Do you have a Growth Mindset?

Having a Growth Mindset is one of those topics you'll come across all the time when you're doing self-improvement research or trying to focus on personal growth. While it may be a cliche to discuss having a growth mindset at this point, I would argue that it's for good reason. 

Having a growth mindset is all about reframing your day-to-day in a way that encourages you to grow and develop rather than to feel stagnate and stuck. 

What I love about the concept of a growth mindset is that it doubles down on the idea that changing your life for the better isn't about grand efforts and groundbreaking changes. Instead, it's about the dozens and dozens of little things that add up into something huge. It's quite similar to James Clear's discussion of habits in his book, Atomic Habits, which underscores the substantial impact you can have on your life by focusing on getting 1% better each and every day. 


 

With a growth mindset, you recognize where your opportunities to grow exist by leaning into challenges and by not letting mistakes derail you. Here's what that looks like and why it matters.

What a Growth Mindset Actually Looks like

All too often, people tend to associate having a growth mindset with merely positive thinking or the Law of Attraction. Both positive thinking/ visualization and practicing the Law of Attraction are beneficial tools, and I in no way want to say that they're irrelevant. Instead, what I would argue is that conflating these concepts undermines each and can cause you to trip up.

So, let's start from a blank slate. Dismiss any preconceived notions you may have about the growth mindset. We're going to build our understanding from the ground up. 

Here's the base concept of having a growth mindset: A growth mindset sees opportunities where others see roadblocks. 

Often, growth mindsets are seen as the flip side to a fixed mindset. With a fixed mindset, you view yourself as being, well, fixed in place. Your situations are largely outside of your control, so you stay in your comfort zone. On the flip side, a growth mindset is illustrated by someone who steps outside of their comfort zone and challenges themselves to continue growing. 

My issue with this dichotomy is that it often causes people to put themselves squarely in one camp or the other without considering that they may drift somewhere in the middle ground. 

I can use my own career as an example of what I mean. I started working for a tech company with no computer science training or academic background. Instead, I came into it as a communicator and as someone who is naturally inclined to help others. Along the way, I used each situation in which I felt lost as an opportunity to learn something new. Now, I'm largely fluent in HTML, CSS, and REST APIs. According to my title, I'm an expert in it (though expertise is a debatable, fluid concept that we'll discuss more at a later date).

At the same time, I still have a tendency to overexert myself in some areas, and rather than always diving into some of these areas that are a bit hazier, I often burn up time distracting myself with social media. 

In this example, utilizing challenges as learning opportunities is a trait of having a growth mindset; burning up time with fruitless distractions is a symptom of a fixed mindset. 

While I largely see myself surrounded by opportunities, I still let them become roadblocks in some situations. BUT, if you only look at the situation from a fixed vs. growth dichotomy, you'd fail to take an important detail into consideration. In my opinion, the simple act of recognizing that that tendency to let roadblocks crop up is a success since it means that you're able to identify it as an opportunity for continued growth and change.

How to Develop a Growth Mindset

One of the main complaints I have about most conversation of the growth mentality is that you'll get pieces of advice that look something like this: 

Question:
If having a growth mindset is about seeing challenges as opportunities, how do I do that?
Answer:
Think of your challenges as opportunities

For obvious reasons, that's not super useful or easily applicable advice, and its abundance is one of the main drawbacks to doing research into developing a growth mindset. 

So, I want to give you some advice that is highly practical and easy to apply: keep a journal. 

In my experience, a few short journalling activities have been insanely helpful in clearing out some of my mental roadblocks and allowing me to reframe things as opportunities rather than problems that can stop me in my tracks. 

This works on a few levels. First and foremost, journaling is a great exercise for cultivating mindfulness. If you simply write down what you're feeling and flesh out why you're feeling that way, you'd be surprised how gratifying and liberating it can be. Yes, you will feel silly at first; you may feel like you're the little girl in every sitcom ever who keeps a diary and demands that nobody reads it. It gets easier– trust me– and the payoff of mindfulness is undoubtedly worth it.  

As you start to get better at recognizing the underlying reasons behind you feeling the way you feel, you'll also be more aware of when you feel yourself shutting down or indulging in distraction rather than the work that you're doing. Those moments are when it's important to just crack open your notebook and jot down those thoughts; doing so also gives you the opportunity to be intentional about how you're reframing your thoughts. 

For example, if you write down "I want to just scroll through Facebook because I'm overwhelmed by the number of emails in my inbox," it becomes really easy to just scratch through that and say "I'm not happy about the number of emails I have to go through, but I'm going to go ahead and do it because I know that if I don't more and more will just build up."

By putting your thoughts down on paper, you can very tangibly take those challenges and rewrite them as opportunities. Then, when you start to experience the same sensation of shutting down, you know exactly how to apply the ambiguous advice of viewing your challenges as opportunities.