An image of a brain in the style of a cartoon.

Develop a Growth Mindset to Unleash Personal Growth

A plastic brain on the table will never experience a growth mindset.
A plastic brain will never experience growth mindset. Photo by Natasha Connell on Unsplash

You don’t have to go far to encounter the term growth mindset these days. In education, science, sports, and any other place where learning and growth are expected, growth mindset is a hot topic.

You might think that you know what growth mindset is. The two words themselves are simple and the term is relatively descriptive. It is a mindset or a belief that you can grow and learn.

But it is a lot more than that. That is to say, it is a lot more complex than that.

Understanding growth mindset means first understanding its opposite: fixed mindset.


Fixed mindset

You may have said or believed something like one of the following statements:

“I am bad at math.”

“Drawing is impossible for me. I will never learn.”

“I will never learn how to play the piano.”


Or perhaps you have said or believed some statement like one of these that seems positive:

“I’m just gifted with words.”

“I just have a way with athletics.”

“I am a natural singer.”


All of these statements, the negative ones and the positive ones, are examples of a fixed mindset.

A fixed mindset is a belief that your skills and abilities are just part of who you are and are essentially unchangeable. You were born with these skills, and there is no more to be discussed about it.

The real problem with this kind of mindset comes when you look at the negative versions of the statements. When you start to think you can’t learn or do some things because of who you are, you are unlikely to try to do them at all.

And if you are unlikely to try something, you are certainly never going to master it. Likewise, if you believe you are naturally good at something, you are less likely to try and get better.

A fixed mindset is the enemy of learning.


How is growth mindset different?

Growth mindset is different in that it places you in a position to believe that you can learn something. This prepares you for doing the work that it takes to learn.

Despite what some people may have you believe no one is born understanding the Pythagorean theorem. No one is born able to throw a ball to hit a target in the distance. No one is born able to craft words into thoughtful sentences that evoke emotions from other people.

We acquire the skills,  as much as we have them, through practice. Sure we have aptitudes that make certain kinds of practice more interesting for us, but it is the practice itself that makes us good at what we do. Practice is how we acquire skills.

Fixed mindset prevents us from doing enough practice by telling us we are naturally good – or not good – at the thing we are trying to do.

If we are to get to our 10,000 hours of practice that are said to be required to make us an expert, we must first practice for one hour.

If you have a growth mindset, you believe you can learn. That means in that first hour of practice, when you experience obstacles, or hardships, you are willing to continue to try. It is through this extra effort, working past obstacles, that actual growth occurs.

This cartoon brain will never experience growth mindset.
Brains. Thank goodness you can always add to the one you were born with! Image by author.

Defeat the enemy of learning: fixed mindset

In this same learning scenario, if you believe you are naturally unable to learn something, the obstacles will seem quite large. Because your inner voice is telling you, “You can’t learn this.”

And now you have two obstacles: the obstacle itself, and your inner voice. If your inner voice is telling you that you will never achieve growth or get past this obstacle, you are far less likely to try.

So what are some positive examples of growth mindset? Here are some all-purpose phrases you can use in any situation to help you get past negativity and stick with the practice required to learn something new.

“This is hard. I am going to have to try this several times to get it right.”

“It’s going to take a while to learn this. I should set aside a little time every day to practice.”

“I can’t do all of this at once, but I did this small part of it right. Tomorrow I will do an additional part better.”

An image of a brain in the style of a cartoon.
A cartoon brain can survive fixed mindset. But why? Image by author.

What are some things you can say if it is your friend, or your child, and not yourself who is experiencing fix mindset? Just make some variations of those statements above when they complain to you about a struggle they face.

“It sounds like that was hard. It’s going to take several tries to get it right. I know you can do it.”

“It’s going to take some time to learn this. Do you want to do it together?”

“Is there any part of it you feel like you did right? Let’s build on that.”

Of course there’s a lot more to understanding growth and fixed mindset than repeating a few phrases. However, these ideas can go a long way toward helping yourself and the people around you remember that learning is a lifelong process.

You can do it.

Sakina Issa, counselor. You can schedule online today.

Interested in learning how to adopt a growth mindset? Or how to talk with someone whose fixed mindset is preventing them from growing and maturing? Then talk with Sakina today. Or simply read on about self-growth.

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