How your mindset is dictating your success

Discover the two ways of thinking that are either helping or hindering you on your path to achievement in life.

by Emma Fazzino, 2017 Alumni

“I’m really not a maths person”, Emma thought to herself, as she received yet another disappointing test score. “I’m obviously not smart – my results say so. What’s the point of even trying anymore when I know I’m destined to fail?”

Have you ever been guilty of saying this? Do you classify yourself as inherently good or bad at certain things?

If the answer is yes, then you may have developed a Fixed Mindset.

Having a fixed mindset means that you believe talent is innate and unchangeable. You may be reluctant to embrace challenges for fear of failure, and prefer to stay in your comfort zone. You see setbacks and poor grades as ‘proof’ of unintelligence and like Emma, you may possess static self-beliefs which discourage you from working to improve your weaknesses.

People with a growth mindset on the other hand, thrive on challenges and view mistakes as an opportunity to grow. You believe that effort leads to success, and hat skills can be developed through consistent hard work. You possess a passion for learning, a curious mind and stronger resilience which ultimately leads to greater happiness in life.

comparison between fixed and growth mindsets
Features of the fixed vs growth mindset. Image: Author’s own

This well-known psychological construct stems from the work of Stanford researcher Carol Dweck who unpacked the impacts of the “fixed vs growth mindset”. Here’s how Dweck describes the key differences:

IN a fixed mindset, students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. 

In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it

                        – Carol Dweck, Stanford University

Through Dweck’s research, it became evident that our mindset is not just part of our personality, but can change our entire perception of almost every opportunity, obstacle or outcome we encounter in life.

“I’m simply not great at maths, and I’m scared to answer questions in class because I’m worried I’ll get it wrong”

As Emma validates, a fixed mindset can be incredibly damaging to your self-belief. It makes it difficult to develop new skills, change behaviour or improve performance.

This is commonly seen in the context of maths, as many people believe they are simply “not a maths person”. Reluctance to have a go or push through challenges are accompanied by self-limiting beliefs and negative emotions. This is often referred to as maths anxiety, as is more commonly seen in girls than boys.

Whilst in the short term avoiding taking a risk can perhaps prevent an embarrassing failure, in the long term, it can seriously impact your ability to learn and grow.

Someone with a growth mindset, however, would actively seek out opportunities to improve, even if they thought they “weren’t good at maths”. They would not be afraid to have a go, and would see mistakes and setbacks only as motivation to keep trying. They would believe that they just hadn’t got there “yet”.

Don’t underestimate the power of “yet”.

When we believe we can’t do something “yet”, we implant the idea that it is possible. We only need to keep trying.

“If only there was an easy way I could just “become” smarter at maths…”

The connection between our beliefs and our actions is hugely important. How we view ourselves does dictate our experiences and capacity to learn. It impacts our ability to set and achieve goals and stick to new habits.  For Emma, this could help her achieve better results in maths.

So here’s the truth. The only way to improve in maths or whatever struggle you face, is to believe that you can, and eventually, you will achieve success. Your mindset is a powerful thing, and the good news is, it’s possible to switch it.

When you allow results define you, your abilities, your performance, your test results, you become a victim to a fixed mindset. It’s only when you dedicate yourself to changing your habits bit by bit each day that you can form a new identity and belief system. This is what a growth mindset really looks like.

So start shifting your mindset today, and trust that maybe you just haven’t fully mastered maths…yet.

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If you like Emma’s writing, be sure to read our Feature Friday article featuring her, her Instagram pages and Podcast!