Why a Growth Mindset is Essential to Reaching Your Health Goals (+30 ways to develop a growth mindset)

growth mindset vs fixed mindsetDo you have a growth mindset?

The term “growth mindset” has become a buzzword since Carol Dweck coined the phrase in her book, ‘Mindset – The New Psychology of Success.’ Its implications within each individual’s personal achievement are significant. Basically, if you want to succeed and reach your full potential, a growth mindset is a must.

So what is this elusive growth mindset and how do we know if we’ve got it? (And by extension, what is it not?) Here I unpack this term and uncover why it’s essential to reaching your goals.

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The elephant versus the lion

Isn’t it strange that puny, weak humans are able to tame such powerful creatures as elephants? To will them to perform on command, and to stay in place under conditions (a circus tent) they could easily escape from? How is this possible?

There’s a dark truth to it.

Interestingly, elephants are actually easy to train when a handler gets them young enough. It can be a brutal process though. Young elephants are chained to stakes, confined in cages and trained through negative reinforcement tactics.

Eventually, an elephant’s spirit is broken down enough for them to develop a sort of learned helplessness. They stop trying. Even when grown and completely capable of breaking free of their chains and their handlers, they simply don’t. In their minds, this is no longer possible; they accept these perceived limits and remain stuck.

growth mindset

By contrast, the lion, although it also can be trained, is always on the verge of its freedom. A handler must continually appear to be bigger and stronger than the lion in order to maintain the illusion of control. But as soon as that illusion is peeled back and the lion gets a whiff of their handler’s inferiority, even for just a moment, they’ll immediately fight to break free.

Similar to the elephant, you learned negative, limiting thinking patterns about yourself and your world early on in life, something called negativity bias.  It’s these thinking patterns and beliefs that chain us down as it were, keeping us from even trying. The misconceptions in our mind, our false perception of our own abilities, subconsciously holds us back.

The good news is that our minds are quite malleable. Even into our adults years, we have the power to shift and transform our thought processes. We have the choice to break free – like that lion – and leave limiting beliefs behind.

The research behind the growth mindset revolution

Dr. Dweck’s research began over 30 years ago when she studied why some children bounced back easily in the face of failure while others were quickly frustrated by setbacks and gave up. She developed the phrase growth mindset to describe the underlying beliefs people have about their own capabilities and intelligence.

The death of self-esteem and the rise of growth mindset

Dweck’s research shows that the self-esteem movement of the 90’s, where it was believed lots of fluffy praise will lead to high self-esteem, has been detrimental to the formation of a growth mindset. Children that are given praise on their abilities alone (“You’re so smart!”) rather than their hard work, effort, and perseverance (“Wow, you really worked hard on this! You didn’t give up!”) develop a reliance on external validation and their own inborn talents.

how to develop a growth mindset

Rather than teaching children that their effort is what determines success, talent-based praise encourages a fixed mindset. Children begin to believe that they either “have it” or they don’t; that achievement is limited to what comes easily and naturally to them. When faced with challenges they give up quickly, assuming they don’t have what it takes – so why bother trying!

Instead of building self-esteem, this kind of praise can actually deteriorate it. Kids (and adults too!) will avoid trying new things so as not to be shown up as inadequate. If you’ve been told you’re smart but you end up struggling with something, what does that say about your intelligence? #badscarythings

When you think your abilities are set in stone, it creates a kind of paradox where you feel the need to prove yourself over and over. If you feel stuck at a certain level, it becomes more important to at least maintain that level so as not to look deficient. Pushing yourself to grow isn’t on the agenda!

Growth mindset versus fixed mindset

How we think (our mindset) reflects our belief systems about our abilities and potential which in turn fuels our behavior. Changing our conscious and unconscious beliefs can have a profound effect on nearly every aspect of our lives, and can even contribute to a greater sense of happiness and fulfillment.

So the question is, how can we tell if we have a fixed mindset, and how can we develop it?

Below are 15 ways to tell if you have a growth mindset versus 10 signs of a fixed mindset.

Characteristics of a growth mindset

  • You believe that your inborn talents are simply a starting point, a springboard for your efforts.
  • You believe that you can become “smarter” or reach your goal through hard work and good strategies.
  • You believe that effort is what makes a person smarter or more talented; effort is a necessary path to mastery.
  • You have a strong strength of free will and inner determination; you persist in the face of obstacles.
  • You feel you have control over the outcome of your own life.
  • You accept a certain amount of struggle as part of the process and are willing to increase your efforts or try something new even in the face of setbacks.
  • You don’t see setbacks as failures but as an opportunity to learn and grow. (“I never fail. Either I win or I learn.”)
  • You aren’t afraid to get out of your comfort zone from time to time; you thrive on challenges.
  • You aren’t afraid to ask questions or seek guidance even if this might be embarrassing (and reveal your lack of knowledge).
  • You accept constructive criticism and try to learn from it.
  • You enjoy the process of learning and growing just as much (or more!) than the final achievement or approval from others.
  • You believe that personal success is when you work your hardest to become your best.
  • You measure yourself against who you were yesterday, not who you are in comparison to others.
  • You aren’t threatened by the achievements of others but inspired by them (“If they can do it so can I!”)
  • You’re willing to share ideas, collaborate, admit errors and take appropriate risks.

“Why waste your time proving over and over how great you are when you could be getting better?” – Carol Dweck

Characteristics of a fixed mindset

  • You possess a deterministic view of the world.
  • You believe that your intelligence, abilities, and character are static or unchangeable (“This is just how I am.”)
  • You may strive for success but avoid failure at all costs so you can maintain a certain perception of your own level of skill and intelligence.
  • You avoid challenges and give up easily.
  • You see effort as too much to handle or useless, thinking you shouldn’t need effort if you’re already smart or talented.
  • You view failure as proof that you’re lacking.
  • You feel threatened by the success of others.
  • You ignore useful feedback.
  • You view imperfections as shameful and do your best to minimize them or avoid exposing them.
  • Your inner dialogue often turns to judging, evaluation and constant comparisons.

What a growth mindset is not

Being a positive thinker

Being open-minded, flexible and a positive thinker is good . . . but these traits alone don’t mean you have a growth mindset. Growth doesn’t come about from wishing or hoping you’ll succeed – it comes from taking action!

Focusing only on effort

Yes, effort is important. However, just telling yourself to “try harder” isn’t productive or effective. When our efforts aren’t working we may need to seek out help or try new strategies. Unproductive effort is a waste of time.

We also need to focus on the learning process. How are we growing as a person toward our goals? Regardless of what we achieve, we’ll always end up learning something!

Thinking you either have a growth mindset or you don’t

In reality, we all have some characteristics of a growth mindset and those of a fixed mindset – these exist on a spectrum. You may be growth-oriented in one area, and more fixed in another.

Having a “pure” or 100% growth mindset about everything doesn’t exist. We all have the tendency to get discouraged when triggered about certain things and fall back into a fixed mindset. It’s when this kind of thinking is left unchecked that we end up inhibiting our own growth.

Saying you having a growth mindset

Just believing you have a growth mindset and saying you do doesn’t make it so. We can’t really positive-think our way there. Traits of a growth mindset have to actually be put into practice on a regular basis – not just used as new-age fluff!

Believing anyone can grow to absolutely any potential

Having a growth mindset doesn’t mean you believe everyone can be the next Einstein or Davinci or Beethoven if they just work hard enough. Innate talents do exist. However, you understand that everyone can grow and change through application and experience to be their best selves.

There is always possibility in each person! Everyone can become better than their initial, starting point abilities through training and effort.

growth mindset

30 ways to develop a growth mindset

  1. Recognize that you have a choice – As this is a health and wellness blog, I’m applying this tip to that area: Regardless of your current weight, age, health history or even genetics, do you have a choice as to the next bite of food to go into your mouth? Of course you do! We always have a choice even when we think we don’t (even if that choice is just our own reaction)
  2. Recognize that the brain can change – You CAN teach an old dog (your mindset!) new tricks. Educate yourself on the wonders of neuroplasticity, cognitive behavioral techniques, and positive psychology.
  3. Let go of shoulds and perfectionism – Accept that we all make mistakes and that no one can do things perfectly all the time. Don’t let mistakes stop you!
  4. Don’t focus on the perceived “failure,” focus on the lesson – Learn from your mistakes. How does this knowledge help you improve?
  5. Value learning over approval – Focus on how you’re developing as a person rather than on external validation
  6. Value the process over the end result – Enjoy the learning process instead of obsessing over when you’ll reach the end (Hint: you never really reach the end!)
  7. View challenges as opportunities – Embrace the journey of self-improvement
  8. Stop thinking of ‘improvement’ as ‘failure’ – Almost everyone has room for improvement – try not to take it personally!
  9. Don’t be afraid to try new strategies – Acknowledge when something isn’t working for you (even if it seems to work for others), look for different ways of doing things
  10. Cultivate a sense of purpose – WHY do you want to achieve a certain goal? Look at the big picture to keep yourself motivated
  11. Focus on actions rather than traits – Don’t get hung up on whether or not you have a certain natural ability, focus on the action you’re taking to help you reach your goal (increased ability will come!)
  12. Celebrate your growth – Let others know when you’ve accomplished something; be proud of yourself!
  13. Focus on growth over speed – Accept that accomplishing certain things will take time (and that’s ok!), don’t berate yourself for how long it takes
  14. Celebrate the growth of others – When you celebrate the achievements of others it not only keeps feelings of envy in check, it also moves them to celebrate your achievements too
  15. Reflect on what you’ve learned – Build time into your day to look back on the lessons you’ve learned along your journey
  16. Step out of your comfort zone sometimes – Magical things can happen when you do!
  17. Learn from others – Both their accomplishments and their mistakes; allow yourself to be inspired
  18. Let yourself be human – Practice being more open about your mistakes with others instead of always trying to save face
  19. Take ownership of your attitude – Let go of the blame game and excuses
  20. Be aware of your strengths and your weaknesses – Be honest with yourself!
  21. Cultivate curiosity – Decide to continually focus on learning and growth no matter how far you come
  22. Don’t shy away from feedback – And don’t reject all forms of constructive criticisms (I’m talking about truly helpful advice – not just rude comments veiled as “What? I’m just trying to help!” lol)
  23. Surround yourself with growth-oriented people – We pick up the mindsets and attitudes of the people we’re closest too. Make sure they’re upbuilding!
  24. Regularly set small goals – Cut down on overwhelm and increase your rate of success by chunking down a large goal into smaller goals. When you’ve reached a small goal set another one! Click here to download a free goal setting toolkit.
  25. Cultivate gratitude – Gratitude will help you forgive yourself when you make mistakes, curb jealousy of others and their accomplishments, and encourage you to keep going
  26. Tune in to yourself talk – Your mindset reveals itself through how you talk to yourself. Start paying attention and challenging false beliefs
  27. Change your thoughts to make effort effortless – Ali Campbell talks about “effortless effort” in his book ‘Just Get On With It.’ When we decide we want to do something (rather than “have to,” should or need), it can make the journey no longer feels like work
  28. Expect more to achieve more – Push yourself. In one study, researchers found that people are often poor predictors of their own best effort, and when pushed, can achieve even more than they thought possible
  29. Use the word ‘yet’ – Even if you don’t know how to do something, instead of saying, “I can’t do this,” rephrase this thought to “I can’t do this yet.” Remind yourself you have power and you have choice
  30.  Modify your mindset with mindfulness – Use mindfulness techniques such journaling, meditation and EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) to become more self-aware and uncover limiting beliefs. Click here to download a free mindset reset journal – a 5-day guide to uncovering limiting beliefs and cultivating a growth mindset so you can manifest your health goals.

This knowledge isn’t a new concept, of course. It’s the very foundation of the “can do” spirit and self-help movement. But more than that, it’s importance lies in understanding that the mind can indeed be reprogrammed.

Are you the elephant or the lion?

We all have areas of our lives where we feel a little stuck – chained to limiting beliefs like a poor, trained elephant. But often this is only an illusion of our mind!

We’re all capable of being the lion (and since you’re reading this blog, I’m guessing you definitely are!), just waiting for the veil to drop, ready to break free of negative mental clutter, embrace a growth mindset and crush our goals.

Embrace your inner lion (rawr) – you’re more powerful than you think!

6 thoughts on “Why a Growth Mindset is Essential to Reaching Your Health Goals (+30 ways to develop a growth mindset)”

    1. Yes! There’s so much push to be a “positive thinker” all.the.time but that’s just not realistic (or necessary).

      So glad you found this article helpful!

  1. I hope I didn’t make it sound like EFT hasn’t helped much, because it definitely has! I’m very grateful to know how to use this tool and that in addition to it being free—it doesn’t take a lot of time or effort for it be effective!

    1. I understood what you meant! EFT is definitely a powerful tool, but we’re all like onions – we have layers (thanks Shrek for that analogy, lol). Some issues take a little more work and time to get through.

  2. I really needed this! I’ve been taking voice lessons for 6 months now, and although my voice (singing) has improved, I still get frustrated when I have setbacks. I do lean more towards a growth mindset, but of course not perfectly—and having more of a growth mindset is only because I have done so much emotional work on myself through EFT. I can’t even count how many tapping sessions I’ve been through with myself having to do with my frustrations, fears, and limiting beliefs about my singing ability! But ever forward I press!

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