What is Mindset?
Your mindset can loosely be described as the way that you think about the world. This can include your attitudes, beliefs, thought processes, and so on.
In the realm of psychology, there are two broad mindsets that people can hold; a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. And we can hold different mindsets on different subjects. For example, I might have a fixed mindset about my sporting ability, but a growth mindset when it comes to my ability to learn in the classroom.
Fixed vs. Growth
A fixed mindset generally includes believing that intelligence, or any other skill or attribute, is fixed and cannot be improved with effort or teaching. People who have a largely fixed mindset tend to think that you are either talented or not, and therefore don’t tend to put effort into improving.
Someone with a growth mindset tends to hold the belief that all skills and intelligence can be improved upon with the right effort and/or teaching. People who hold a growth mindset tend to believe that they can always improve their intelligence, ability, skill and so on with practice and therefore tend to put more effort into their endeavours.
This is not to say that people with the fixed mindset cannot be successful. Many successful people have fixed mindsets, such as John McEnroe. Although John McEnroe went very far in his tennis career, he always blamed other people, or other forces [such as the weather] for his defeats.
Those with a fixed mindset, who are naturally talented in their chosen area tend to get shy away from challenging themselves. They often grow up with the belief that successful people don’t need to put effort into what they do - effort is for those that aren’t talented. Therefore, when they are faced with a challenge, they usually bow out without trying. To quit before failing is safer than the try and to fail.
How does your mindset interact with your mental health?
Developing and encouraging a growth mindset can go a long way to improving students’ mental health. A fixed mindset leads someone to believe that they have less control over their futures as their skills and talents seem to be predetermined. In contrast a growth mindset puts the control back in the hands of the individual as they can choose where to focus their energy and resources and what skills or areas of interest to develop.
A study by Schleider, Abel, and Weisz in 2015 found that developing a growth mindset can decrease the symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression in school students.
In university students, a study by Schroder et al. (2014) found that having a fixed mindset about their personality traits led to higher levels of mental health problems. The same study also found that university students with a growth mindset showed lower levels of anxiety, depression, and perfectionism.
Our mindsets act as our internal framework for how we deal with the world, including setbacks and problems. If we view the world as set in stone, a failure or setback may be taken as absolutely devastating. However, if we view the world as able to change, we are more likely to see the setback as something that we can overcome.
How can we change our mindset?
We can develop a growth mindset, but it is going to take time. Changing our mindset involves changing the way that we process the world, so it is not going to be easy. In attempting to change our mindsets from fixed to growth, we need to be patient with ourselves - starting off with a fixed mindset, it is often our natural reaction to give up at the first hurdle and retreat to the safety and comfort of our fixed mindset rather than making ourselves more vulnerable.
So, how can we begin to develop a growth mindset?
View challenges as opportunities - challenges are opportunities to learn new things and to try different ways of working.
See the value in the process - once you start to see the value in the process as more important than the value of the outcome, you will start to embrace challenges and setbacks rather than letting them scare you.
The importance of “yet” - often those with a fixed mindset forget the power of the word “yet”, believing that the skills they currently have are all they will ever have. Those with a growth mindset acknowledge that they have gaps in the skill or knowledge and look for ways to fill these gaps. Just because you don’t know how to do something right now, doesn’t mean you can’t find a way to learn.
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