck wrote that the difference is that “…in the growth mindset, failure can be a painful experience. But it doesn’t define you. It’s a problem to be faced, dealt with, and learned from.”
Kids in the fixed mindset group figured they were just not smart enough to solve the problems. Kids in the growth mindset group figured they were not smart enough, but if they kept at it, they’d find the solutions.
Related: 6 Ways to Develop a Growth Mindset
Your entrepreneurial mindset
The two mindsets are not interchangeable. As an entrepreneur, you will need a growth mindset side if you’re going to succeed. If you suspect you lean toward a fixed mindset, remember that any belief can be changed, and a fixed mindset is just a belief. Our brains are neuroplastic, meaning you can change the neuropathways in your brain toward the growth mindset you need. How can you do this?
- Decide to change. Ask yourself, “How would a growth mindset help me? What is this fixed mindset belief costing me?”
- Identify any fixed mindset beliefs. Do you believe your intelligence, abilities and talents can grow, or are you stuck with what you’ve got? Is failure an opportunity or a sign that you’re inadequate? Do challenges excite you or terrify you?
- Replace fixed beliefs with growth beliefs. For every fixed idea you found, write down what the growth mindset belief would be. For example, “When I make mistakes, I look stupid” to “Whenever I make a mistake, I can learn something and grow.” Whenever you hear yourself thinking in fixed mindset terms, switch to its growth mindset counterpart.
- Start acting “as if.” Whenever something comes up in your day, ask yourself, “What would a growth mindset say I should do here?”—then do it!
- Celebrate. I always say, “What is celebrated gets replicated!” So, even if you’ve made the slightest switch in expanding your growth mindset, pat yourself on the back.
A growth mindset — using failure as a learning opportunity, growing by letting yourself be challenged and knowing your potential can expand if you work at it — can be a powerful ally on your road to success.