I think our mindset is the most important and powerful thing on this planet.
Yet many of us don’t give it any credit for dictating pretty much all of how we lead our life, any thought for why we don’t progress or grow or achieve, or spend any time working on it in order to become mentally stronger, more confident, more open to opportunities to learn or more clear and able to achieve what we want in life.
Instead we’re looking to prove ourselves and our happiness/intelligence/success via silly things such as chasing the dollar, unnecessarily competing with others, secretly feeling crappy and jealous towards others success, not allowing ourselves to learn from others, buying unnecessary crap and showing it off… and… ahem… doing fitness modelling shows and putting your mental health through hell in order to gain a great new profile pic or some unfulfilling attention.
(whoa hold up… before any current/ex fitness models blow up at me because that isn’t the reason you did it… thats cool, I applaud and appreciate anyone’s dedication to it. But don’t pretend that the industry isn’t toxic and harmful to the physical and mental health of so so many of the people that are mislead into taking part in it for the wrong reasons.)
So much of what happens in our lives is dictated by us and our beliefs about who we are and what we are capable of. Carol Dweck, a Stanford University psychologist, introduced the ideas of a Fixed Mindset vs a Growth Mindset, her book ‘Mindset’ led an inquiry into the power of our beliefs and how changing even the simplest of them can have a massive impact on nearly every aspect of our lives.
I first came across this idea through Ben Bergeron, CrossFit New England coach, coach of elite level athletes such as Katrin Davidsdottir and all round leader in the spaces of CrossFit, fitness, health and leadership. It was something I never thought about much until then, but found myself realising I had transitioned quite a lot from one mindset to the other somewhere along the line from childhood to adulthood.
The two mindsets are ‘fixed’ vs ‘growth’:
Our character, intelligence and creative ability is static.
We cannot change them in any meaningful way.
Success is defined by the affirmation of our inherent intelligence.
Most things are predetermined.
This leads to a desire to look smart and therefore have a tendency to:
  • Avoid challenges
  • Give up easily when obstacles present themselves
  • See effort as pointless or not worth it
  • Ignore useful negative/critical feedback
  • Feel threatened by the success of others
As a result, people with a fixed mindset tend to plateau early and achieve less than their full potential.
In other words… I am what I am, I am capable of what I am capable of, it is what it is, it is not going to change. (I’m the dumb guy who isn’t too bright, therefore I’m destined to be a garbage man and nothing more.)
Our character, intelligence and creative ability can be developed.
Sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as an opportunity for learning and growth.
This leads to the desire to learn and therefore have a tendency to:
  • Embrace challenges
  • Persist when hit with obstacles
  • See effort as a pathway to mastery
  • Learn from criticism
  • Find lessons and inspiration in the success of others
As a result, people with a growth mindset tend to reach higher levels of achievement and a greater sense of free will.
These two forms of mindset begin to develop from a very early age and determine a huge amount of the way we decide to behave, the way in which we determine success and failure and even our capacity for happiness.
I can quite vividly remember now that I grew up as a kid with a bit of a mixed mindset. I certainly had many traits of a growth mindset. But I am sure I was very much more developing with a dominant fixed mind.
I believed that because I was small I would struggle to make the AFL, I believed that because I was average in school for intelligence that I was destined to just be so-so when it came to academics, I didn’t often ask for help or put my hand up because I didn’t want to get it wrong or appear any less intelligent than the average level I thought I was.
As I progressed through teen life into adulthood many of my views changed. Firstly I wanted to be above average, then I grew to enjoy challenges. I was getting better with criticism, but not wholly until I begun working with Tim Allen here at CrossFit. Tim was also someone I drew inspiration from when asking for help and not worrying about appearing stupid when showing that I don’t know something.
Do I have the perfect ‘growth’ mindset now? Heck no! But man it I am certainly striving to be that way in every aspect of my life. Because ever since my mind flicked towards a growth, opportunistic, world of abundance mind, I have been more confident, more successful (in various forms) and happier than ever.
I come across people every single day that display a fixed mindset:
  • I can’t do CrossFit because I’m too old/unfit/overweight/time poor.
  • I am overweight because of my genes.
  • I can’t do double unders, they’re too hard, so why bother trying?
  • I’m not going to ask my coach for help with push press, I don’t want to look stupid.
  • I’m upset and angry at my husband for ordering me a month of Michelle Bridges meals, because that validated that I’m overweight. That judgemental arsehole!
  • Oh she must have cheated, there’s no way she could have gone that fast. (Slightly related but unrelated side note: she may have, but you are the one letting it get to you, you are the one letting it dictate your performance, you are the one wasting your energy on caring so much about it)
And that is okay. What I have come to realise over time is that my main goal and priority as a coach all these years has been to help people shift their mindset to think more like:
  • I can have a go at CrossFit. It might be for me, it might not. But there is only one way to find out. And if it is, heck yes HELLOOO new me! If it isn’t, no biggy at least I know.
  • I am responsible for my weight. Whether I have a big family or not, I can create the change I desire. Hiding behind my ‘genes’ has just been an excuse I used for my failures. (Another side note: your genes do NOT make you overweight, consuming too much food relative to how much you move does. Fact. And the only fact worth concerning yourself with.)
  • I tell my kids that practice makes perfect, so the same should go for me and skipping. It’s hard, it’s a challenge and it’ll take time. But I can do it.
  • I really don’t know where I am going wrong with my push press. It’s my coaches job to help me. I can ask and become better, or I can not ask, continue to struggle and feel bitter about this exercise.
  • My husband is trying to help. He has heard me talk about how unhappy I am being overweight for years. Here’s an opportunity to make it happen, plus I have his support to help me.
  • Who was cheating? I have no idea as I am not paying attention to those around me while I work out. This is my time to work on me.
Here are a few paragraphs from Carol Dweck that really define the power of a growth mindset so well:
“For twenty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value. How does this happen? How can a simple belief have the power to transform your psychology and, as a result, your life?
Believing that your qualities are carved in stone — the fixed mindset — creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character — well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.
I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving themselves — in the classroom, in their careers, and in their relationships. Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser? . . .
There’s another mindset in which these traits are not simply a hand you’re dealt and have to live with, always trying to convince yourself and others that you have a royal flush when you’re secretly worried it’s a pair of tens. In this mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way — in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments — everyone can change and grow through application and experience.
Do people with this mindset believe that anyone can be anything, that anyone with proper motivation or education can become Einstein or Beethoven? No, but they believe that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training.”
I just bloody love this theory. It makes clear sense to me. Working towards a growth mindset is something we should ALL be doing.
I say this (to some people’s annoyance) very often:
“You only suck at x because you keep telling yourself you suck at x. You are the story you tell yourself.”
I’m not going to stop saying it.
Lastly! One of the most valuable tips I have learned so far when encouraging someone’s growth and willingness to try hard to succeed at a task (particularly kids).
It is not to praise them by saying something like:
“Oh Harper you are so good at handstands!”
But to say:
“Wow Harper your handstands are getting so good, you must have been working really hard on them.”
Dweck developed this study on hundreds of adolescents using a short IQ test, praising some for their ability and some for their effort. The ability praise pushed student right into a fixed mindset, rejecting a more difficult challenge they could learn from. They didn’t want their ‘talent’ to be questioned. Whereas 90% of the effort praised students wanted the challenging new task offered to them.
Even more interestingly. ‘Ability’ students that struggled with the new challenging task, would question their intelligence due to their failure on the new task. The ‘effort’ praised students that struggled saw it as an indication that they just needed to apply more effort in order to succeed.
This study makes me think very hard about how I choose to praise my daughter Harper. I hope this can help you and your kids too.
“If you imagine less, less will be what you undoubtedly deserve,” Debbie Millman