“Mindset” is a term we hear all over the place when discussing personal development: “You need to change your mindset!”, or “That’s the wrong mindset” … But what is a mindset? Is there a ‘right’ mindset? Can it be changed, and if so, how?

Essentially, your mindset is your set of beliefs— about yourself, about other people, about the world around you. Your mindset affects how you behave, think, and feel in every situation. Because it can be tied closely to our perceptions of success or failure, it has a strong influence on our mental health and well-being.

The most common example used when describing mindset change is that of a ‘fixed’ to a ‘growth’ mindset.

A fixed mindset is displayed in beliefs that tend to be expressed as absolutes (often referred to as ‘limiting beliefs’), such as:

– I am just not good at maths, or

– Some people have it, some people don’t, or

– There is no point in trying.

A growth mindset on the other hand sees value in effort. It is based on a belief that many things can be changed if you are willing to try, and (importantly!) keep trying:

– Working hard will give me the best chance to pass this maths test,

– I could be as good as they are if I put the work in,

– if I try, I will learn something even if I fail.

Learning is crucial to a growth mindset: every failure can be viewed as a step towards success as it inevitably offers a lesson to take forward to the next attempt.

But how do we start to undo a fixed mindset and develop a growth mindset in practice?

Firstly, awareness. Examine your beliefs; are they absolute? How could they be rephrased to describe a process rather than an end state? In my earlier blog post about SMART goals, I described the value of creating an achievable path rather than focussing on a seemingly unreachable target. This concept is very similar to how we can develop a growth mindset:

“I will never be able to run a marathon” becomes, “If I start with couch to 5k, my fitness will improve” (and with more training I can work towards a marathon).

Secondly, get clever with your self-talk. A simple but wildly effective word is, “yet”.  Its addition to any ‘absolute’ phrase instantly changes the meaning, and consequently the belief.  E.g. “I don’t have the skills for that (dream) job… yet.”  or, “I can’t write a whole novel… yet.”

Finally, do some flipping!  With some practice, you can catch your negative thoughts as they happen and flip them into something positive.  It may sound cliched, but it is the mental equivalent of ‘turn that frown upside down’!  From the most banal of situations (‘Oh it’s raining, I can’t exercise outside—instead, I can take this opportunity to devote the same amount of time to learning a language), to the most serious (‘I lost my job—I should take this opportunity to revaluate my skills and perhaps change career.’), looking at things ‘on the bright side’ as a deliberate act can change your perspective and promote a growth mindset.


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