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Five reasons for you to apply a growth mindset today

Shelley Mulville standing on a sandy path with grassy sand dunes, the sea and a cloudy sky in the background
A walk on the beach

Applying a growth mindset has had a hugely positive impact on my life. Goodness knows where I’d be if I focused on my failures or mistook as truth what people said when they were putting me down or telling me I wasn’t good enough. I’m so glad I don’t let failure stop me from trying again, trying new things, or aiming for what I want in life. There’s something liberating about allowing myself to try and fail, to be imperfect (as we all are) and know it’s not the end of the world. After all, trying and failing is an effective way of learning.

trying and failing is an effective way of learning

Understanding this gives me a sense of freedom to make mistakes, learn more and know that things will get better.

I first came across the term growth mindset a few years ago, when I was a volunteer mentor with a social mobility charity (ReachOut), but as soon as I heard it, I knew that was how I'd been thinking for decades. One of the simplest ways we helped the children to apply a growth mindset was to respond with 'yet' whenever they said they couldn't, so they would get used to saying 'I can't yet' and know that not being able to do something now doesn't mean they won't be able to do it in the future. I've since listened to Carol Dweck (professor of psychology at Stanford), as she explains her research on mindsets, it's incredibly interesting.

It’s not always easy to apply a growth mindset if your natural way of thinking is that fixed. For example, being open about not knowing something or not being the best can leave us feeling vulnerable if we're not able to experience that situation as a learning opportunity. Think about what we can learn by being open about what we don't know, asking questions and taking the chance of exploring something further. I often find that knowing a lot about something helps me to realise there's also a lot I don't know about it and I'm comfortable with that, in fact it can be quite exciting, because there's so much more to discover.

Growth mindset is one of the key ways of living that helps me to enjoy my life so much. I truly believe it helps to build resilience, increase self-esteem and find more pleasure in the journey of life.

applying a growth mindset helps to build resilience, increase self-esteem and find more pleasure in the journey of life

So, with those major benefits in mind, here are five of the reasons for you to apply a growth mindset...

1. You’ll no longer be held back by fear of failure

You’ll try things without knowing you’ll succeed. There's a sense of freedom that comes with knowing even if you don't succeed at something, you'll have experience you didn't have before, you can learn from your attempt and improve your knowledge or approach for next time or your next thing. It could be as simple as applying for a new job or trying a new activity. You can learn from anything that goes wrong, rather than seeing it as failure. If you aim for something and miss the mark, you'll still be further along than if you hadn't tried and will have expanded your experience and comfort zone along the way. Even when you think your aim is a little too ambitious, have the courage to try your best, as you won't get as much from the experience if you're half-hearted about it.

2. You’ll enjoy receiving feedback – even the feedback that says you could do better at something

You’ll see feedback as something helpful, not as something that defines who you are or what you consider to be your successes or failures. Even when hearing something that says you're not where you want to be, you can reflect on it and identify what’s true about it, how it fits with what you’re trying to achieve and how the feedback can help you. It usually gives an extra opportunity to connect more with others by being open with them and potentially having their support as you develop. You can also understand yourself better, learn something new or improve on your existing capabilities.

Think about the journey from getting something wrong or missing the mark, through to being great at it. What an achievement!

This doesn’t mean that you’ll accept being spoken to poorly or simply accept unfounded criticism. It does mean that you’ll value constructive feedback that tells you about the impact you have, what you can be better at and potentially some ideas about how you can improve.

3. You’ll see past the tough times

When things don't go as you want, or they just feel tough, you’ll be able to see past the tough times, because you're used to persevering, making the most of the experience, learning what you can and you'll know your effort is worthwhile.

4. You’ll realise perfection doesn’t exist

I remember the first time a friend said I wasn't perfect and nobody was. It was a really long time ago - back when I thought perfection existed. If you still think you're perfect or you're trying to be perfect, know that you're not and you don’t have to be. Instead, you can thrive from learning and enjoy the freedom of not striving for perfectionism. Even the best must keep learning if they want to keep being the best.

While I don't believe in perfect people (we are all imperfectly perfect), I do still say things like, my husband and I are perfect for each other. Neither of us is perfect, but we really are wonderful together. Our son is also perfect for us, it's like the three of us were meant to be together and anyone with children knows parenthood isn't straight forward. So, yes, I believe we are all imperfectly perfect.

we are all imperfectly perfect

5. You’ll feel better connected

Favouring a growth mindset means you're more likely to be the real you - curious, imperfect and open to learning. This helps you to connect more with others who want to be their true selves and you'll be more inclined to celebrate their successes instead of feeling in competition. You realise that others being successful at something still leaves space for you to be successful and if they have skills you don’t, you can learn from them. You can feel like a member of a community.

How you can apply a growth mindset today

Here are a few ideas that you can try out now (choose one to try this week):

  • Try something you find a bit uncomfortable or that you might fail at. This will help you to expand your comfort zone, which over time (and after more discomfort/ failure/ learning) will make you feel more at ease doing things that are currently a stretch. Some ideas that might prompt you to think of something suitable for you - a dance class, a fitness class, a discussion about something you don't know much about, playing a game you're not very good at, taking on a new project, planning your budget, taking the first step towards something you've wanted to do for a while, but have delayed due to fear of failure. When you do it, remember that you don't know it all, this is an opportunity to learn and improve.

  • Seek feedback about something you want to improve on from people whose opinions matter to you, people who know about the thing you want to get better at. Remember to see the feedback as something positive that's going to help you to get to where you want to be. I recommend asking for it in a way that encourages positive, supportive and kind responses e.g. "I want to improve x, what would you recommend I do to help with that?" and set boundaries letting people know you're asking for their support with your development and for them to be kind and constructive in doing so.

  • Find a mentor who’s successful in something you want to be good at, or to help you to move from being good to being great.

Choose something, decide when you’ll do it, make a note of it and make it happen.

Also, the next time you make a mistake or try and fail, notice what you say to yourself in response. Do you judge yourself negatively and say unkind things internally or externally about yourself (fixed mindset)? Or do you reflect on what you can learn for future reference, while knowing your mistake doesn't define who you are or what you have the potential to do (growth mindset)? If the first example is the way you go, catch yourself doing it and switch your thinking to acknowledge a failure doesn't define who you are, ask what you can learn for the future and move on.

Remember, failure is simply an opportunity for learning.

Let me know how you get on.

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