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How do you think you approach new challenges, be it at school, college, university or just in everyday life? It may not be something you’ve really thought about, but the way we approach things can differ greatly depending on if we use a ‘growth’ mindset rather than a ‘fixed’ mindset.
Put simply, a person with a growth mindset is someone that actively seeks opportunities to test themselves and regularly steps out of their comfort zone. With a growth mindset comes the belief that something you may not be able to achieve immediately can be achieved in the future; you can always keep learning and developing.
Here are four top tips to help you change your mindset.
1) Embrace feeling uncomfortable
This may sound impossible, but honestly it isn’t. We all have a tendency to focus on what we are already good at and to put all our energy into our strengths. It’s natural to want to put effort into subjects or situations that you think you’ll succeed in most. Shifting away from these comfort zones and trying things you’ve never done before can feel daunting, but if you do, you will open up a whole other world of possibilities.
For example, there might be an opportunity to present at school or to your team at work, but the thought of public speaking brings you out in a cold sweat. Having a growth mindset would mean that you’d accept those feelings of anxiety and volunteer to do the presentation anyway. With a fixed mindset you’d tell yourself it just isn’t for you and give up, but by working through the fear you can use the experience to prove to yourself that you can succeed in new areas. The presentation might not be perfect and you may be shaky, but the very fact that you actually did it would be a step towards growth and would give you a confidence boost. Then, the only way is up. You might feel like you can try more public speaking and improve each time; who knows where this new skill might take you?
2) Look ahead
Rather than set yourself short term goals such as getting a good grade for your next assignment, try setting yourself a longer term goal like choosing a future subject to study or career to aim for. You might need to take some time to reflect on the areas that you need to improve, a new skill you’d love to learn or where you want to be in a few years. Recognise that reaching this longer term goal will be achieved by a collection of smaller steps over time. That’s what a growth mindset is all about; being determined and thinking positively about that end goal . You don’t have to do it alone; ask your teacher, lecturer, line manager or friend to help you. As well as help you plan for the future, they may also be able to help you with new skills or opportunities you want to develop now.
3) Know you haven’t failed
When work is graded or assessed, it tends to be marked out of a set number and given the stamp of a pass or fail. In the workplace, you might get praise or negative feedback from your manager. When you receive feedback that’s negative, it’s understandable to feel disappointed and as though you have failed. But looking at this differently could change your confidence levels and your optimism. What if the grade or the feedback was an amber traffic light and not red? View it as an opportunity to learn, take stock and understand what areas you need to work on to reach your goals. Ask for more detailed feedback and suggestions for what you could do differently - and use the answers to help you with your journey ahead, rather than let it stop you in your tracks in the here and now.
For example, you might get some feedback at work that you’re not managing your workload as well as you could. Rather than dwell on this as a criticism, take this opportunity to ask your line manager to help you work out what the priorities are on your to-do list, and what tasks can be completed at a later date.
It might not be easy to do at first, but by switching to a growth mindset in this context, you are giving yourself tools to positively approach any future obstacles that might normally get in your way.
4) Look after yourself
Because having a growth mindset means you are stepping out of your comfort zone regularly, it might mean that you find yourself under more pressure than usual. Whilst this may feel difficult to begin with, the more you challenge yourself, the more you’ll understand how best to manage that. Think about ways you can feel mentally and physically strong, stay proactive and try to find the positive angle when faced with tough situations. Looking after yourself can include getting plenty of sleep, eating well and carving out proper time to relax and reflect.
There will be moments that won’t feel easy, but the benefits will be worth it. Imagine you have joined a Spanish class to learn a new language; you find the classes difficult and you feel like you’re the only one not understanding it. With a fixed mindset you might feel like giving up and skipping the classes altogether. But, with a growth mindset, you would persevere, ask for help, find a way of practicing that works for you and push forward, knowing that with time you would improve.
By having a growth mindset, you’re not afraid of failure. In fact, you see it as useful, and learn to feel comfortable stepping into unknown – you’ll use these experiences to achieve your goals.
Why not explore more about building a growth mindset by downloading and completing the Skills for staying positive interactive worksheet on this page?