f self-awareness is the first foundational skill for peak performance, than mindset is the second most important. I’m sure many of you have heard the term mindset before as it has been in the media a lot and is very “on trend”. Any time I give a workshop on mindset and I ask the participants to define it, I get a wide variety of answers. So, let’s define mindset first so we are all on the same page with what it means.
“Mindset is your collection of thoughts and beliefs that shape the stories you tell yourself about what you are and are not capable of”. Henry Ford is famous for saying, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” In my opinion – This is a perfect illustration of the power of mindset. The stories that we tell ourselves about what we are capable of will ultimately dictate what you are able to accomplish.
I’m wondering if you are familiar with the story behind the 4-minute mile being broken. A lot of people know that it was done, but don’t know what makes this story another great illustration about the power of belief systems and how they can impact our potential. For as long as running records were kept, no one believed or was able to run a mile in under 4 minutes. That is until Roger Bannister accomplished this in 1954. What is interesting is that once he broke this seemingly impossible barrier and made it possible, his record only last 46 days. It has been broken over 1000 times since then and is now the standard for male professional middle-distance runners. So, think about this for a minute. No one thought it could be done. It wasn’t done and then as soon as it was believed to be possible, the record was broken in less than 2 months.
So I pose this question to you now- are there any mental barriers or stories you have told yourself about what is possible or what you are capable of achieving? I’d like you to think about that question for a bit.
We can’t talk about mindset without talking about Carol Dweck’s work on growth and fixed mindsets. Carol Dweck is a researcher out of Stanford, who has been studying the impact that mindset has on performance for decades. She has come up with two very important findings.
The first is that the most important factor in achieving success, in any area of our lives, is our capacity to learn and adapt.
The second is that the key to becoming a great learner is our belief about learning. Within her research, she identified two different mindsets: a growth mindset and a fixed mindset, and each has very specific characteristics.
Individuals with a fixed mindset believe that ability and intelligence are static- or fixed. So, you’re either smart or you’re not. You’re artistically inclined or you’re not. In comparison, individuals with a growth mindset believe that ability and intelligence can be developed. They believe that if they’re not good at something, it’s not because they’re innately bad, but because they haven’t developed that specific skill YET. It is these belief systems that dictate the actions they will take. For example, those with a fixed mindset will tend to avoid challenges because they tie success directly to their ego or their self-worth. They don’t believe in putting forth effort, because why bother? If they’re not good at something now, they’re not going to be in the future. They tend to stay in their comfort zone because that is where “winning” or “success” happens for them and where they always look good. It is these individuals who will also tend to be full of excuses when things don’t go their way.
Those with a growth mindset don’t fear failure because they know in order to grow and develop they have to put themselves outside of their comfort zone. Because of this, individuals with a growth mindset embrace challenges and seek feedback that can help them to improve.
So why does all of this matter?
Well- People with a growth mindset learn, grow, and achieve more over time than those with a fixed mindset.
Why do you think this is the case?
The variables that are required for growth are: Effort, Challenges, Mistakes, and Feedback
Those with a fixed mindset don’t really put forth effort because they don’t believe there’s a point to doing it.
They don’t embrace challenges and push themselves because their success is directly tied to their self-worth so they don’t risk looking bad. And they have a fear of making mistakes, and they don’t use feedback to improve.
Now most people don’t have either a 100% growth mindset or a 100% fixed mindset. It is a continuum, but the more you believe that skills are either there or not, the closer you are to a fixed mindset.
For a long time, I believed that I just wasn’t musically inclined or that I wasn’t a great writer. I can still hear myself saying these things. What is interesting is that our Mindset is self-fulfilling.
Growing up- I always believed that I was naturally gifted at sports because I seemed to pick them up pretty easily. I would practice them, specifically softball which I loved, and then I would get better. So, my belief that I was good at sports led to me practicing more. My practicing led to better results. Those results then reinforced my belief that I was naturally good at sports.
Now let’s flip it. I didn’t love music as a child. My grandparents bought me piano lessons because they felt I should learn how to play. I didn’t really like it so I didn’t practice all that much. My intermittent practice led to no real results. My lack of results led to me believing that I just wasn’t good at music. This belief then continued and was reinforced by the fact that I didn’t practice all that much or see any real progress.
It wasn’t that I wasn’t naturally bad at music or art- I just didn’t practice them. So of course, I wasn’t good at them. This seems basic and pretty obvious on reflection- but when we are in the moment and telling ourselves that we are either good or not at something, it has an impact on that actions we then take. Those actions then have corresponding results and those results perpetuate your original belief.
I’d love to hear your experiences with mindset and the impact it has had on your performance. Please share in the comments below.
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