When Fixed Is Broken: The Journey To A Growth Mindset

Are you one who believes skills can’t be learned, that you are pretty much what you’re born with? Or how about you weren’t born creative, artistic, musically inclined, or athletic.

Excluding the 2-3% extremes of the human population born gifted or with a disability, I guarantee you that with a crap ton of hard work, you can improve any area you want. Not just a little bit, but substantial changes over time. Why would you not want that?

If you’re content believing what you believe, or that you do not need to learn anymore, let me assure you, you can still improve. Also, if you think you have a growth mindset and think you don’t need to read this to improve, hate to break it to you but that’s a fixed mindset. For those of you looking for the road map to an improved mindset, great news! That is the first step. Please read on. 

So what is a fixed mindset?

Let’s take if from the expert Carol Dweck, author of the book Mindset, and originator of the fixed and growth mindsets concepts.

A fixed mindset is when your success is about proving you’re smart or talented, or validating yourself. A growth mindset believes that basic qualities can be cultivated through effort, strategies, and help from others, or that everyone can change and grow through application and experience. 

On to a little exercise to see which mindset you may have:

Read each statement and decide if you mostly agree or disagree with it. 

  1. Your intelligence is something very basic about you that you can’t change very much. 
  2. You can learn new things, but you really can’t change how intelligent you are. 
  3. No matter how much intelligence you have, you can always change it quite a bit. 
  4. You can substantially change how intelligent you are. 
And the results are…..

1 & 2 are fixed mindsets, while 3 & 4 reflect growth. It is ok to be a mixture of both, it happens.

Next, what are your beliefs on abilities? Are people naturally artistic, athletic, or more business oriented? 

  1. You are a certain kind of person, and there is not much that can be done to really change that. 
  2. No matter what kind of person you are, you can always change substantially. 
  3. You can do things differently, but the important parts of who you are can’t really be changed. 
  4. You can always change the basic things about the kind of person you are. 
And the results are…

1 & 3 are fixed, while 2 & 4 are growth. Did your beliefs change? It’s okay if they did. Understanding that it’s very common to identify individuals as naturals or gifted is something we do daily. Why do we do that? Several reason have been identified.

We enjoy watching talented people work, or that it justifies our mediocrity by saying another individual is successful because they were born that way.

We are no longer held accountable for our lack of effort or action if we justify that our success is determined by genetics. 

Can we change this mindset? Of course! Why else would I write this if it was to tell you that you’re stuck as you are now, get over it and be mediocre?

Still don’t buy it?

I want you to look up a guy named Jonathan Hardesty who made it a point to learn to become an artist later in life. He made a goal to draw at least one sketch every day. Here are the results. 

If you’re still not sold, maybe now isn’t the time. But for the rest of you, let’s start making some changes. 

Like most things that require change, developing a growth mindset requires much more than a vow or announcement. It requires a plan and the understanding that this is a journey. Like all journeys there will be peaks and valleys, but the key is understanding the valleys are an opportunity to identify new strategies or practices in order to continue our growth.  They’re not a bad sign or some unchangeable trait we possess.

It’s important to understand that we all have fixed and growth mindsets, but identifying the areas in which we possess the fixed mindset is key to facilitate change.

Areas to Identify

Praise. As tempting as it is, don’t praise the talent or intelligence. Instead, praise the strategies used, effort demonstrated, or choices made. Example: Don’t say “ You’re so naturally strong”. Instead compliment the hard work they put into each training session and how they focus on their technique. “I can see you’ve been working hard on that bench technique every time you’re training. You’ve shown such an improvement, your commitment is paying off!”

Standards. These are not meant to be lowered to create easy success, nor to be unattainable. The idea is to create a challenge to grow into, and develop a strategy to get there. If the planning becomes overwhelming, it is possible you’re not ready for that yet and start with something a bit smaller to change.

Beliefs. They can be extremely beneficial or equally detrimental. Allowing yourself to be defeated before even making the attempt is very common. Having negative beliefs can lead to anxiety, depression, or anger. Understanding praise can lead to better self talk and more positive beliefs to direct change. Example: Don’t say “ I could never lift that, I’m just not that strong”. Instead approach it by thinking ”This may be really hard right now, but if I consistently train, I might be able to get this weight some day”.

Ask questions. Instead of failing a lift and saying “I am so weak” or “I’ll never get this”. Ask questions like, what evidence do I have for or against this conclusion? Look for influencing factors. Will you never get the lift, or did you have a stressful week that resulted in poor eating and sleep, making you feel exhausted? And when you came to the gym you were not focused on the workout and half-assed the warm up which resulted in a missed lift. Maybe you need to look at your program and identify if you achieved everything you could from it and if it is time for new strategies or programs. Or, you could be brand new to strength training and you’re not very strong…. YET! It is vital you understand this is not a permanent situation and that with work and planning you can be strong. 

Develop Skill. Practice the things you’re not good at. Get a coach to hold you accountable. It’s not about information, we all have access to it. It is about being accountable at putting in the work, being called out when we are not, and having someone to help us along the way. The key is if you want to improve, you have to practice.

Avoid Vow. Vowing is like intentions, which are a lot like garbage. Throw that crap out and move on to making a plan. There are many options for making a plan. Some points to keep in mind (and don’t be afraid of details!): What is the plan? When will you follow through on your plan? Where will you do it?How will you do it?

Name your fixed mindset. When you feel triggers of a fixed mindset coming up, identify them, name them and get after them. The name you chose is anything that reminds you of who or what you don’t want to be. Example, my wife’s trigger name is Debbie. When times get tough and she struggles learning activities that do not come naturally for her, she becomes her own Debbie Downer. She heads down a path of victim-like self talk. This slowly allows excuses to creep in as to why she’s not good at what she’s doing and why it would make sense to just give up. Debbie reminds her that she needs to stop whining, be grateful that she has the opportunity to grow and never let difficulties get the best of her.

All of this does not mean that the change will be rainbows and sunshine. Adversity will happen, and you can get down. It happens. Remember though it is a journey! Pick yourself up, look over your plan, make necessary adjustments, and if needed contact your support chain. 

Once you’ve reached success, you must keep doing the work.

Don’t get caught up in the success. Keep on the path that got you there. Many people who lose significant weight fail to keep it off, and many regain more weight than they originally lost. The finish line isn’t hitting the weight loss, or PR lift it is maintaining once you’ve achieved!

Don’t be ashamed of your fixed mindset. Acknowledge it, and work on it. We all have it. Identify your fixed mindset triggers and what you need to do to address them when they start to show. Say things like “Yea, I’m not there (yet), but I’ve got an idea of what I need to do to get there”. This may sound cheesy, but being aware of our thoughts and not trying to ban them is a great way to move forward. 

Carol Dwek

Please share how you have attacked your fixed mindset, names, strategies so that others can learn and grow with you, and as always: don’t forget to use your muscles!

Written by: Deven Dehnel