Is Your Fixed Mind-Set Holding You Back in Life? Here Are 4 Steps to Change That

Photo: Getty Images/Martin Novak
I grew up being quiet and shy, and while there's definitely nothing wrong with either of those traits, I had a sneaking suspicion they were holding me back from feeling optimally fulfilled, personally and professionally. During my teens and early twenties, year after year after year, “overcome shyness” was at the top of my list of New Year’s resolutions, yet each year, I fell short of my achieving my best intentions. Why? I didn’t know it at the time, but deep down, I had a fixed mind-set.

A fixed mind-set, a term popularized Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, PhD, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, is the belief that your skills, characteristics, and intelligence are fixed and can't be improved upon. It’s the “this is just the way things are” mentality. In other words, I didn’t actually believe that I had the ability to overcome shyness, therefore I didn’t even try, let alone achieve it.

As you can imagine, this mode of thinking, no matter what your goal or intention is, does not set you up to flourish, and can rear its ugly head in many different areas of life. A growth mind-set, on the other hand, means believing you can change and improve any facet of yourself.

“The reason people with growth mind-sets win in life is because they believe everything can evolve, change, and improve.” —Jill Stanton, entrepreneurial consultant

“The reason people with growth mind-sets win in life is because they believe everything can evolve, change, and improve,” says Jill Stanton, an entrepreneurial consultant and co-founder of Screw the Nine to Five. “They aren't ‘stuck’ with what they were given or what they were born with. They don't let their circumstances determine their future because they believe with effort and tenacity, they can change all of that.”

Is there a certain area of your life that you want to improve but never really felt it would be possible (until now)? Keep reading for four actionable tips to shift a fixed mind-set to one of growth.

1. View challenges as opportunities to learn and grow

Challenges are an inevitable part of life; there’s no escaping them. While a person with a fixed mind-set might negatively react to roadblocks, someone with a growth mind-set is more likely to see them as opportunities to expand themselves. “Nothing has any meaning other than the meaning you give to it,” Stanton says. “Therefore, you can consciously choose to view a challenge as something that is happening for you and look for the lessons and opportunities within it.”

2. Take full responsibility for everything in your life

Having a fixed mind-set puts someone at higher risk for blaming other people, situations, and other external factors for the way they are and their life looks. A growth mind-set, though, opens a person up to embracing the reality that they are the only entity responsible for the way things are in their life. “[This mind-set] allows you to take back the power in your life, feel more in control and less at the mercy of outside circumstances and other people’s decisions, actions, and behaviors,” Stanton says.

3. Focus on building your strengths

Everyone has their own unique strengths and weaknesses, but someone with a fixed mind-set is likely to obsess about being the best at everything. This may seem like a positive trait at first glance, but it often leaves the person feeling deflated when they can’t achieve the impossible standard they’ve set for themselves. A person with a growth mind-set acknowledges what they are good at and understands that it's not feasible to try to be good at everything. Instead, they zero in on their strengths and cultivate those.

To put this tip into action, Stanton recommends writing down your strengths and weaknesses on a sheet of paper, then looking at your weaknesses and giving yourself permission to not focus on them. “Not only will it build your self-confidence because you’re focusing on becoming even better at what you’re good at, but it will also free up so much mental bandwidth because you won’t have to devote any energy to forcing something in your life that might feel like an uphill battle or a source of negative energy for you,” she says.

4. Prioritize self-approval versus outside approval

“The people who are the happiest are the ones who believe that their opinion of themselves matters more than what anyone else may think of them,” Stanton says. Understanding that other people’s thoughts and feelings are beyond your control is the growth mind-set in action.

Not caring what others think, though, is easier said than done. One tip Stanton recommends is reminding yourself that whatever someone thinks or says about you is often a reflection of how they feel about themselves. “When you realize that, their opinions no longer carry any weight,” she says.

Need inspiration for introspection to help you become the best you? Here are journal prompts that can help. And to really embrace a growth mind-set, you may have to push yourself from your comfort zone. Here's how to do that, according to your Myers-Briggs personality type.

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