How many times have you set an awesomely inspiring goal, created a plan to achieve it, and then, somehow, for reasons you can’t quite identify, had your plan screech to a halt? You probably felt disappointed initially, maybe pondered it for a while, but eventually decided that whatever it was you were trying to do just wasn’t meant to be.
Well, chances are that’s not the truth.
A way back I talked about How to develop a growth mindset. The whole mindset concept is the baby of Carol Dweck (See her book
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. This is an affiliate link- I’ll be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking through here. Read my disclosure policy for more info). As an educator by trade, I’m 100% committed to the concept as I see the positive effects of it daily. People with a growth mindset handle setbacks, learn from their mistakes, and have incredible resilience when it comes to their learning. And let’s face it- we’re all learners, every single day, whether we’re in formal education or not.
However, the opposite of the growth mindset is the fixed mindset. If people with a growth mindset believe that their abilities are not solely derived from any innate talent, that they can improve with the right mix of strategy, help and effort, then people with a fixed mindset believe the reverse: that their traits and ability were given to them at birth, and therefore that they have limits. So to return to the scenario above, when you say that you didn’t have what was required in order to pull off your goal, it’s your fixed mindset talking.
A fixed mindset isn’t in action at all times- if it were you would never try anything! Instead it’s triggered by a number of things. Although it’s unlikely you’ll be triggered by all of them, there’s likely to be a few that you can relate to.
Fixed mindset triggers.
Challenges occur all the time when you’re learning something new. In fact, when you’re being challenged, it’s about the only time you are learning. Think about it- unless you’re getting stretched, chances are you’re just repeating stuff you already know.
People who are triggered by challenge, however, don’t like this feeling of being on the edge of their competence at all. If the method they try doesn’t work, they believe it’s too hard, they can’t do it – and so they quit.
Much like challenges, setbacks are a common experience. They are so common that they should be anticipated. Life cannot be controlled. People get sick, lose jobs, have accidents. Even something as seemingly insignificant as the weather can derail plans for a walk or run. And let’s not forget the office morning tea shout the day after you commit to a healthy diet!
People whose fixed mindsets are triggered by setbacks don’t see them as setbacks, however. They see them as roadblocks: completely impassable. When they hit them they believe that their plans are doomed and so they may as well give up.
Hard work is a prerequisite for progress, but somewhere along the line the idea became entrenched that there were people for whom things came naturally and there were people who only could achieve similar results if they worked their butts off. Compare, for example, when we say someone is naturally talented, gifted and so on, versus a hard worker: the former is viewed as more desirable than the latter.
Because of this value judgement, people whose fixed mindset is triggered by hard work see effort as being pointless or worse. If something requires too much work, they will (you guessed it) get overwhelmed and give up.
Correction is one of the only ways we learn from our mistakes. Dancers receive pages and pages of corrections from their coaches as they practice their moves. Professional athletes receive detailed feedback on their most recent performance and what they need to improve. Thinking about these examples, you’d probably agree that critique is necessary to success.
Yet some people see criticism of their work as a sign they are not good enough. They are unable to separate their performance from their identity. The fixed mindset is triggered again, and as they can’t take feedback on board, they don’t improve, get frustrated, and quit.
Success of others.
When we start working towards a goal, we’re right at the beginning. Yet chances are there are others working towards the same goal who started it long before. If you have a fixed mindset, you look at these people, compare yourself to them, and find yourself wanting. This is even more likely if they started their endeavours at the same time or even after you and yet are making greater or faster progress. Because you are unable to see beyond even minor forms of jealously and resentment, you remove the opportunity to learn from these people and again, stop trying.
So think back to when you last felt those feelings of I can’t do this. What had just happened? Had you encountered a challenge or a setback? Were you putting in a lot of hard work for seeming little reward? Had someone criticised what you were doing, or had someone else’s success made yours seem pathetic in comparison? If you repeat this exercise a few times then you’ll be able to identify what your fixed mindset triggers are.
I know, for example, that hard work, challenges and obstacles don’t really faze me. In fact I start getting crazily energised when things get into crisis mode. But success of others is something I can find demotivating, especially if I consider that person to be at a similar stage to me. In the blogging world, many people publish their blog progress and income reports, so it can be challenging reading articles like “How I got 100,000 page views in my third month blogging,” when you’ve been doing it longer and have less reach.
However since I learnt what my fixed mindset triggers are, I know what to do when faced with this situation.
What to do when your fixed mindset is triggered.
Identify the specific trigger.
When you feel yourself reacting in a way that’s threatening your progress, stop and work out which trigger is firing.
Accept how you are feeling.
Don’t judge yourself for your feelings. They are real and valid. Acknowledge and accept them. Just don’t let them define what you do next.
Say or do the following:
If your fixed mindset is challenge, then take some time to explore some alternative strategies to solve your problem. Research the issue, seek out experts and ask for help. Not knowing someone is no excuse either. There are so many free resources on the internet that can assist with almost any problem. Last year, for example, I taught myself to crochet a granny square. The first two or three videos I watched didn’t quite gel, but then I finally found one that helped me step through the process. Try another way and eventually you’ll get there.
If your fixed mindset is setbacks, then tell yourself that these are a natural and expected aspect of life. Give yourself grace, regroup and then try again. You can do this.
If your fixed mindset is hard work then chunk down what you are working on so you feel a more frequent sense of accomplishment. For example, if you are writing a 1500 word blog post, then tick off every 250 words. Same thing goes for a work report. If you can’t quantify the actual work then quantify the time: give yourself a tick for every fifteen minutes you spend on task. Simply making progress is a huge motivator, but you won’t make it if you don’t try!
If your fixed mindset is critique, then take a deep breath, and look at what is being said again with an objective eye. Do you trust and respect the person who gave it to you? If you trust their opinion on other things, then perhaps you should on this too. If you still feel ambivalent, what merit is there in the feedback? I know when I used to write novels, I would get critiques from fellow writers as a normal part of the process. I would always fix typos and other grammatical issues, but if there was something I felt ambivalent about, I’d wait to see what the others said. If more than one highlighted the same issue then I knew it was something I needed to fix.
If your fixed mindset is success of others, then remind yourself everyone has a story to tell. I remember being completely in awe of a relatively new blogger and what she was achieving financially, and then seeing her post in a private Facebook group about some of the personal struggles she was facing. I have a good life, and a great marriage (third time’s the charm). I may not have her success (yet) but I don’t share her troubles. And even if someone does seem to be rocking it in every area, then yay them! Look and see what they are doing, and then apply it to your own life.
To sum up:
Everyone can demonstrate a fixed mindset when the right trigger sets it off. The key is to identify it, accept it, and then combat it. And, most importantly, never ever give up. With that belief firmly in mind, there are few limits to what you can achieve.
Reading this through, have you identified some of your fixed mindset triggers? I’d love to hear what sets them off for you, and also how successful you are in fighting back against them.