How to Cultivate a Growth Mindset


This lesson is applicable to more than just learning academic subjects or test-prep tutoring. It is related to Shoshin, Beginner's Mind, described in Zen Buddhism, that essential element to growing and adapting to constantly changing life.

In psychology, it's Growth, as opposed to Fixed Talent, mindset, the belief that you can grow and change, even become more intelligent, with practice.

As soon as you start to think you've figured it out, you stop growing and life starts to get really frustrating.

But if you approach every situation, every relationship, and every day of your life with the openness to learn, you will grow and encompass the lessons presented.

Part of that is the expectation that you need to learn. If you approach a task with the expectation of making mistakes, with a mindset of curiosity, you won't get frustrated when it is hard. You will simply roll with it and take it in stride.

For me personally, the biggest obstacle to happiness in my relationship was me thinking I had it all figured out. There were always new challenges coming up, but I'd refused to grapple with them because I wasn't open to learning. So life was rough.

When I accepted that I'd have to learn every day, it became an adventure, not a source of frustration.

So, how do you cultivate this mindset?

First, figure out what your mindset is currently. Oftentimes, we have a growth mindset in some areas of life and a fixed mindset in others.

For example, you might believe that, with some hard work, you can learn a new business management technique, but that you're just not musically inclined and mastery of an instrument is beyond you.

Or you might think you're too old to learn a new language, but you're fine teaching yourself a new programming language.

Pay attention to your reaction to challenges you encounter and talents others have, specifically those you'd like to have. Listen to your mental dialogue and note your emotions around those situations.

This can be pretty touchy, so simply observe and don't pass judgement on yourself.

Once you've identified a skill or area you think is simply out of your reach, there are two things you can do:

  1. Ask questions: What are the specific abilities it would take to be able to do that? Can I get a teacher? Have I ever seriously tried? Can I perform those actions in other contexts? Is it simply that the skill would be hard to learn? Are there others like me who have learned that skill? If time is an issue, what exactly are the time requirements? Can I take the first step and just see what happens? Break down your assumptions by analyzing them. Even if you find them true, at least now you have specific actions to deal with the challenge if you want to.
  2. Find role models: The range of human ability is pretty vast. I'm always amazed at what people can do when they set their minds to it. I once interviewed an ultrarunner who, despite working a 9-5 job, trained to run ultramarathons on every continent. He did it despite "not having enough time." He already had the mindset of being an athlete, though he was long out of shape, so that helped, but he was basically a regular guy (except he didn't believe that). There is probably someone who had the exact reason you have for not doing what you want who went ahead and did it anyway.