‘Growth mindset’ might sound like one of those annoying buzzwords, but it describes an attitude shift that has helped me immensely.
What is growth mindset?
It’s a term that comes from Carol S Dweck’s book, Mindset, which is a study of how children learn.
This is a simplification, but in her study, Dweck observed two types of children:
Children who had a setback and said, “I’m rubbish at this, I must be stupid.”
Children who had a setback and said, “How can I get better for next time?”
The “I’m rubbish” kids had a fixed mindset. They figured they were either smart or stupid and these categories were fixed, so if they failed at a task, it must mean they were stupid.
By contrast, the “better for next time?” kids had a growth mindset. They recognised that ‘smart’ and ‘stupid’, ‘good’ and ‘bad’, ‘successful’ and ‘unsuccessful’ are not set in stone. Each setback is a challenge that can be overcome by learning and growing.
What it looks like for writers
Imagine you’ve submitted a story for publication and just received a rejection.
Do you think to yourself, “I suck, I must be a bad writer, I’ll never be any good”? That’s fixed mindset thinking.
Growth mindset thinking would be: “I’ll make sure my next story is even better; this is an opportunity to work on my craft and find another way in to publication.”
If you’re rolling your eyes right now, I get it.
When I’m 80, my first response to rejection will still probably be, “I suuuuuuuck!”
However, once I’ve calmed down, I remind myself what it means from a growth mindset perspective. No writer is ever “bad”; they’re on a journey to becoming good. I find this immensely cheering. It makes it easier for me to pick myself up and write something new.
Growth mindset exercise: scales
One exercise in particular that I use to remind myself of growth mindset is this:
Think of a goal. Maybe it’s “become a published author”. That’s 10 on your scale.
Now figure out what zero on the same scale would be. It might be “never picked up a pen to start writing a book”.
Next, think about where you currently lie on a scale from 0 (never written anything) to 10 (published author). It’s probably a lot closer to 10 than it is to 0.
For years, I felt like I was impossibly far from my own goal of being a published author. In fact, I was hovering around the 7, 8, 9 mark, which is actually pretty damn close. Realising that made it easier to keep going. (And I did finally make it to 10. Woohoo!)
A whole new world opens up with growth mindset
Developing a growth mindset has helped me as a writer, but it’s also opened up loads of other new things to me.
Growth mindset means you can try something new without worrying that you’ll suck at it. Sucking is part of the process.
Without growth mindset, I never would have begun doing public speaking. I would’ve been convinced that being a terrible, nervy, mumble-y public speaker is a fixed state of being.
I’ve spent a couple of years practicing public speaking, messing up, and figuring out how to be better. And you know what? I’m a pretty decent public speaker now.
Bottom line: focus on how you can grow, not how much you suck.
Do you struggle with a fixed mindset? What things do you do to overcome this? Let me know in the comments.
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