I hit Lemon Drop Hill at mile 22. The ground beneath me sloped steadily upward into a hill — the point in the marathon where people often hit “the wall” and can’t go any farther. I kept my eyes down and focused on my blue running shoes as I pushed myself to run the whole way up. At the top I felt invincible. I finished that marathon. The crazy thing? I had barely been able to complete a 5k just a year earlier. What changed?
I had unlocked a growth mindset.
Unlocking a growth mindset is a lot like unlocking a superpower you never knew you had. Suddenly, your weakness becomes your strength, a problem which could have stumped you before just makes you smarter, and your potential expands like the horizon.
How can we embrace a growth mindset?
The growth mindset is a way of approaching obstacles and challenges we encounter in life. This approach, first developed by Dr. Carol Dwek, is not forced positivity or natural optimism; it is a specific approach toward problems that can be taught, learned, and developed. Everyone can have a growth mindset.
A growth mindset starts with engaging problems
We sometimes “shut down” when we encounter a problem. Our brain activity slows and we essentially give up. The growth mindset starts when we take a second look at our problems. Instead of shutting down when something feels overwhelming, we can analyze the situation and troubleshoot the issue. What went wrong? Why did we get that bad grade? Why did we lose that game? Why did that conversation go so poorly?
Once we pinpoint what went wrong, we can figure out how to make the situation better in the future. We can map out the course we need to take to improve. Maybe we need to find a different location to study or find a tutor. Maybe we are lacking a skill that is sometimes necessary for game day. Maybe we said the wrong thing.
When we face the problem, we can reframe the situation and see it as an opportunity to get better. A bad grade is not the end of the story — it can be the catalyst to a deeper intelligence and understanding of a subject. A lost game is not the end of your athletic career — it is the chance to hone in on your weaknesses in order to focus your training. An awkward conversation is not the end of your social life — it is a learning opportunity that will help you build stronger relationships in the future.
A growth mindset begins when we change “I can’t” to “not yet.”
Effort > Talent
It is easy to shrug off other people’s success as coming from genetics, luck, or some other factor. The reality is that effort is a powerful force that often beats flawless genetics or abundant natural talent — effort even helps create opportunities for people to find luck or serendipitous opportunity.
Part of the reason people with a growth mindset are so successful is because they don’t waste time wondering how much raw talent they have compared to the person next to them. Instead, they build their talent. They develop the raw material they have.
What talent, skills, or knowledge do you want? Because you are capable of more than you realize.
Once we have analyzed the problem and determined how we could improve in the future, it is time to put in the effort needed to grow. It is time to back our words with action. It is time for us to build the talents, skill, and knowledge we want.
A growth mindset involves patience
It will take time to analyze the problem and determine how to improve. But embracing the progress we make, whether it is faster or slower than those around us, is part of taking on a growth mindset.
Everyone has natural insecurities, fears, or weaknesses that can trigger a fixed mindset. It is still easy for me to tell myself “I can’t do that” when I see naturally gifted athletes. Changing my inner dialogue to “I just haven’t done it yet” is an ongoing process. It takes patience to accept the journey and understand I won’t achieve results — or even a consistent growth mindset — all at once.
It is natural to feel discouraged or overwhelmed, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t capable of a growth mindset — it just means that we have found another area where we need to apply it. This mindset is not forced cheerfulness; it is about understanding that we are capable of growth and then intentionally working toward that growth. It is a new approach to our problems and our efforts.
This is the awesome part of adopting a growth mindset: over time…
…your problems just make you smarter.
…your weaknesses become your strengths.
…your “failures” become your greatest successes yet.
This is the power of the growth mindset. With this rich understanding of your own potential and the way to approach problems around you, you are unstoppable. Embracing a growth mindset can help improve every aspect of your life — whether it be academics, the spiritual life, relationships, or sports. So it is time to dig deep and look at the dreams sparking within your heart — now is the time to grow into the person you want to be.