Until the 1960s, researchers believed that changes in the brain only were possible during infancy and childhood. By early adulthood, the brain’s physical structure was considered permanent.
But modern research has proven that idea wrong. Today, we know that the brain is “plastic”, meaning that it creates new neural pathways and alters existing ones all throughout life. As long as you’re alive, your brain is developing1.
Still, there are widespread beliefs that certain qualities are “set in stone”. And, interestingly, people who have those beliefs tend to be less successful compared to people who don’t.
Fixed Mindset vs Growth Mindset
In her book, Mindset, psychologist Carol Dweck explains why that is. She tells us that there are two types of mindsets2:
- The fixed mindset, in which you believe that your basic qualities such as intelligence or talent are fixed traits.
- The growth mindset, in which you believe that your basic qualities can be developed through dedication and hard work.
The problem with having a fixed mindset is that it makes you feel like you constantly have to prove yourself. If you only have a set amount of intelligence and talent, you’ll want to show you have a lot of it (or at least not less than others). That desire to look smart makes you avoid challenges, give up easily, ignore useful feedback, and feel threatened when others are successful. Since you consider your basic qualities fixed, efforts to change them will appear fruitless. And, as a result, you’ll likely plateau early and achieve less than your full potential.
A growth mindset, on the other hand, creates no need to prove yourself. If your intelligence and talent is malleable, you won’t feel like you’ll have to hide your current deficiencies. Free from a need to look smart, you can take on challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, learn from criticism, and find valuable lessons in the success of others. Since you consider your basic qualities flexible, efforts to change them will seem worthwhile. And, as a result, you’ll consistently take action, improve, and grow.
So, it turns out there’s a lot of truth to Henry Ford’s aphorism “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
Stop Judging & Start Supporting
The good news is that you can change your beliefs. By shifting your internal monologue from a judging one to a growth-oriented one, you can reshape your approach to challenges and goals. Here are Carol Dweck’s four steps to change your mindset3:
- Learn to hear your fixed mindset “voice.” Pay attention to limiting beliefs. For example: “There’s no point in trying. You’ll just fail.”
- Recognize that you have a choice. You can choose to interpret challenges in a fixed or growth mindset. It’s completely up to you.
- Talk back with a growth mindset “voice.” Refute and replace limiting beliefs with more empowering ones. For example: “Of course I should try. Anything worthwhile requires failing along the way.”
- Take growth mindset action. Practice hearing both voices and acting on the growth mindset. Over time, you’ll learn to choose which voice to follow.
You’re capable of great things, but only if you’re willing to believe you are. So, switch from being your own worst critic to being your own best friend. Stop dragging yourself down and start pulling yourself up. Cultivate a growth mindset, and you’ll be amazed at what you’ll achieve.