By Seth Lusk
When we talk about a growth mindset, many things can come to mind. There are also many people who do not understand what a growth mindset is. I want to take the time to clear it up for you, and I want to talk about a particular aspect of a growth mindset that often gets overlooked.
So, a growth mindset is a term used in positive psychology to describe the way a person chooses to view themselves and the world around them. In particular this term focuses on how people will view problems or obstacles, but it does not just end there. A growth mindset spans out into so much more in life, and I will explain that later.
In contrast to a growth mindset, we have a fixed mindset. And I want to be clear about something here. It is not like some people have a completely fixed mindset or a completely growth oriented mindset. For the most part, people have a mix of both. In some areas of life, they will approach life with a fixed mindset, while in others they will approach with a growth mindset.
I myself battled with accepting this for years. I had areas of my life that I approached with a completely fixed mindset. And people would always tell me that I have a fixed mindset. So, I would point to the areas of my life that I approached with a growth mindset and use that as evidence to prove that I had a growth mindset. As if this meant that because I have a growth mindset, that this means that I will approach all areas of my life with this mindset.
The truth was, that I had areas where I was looking at life through a lens of a fixed mindset, and other areas where I was very growth oriented.
So, for those of you who may be scratching your head and wondering what these mindsets are, let me briefly describe these for you. And I say briefly, because these concepts are vast, and deep, so I can only scratch the surface of them within this article.
A growth mindset is a mindset that approaches life from the perspective that life is an opportunity. This means that problems and obstacles that we perceive in our life are not something to be avoided, or feared, they become an opportunity. Now, what opportunity a person sees them as can vary. Often the way a person sees obstacles and problems as opportunities is through the lens of a desire to learn and grow.
What this means is that someone with a growth mindset may come up against something in their life that feels difficult, or maybe at the moment FEELS impossible to solve. They then choose to look at this perceived obstacle or problem with curiosity, and openness. They see it as a chance to understand themselves better, and how they are currently operating and seeing life, but also to search for possible NEW ways of operating and seeing life that have not been explored yet by them.
They may also see these perceived obstacles as an opportunity to exercise a particular skill that they have not before spent much time in exercising. And they see this as an opportunity, because they know that on the other side of that, they will have more effectiveness, and efficiency within that skill that currently is not such a strong skill for them.
Perceived obstacles and problems become almost exciting with a growth mindset. Challenges are seen as something that signals that they are on the RIGHT path to growing, and learning, and expanding their life for themselves.
In contrast we have the fixed mindset. And just like the growth mindset, this term focuses mainly on how a person’s outlook is on life and themselves when they encounter perceived obstacles, problems, or challenges.
Where someone with a growth mindset would see perceived obstacles, problems, or challenges as an opportunity, someone with a fixed mindset sees them as being indicators to stop. A person exhibiting a fixed mindset may see these as an indicator that they have done something wrong, and should reconsider their course of action.
A fixed mindset will also convince a person to observe perceived obstacles and make an assessment of whether or not it is possible for them to work through the obstacle based on their current skillset, and then make a judgment call of ceasing action based on that assessment.
In a nut shell, a fixed mindset will convince a person to put a period in a thought, where a comma could go. They will believe that they do not have the skills to solve a perceived problem, or to work through a perceived obstacle. They believe this instead of believing that they do not have the skillset level to solve, or work through the obstacle, YET. And that “yet” makes a huge difference.
That “yet” allows a person to consider whether or not they want to spend the time to develop those skills to be able to work through the obstacle of problem that is being perceived. Which means that the obstacle of problem becomes an opportunity, and this opens the doors to a growth mindset.
Sadly, it is not always so simple as making this simple shift in thought though. A fixed mindset, much like a growth mindset expands out into life so much more than just how a person looks at the perceived problem or obstacle. It also spans into how a person views their self-image, or self-worth. Which means that a person with a fixed mindset will not only put a period where a “, yet” could go. They will also view themselves in a way that could hinder them from seeing value in growing and learning.
Many people who exhibit a fixed mindset as opposed to a growth mindset, will also see their value as a person quite low. And they will perceive this value as also being fixed. Which means that they may look at learning and growth as being a futile process, or maybe even dangerous. A person with a fixed mindset does not have a negative view about themselves in ALL areas of their life.
You see, many people exhibiting a fixed mindset in an area of life will have very strong views of where their perceived strengths are. And because of the predominantly fixed mindset, they will see those strengths as also being fixed. And this means that they believe in sticking with those strengths.
Exploring other strengths becomes scary. Because a person with a fixed mindset sees their worth as being attached to how good they are as a person because of “having” those strengths. And anything outside of those strengths that feels like a struggle for them, brings their worth into question.
This is an area of a growth mindset that does not get talked about often enough. We talk about growth mindsets quite often when we talk about working on areas where we struggle. But we do not talk enough of about how a growth mindset also helps us with areas where we already perceive ourselves as “having” strengths.
You see, a person with a fixed mindset will see where they “have” strengths, and try to stick with those strengths, and avoid anything else where they perceive a lack of strength is. So, problems that require skillsets that they do not see as being innate strengths of theirs get avoided. While obstacles where they perceive that they “have” strength, will be explored maybe a bit longer.
But here is where a growth mindset helps. When a person approaches life with a predominantly fixed mindset, they are usually more willing to stick with perceived obstacles or problems that play into their perceived innate strengths, but the moment that the challenge reaches a level of intensity where they begin to struggle, they are likely to back down. And this again is because they believe that strengths are something that they “have” innately, and the level of that strength is high, but also probably fixed. Or they might believe that it is DANGEROUS to push a skill beyond where its limits “are fixed” because this could damage their worth as a person, to be seen as inadequate in some way.
Someone exhibiting a predominantly growth mindset would reach the limits of their current strength and then see the challenge to push it further as an opportunity to grow in that strength that they see as one they have developed BY challenging their strengths.
You can almost see it as a growth mindset being focused on the process of developing strengths, and learning. Where a fixed mindset focuses on HAVING strengths. A growth mindset focuses on the value of putting in the effort to develop, and learn. A fixed mindset focuses on the value of HAVING something, and not having it takes away value from a person.
This brings up the question often, of how these two mindsets can develop in people. And the answer is that it can be quite complex. There is not ONE single way in which a growth mindset is cultivated, and then another in which a person will be more likely to develop a fixed mindset. Many factors come into play here.
What science points to though, is that the predominance of one mindset over the other tends to develop in the formative years of a person. So, in childhood and adolescence. And one of the biggest ways one of these mindsets begins to develop more predominantly is in how a child or adolescent is rewarded or punished.
When a child is growing up, they are trying to figure out many things about life. One of those obstacles is to develop a sense of safety, and security. Love being a huge marker of this. Meaning that when a child feels loved, they feel more security and safety. And, a child’s concept of love is very limited during that time.
Love to children is often thought of as saying kind words, giving rewards or treats, closeness, affection, praise. To a child, receiving these is equal to knowing that they are loved. And when they feel loved, they feel safe, and secure.
The reason for this, is that a child might not understand the complexity of the situation, but they do realize that they are dependent. They need to be fed, sheltered, and cared for, and they do realize on some level, that if this is withheld from them by their caregivers, that they do not yet know how to provide it for themselves. Wanting to feel like these needs will be provided to them until they are old enough and big enough to provide them for themselves, is a source of feeling secure and safe.
Now, where this plays into the development of a growth mindset, is how a child perceives this entire scenario. Often times caregivers, in order to motivate children, use withholding of signs of affection or love as a way to show a child that they have done something that is not desired. They may also, in some instances, withhold needs from the child, such as food to show a child that they are not performing up to the expectations of the caregiver. And on the opposite end, when a child performs in a manner that the caregiver sees a being desirable, they go to the opposite extreme and reward the child with love, affection, and maybe things like food, or other comforts in life.
I am not here to accuse any caregivers who have used this method or raising children, as being corrupt, or evil, or malicious. I believe that most of the time the caregivers are not shown any other way to raise children, and were probably raised in the same way. They are simply repeating what they know. Which is often coming from a mindset that is predominantly fixed as well.
This is what can begin to cultivate a predominantly fixed mindset to begin expressing in these children experiencing this. And if you have not put two and two together, here is why.
Children who experience this type of behavior from their caregivers begin to pick up on the idea that when they do certain things and do them well, they receive more love, and care. When they do not, they receive less. This begins to equate in their mind that their safety and security in life are on the line. And what determines if they can fully rely on their needs being met, is if they are loved a lot. And their ability to BE loved, stems from how well they perform certain tasks.
Children begin to pay attention to the things that they do that receive the most reward (love, affection, attention, and their needs being met, or even exceeded). They begin to paint a picture in their mind that they are more loveable when they do those things. And, when they are more loveable, they are more likely to be cared for.
Children who develop this sort of picture of life and the world at that age, go out into life as adolescents and adults, looking for more evidence in life to support this. They focus on their behaviors that as a child gave them the most praise, and rewards. They see those as their strengths, and that taking action that plays into them makes them more loveable to other people.
In contrast they are also likely to develop the idea that when they do things that fall outside of those behaviors that got them love, affection, and rewards, that it made them less lovable or valuable as a person. They are more likely to develop ideas that avoiding these areas of behavior is a good idea. They begin to see these areas as weaknesses that they “have” that are to be avoided. They are to be avoided, because if anyone sees or realizes those weaknesses, then their value goes down as a person, and this means that their safety and security are at risk.
This is the predominantly understood path to a person developing a mindset which leans toward expressing in a fixed way. There are many complexities to this, and not every child who experiences caregivers in this way WILL develop a predominantly fixed mindset. Some can, and do still develop a very strong growth mindset.
What research can point to is that people who tend to express a mindset that is predominantly fixed, when asked to talk about their childhood and developmental years, they more often than not, talk about a pattern of reward for doing well at certain things, and punishment, or withholding of love and affection for performing at a level that their caregiver perceived as being “unsatisfactory”.
I am not here to debate parenting styles. I am not here to discuss strategies to being a caregiver of children that will foster a growth mindset. I am here to talk about what a growth mindset is. To do so, understanding how the contrasting fixed mindset can develop, is important. So, I talk about this to help explain how these mindsets come about.
Growth mindsets tend to develop in environments where a child is encouraged to explore. They are encouraged to be curious (obviously in a supervised, and safe environment). They are also encouraged when they struggle through something, not because of the result they get at the end, but because of how much they put into it. They are praised, and encouraged when they challenge themselves, and do things that they are not so practiced at yet. They are even praised when they get results that were not expected, or desired. They are encouraged to keep at it, and find what they learned through the experience.
Children who experience this learn that they can step outside of their skillset, and mess things up, and explore, and their caregiver will be there to support, guide, and encourage them. They even get rewarded FOR doing something they were not practiced at and getting WILDLY unpredicted, and maybe undesirable results. In turn they learn that this is a safe, and even desirable route in life to take. They learn that their lovability is not conditional on BEING good at something. Their needs being met, and their being loved is not at risk of being taken from them if they explore an area of skills that they are not practiced in yet.
They begin to see challenge as something exciting. They see it as something that feels difficult sure, but on the other side of facing that difficulty is reward, and love, and security still. They don’t learn to shy away from challenge, or perceived obstacles. They learn to lean into them, and explore. They feel supported and guided when they lean into challenges, not punished, and diminished as a person.
In turn these children go into adolescence and adulthood looking for evidence that when they step out into challenge, and explore areas of their skills that are not so practiced, that they will be loved, supported, and guided. They also have a sense of excitement in knowing that they will be rewarded on the other side (by having learned a new skill, or developing further one that they had not practiced before). The reward does not always have to come from other people either. Often the reward is being able to approach areas of life with more confidence and ease, knowing that they have taken the time to practice and develop skills in those areas of life.
So, here is an area where we often overlook a growth mindset and where it can help us. Often when we approach this topic, we focus on how it can help a person to develop skills that were not practiced, and perceived as weak. But, looking at it this way, also has a tinge of fixed mindset to it. The skills are not weak, they just have not yet been exercised. Seeing the skills as weak gives them an identity, which in and of itself is a bit fixed.
But, where it is really important to focus here, is that we don’t just want to cultivate a growth mindset to work on areas of perceived weakness. A growth mindset go SOOOO much further than this.
You see, people exhibiting a fixed mindset do not just shy away from areas where they perceive they are lacking skills. They also shy away from growing in the skills they perceive as being strengths of theirs. They see people who have strengths similar to theirs as being threats to their worth, and value as a person. And this is because they do not just perceive their “weaknesses” as being fixed. They also perceive their strengths as being fixed.
This means that stepping into areas where they “have” a strength is one thing. But when that challenge reaches the current level of practice in that strength, they are likely to shy away or back down, because they are afraid of the “limitations” of their strengths being exposed. The fear of this stems from the belief that those limits are fixed, AND they bring their value as a person into question.
You see, a growth mindset is not just about finding areas that are not so practiced and being willing to practice them. It is about seeing areas that are very practiced, and knowing that there is always more to learn, and that this is a good thing. A growth mindset seeks out ways to challenge current limitations to their strengths and sees these as opportunity to cultivate and deepen those strengths even further.
This also means that a growth mindset sees other people who exhibit strengths in the same areas as them, as being support, or inspiration to grow. Working with or beside someone with more practice than them in an area that they feel strong in, is seen as opportunity, not as danger.
What is interesting, is that a growth mindset typically has one area that is fixed, that is actually important to be fixed. And this is the area that believes that their worth, is ALWAYS 100% valuable, and nothing can bring that into question. This fixed area of a growth mindset provides a solid ground to stand on while exploring the uncertainty of growth and learning. It is the support they look to when they feel like everything around them is uncertain at the moment. They know that have that solid ground to place their foot on that tells them, their value is not in question, their lovability is not in question, and they are safe to explore.
I want you to begin considering this today. I want you to begin noticing where you may have developed more of a fixed mindset in your areas of perceived strength, not just the areas of perceived weakness. Are you holding back on your potential, and hiding from challenge in your areas of perceived strength? Are you hiding from people who share strengths with you, and seeing them as a standard by which you fall short, and therefore you either need to diminish them, or avoid them in order to avoid your value as a person coming into question?
I see this so often in the business world when people talk about their “competition”. They go about talking about their competition in a way where their competition needs to be diminished in order for them to be seen as more valuable. This stems from a fixed mindset.
In a growth mindset, competition is just as valuable, and their strengths do not diminish your value. Other businesses with similar strengths, or even different strengths are not seen as a threat, they are seen as an opportunity. They are seen as the opportunity to see what is possible outside of where they currently believe possibility ends. And this opportunity means exploration, and growth. This is a beautiful thing. When a company can look at what another company is doing well, and say, “If they are able to do that, and we never believed it was possible before… What might be possible for us? Where are we selling ourselves short in how we can develop, expand, grow, and learn as a company”. Competition becomes inspiration, not something to be feared. Companies lift each other up to keep pushing to be the best they can be, because in doing so, they prove that more is possible, and provide opportunity for other companies to feel inspired to explore too, and find EVEN MORE that is possible.
This is where a growth mindset becomes SOOOO powerful and beautiful. Sure, we can focus on how a growth mindset helps us to challenge perceived weaknesses, and see them as opportunities to grow. But when we see through the lense of a growth mindset, we also begin to see areas of strength as opportunities to challenge ourselves, and expand beyond our current wildest dreams. We don’t just stop at getting comfortable with how strong we have become at something. We see strength as opportunity to blow the ceiling off of what we currently see as possible. We see strength, not just as opportunity for ease, but also opportunity to expand what we currently believe is the limit of what is possible.
A growth mindset has been so underrated for so long, because we keep approaching it from the perspective of challenging weakness. But where it really shines, and excites ME, is in seeing how cultivating a growth mindset, creates a limitless unstoppability to what is possible for this life. I want more people to be EXCITED about the untapped potential of a growth mindset, not just begrudgingly accept its value in challenging weakness. Let’s get EXCITED about seeing what we have already proven possible, that seemed impossible within our life time, and what that means if we continue to push on the boundaries of perceived limitations to our strengths. What levels AMAZINGNESS are we ACTUALLY able to reach, when we fully embraced the FULL potential of a growth mindset?
It is time to RISE & THRIVE!
About the Author
Seth Lusk, Founder, and CEO of Authentic Life Connection: coaching services. He is also the podcast creator and host for the Authentic Life Connection podcast. He is a published author of the book What I really want is… But I’m Just too full of… . This book is available on Amazon for purchase. Seth is a Life coach as well. He works with clients one-to-one as well as in groups to help them create their most authentic and fulfilling life, from the inside out. Seth is also the founder and CEO of Lusk Holistic Health Services (the umbrella company for Authentic Life Connection: coaching services). Under this umbrella company Seth also provides guidance in fitness and nutrition for his clients. This comes from his background and education in exercise science and nutrition. Seth has worked with hundreds of clients to get clear on their authentic goals for their life, fitness, and health, and helped them create unstoppable authentic action to actualize these in their lives. For more about how to get in touch with Seth or hear more about his work, you can find him @ https://www.lifecoachseth.com . There you can access his podcast, book, social media, as well as speak with Seth directly about working with him one-to-one as coach/coachee. To access the “Authentic Life Connection” podcast, follow the link below