Which is the successful athlete? When each plays remarkably well, is it the one who plays effortlessly, or the one who works impossibly hard? You're right; it's both. Some people have inborn ability and others have to work hard to show the same results. Then there are those who combine the two. Take Michael Phelps, whose unique physique enabled him to walk away from Beijing with eight golds; he also trains two to three times a day, and swims nearly 50 miles a week when preparing for competitions.
We can ask the same thing about most efforts. Are you good at what you do because you were born with certain gifts, or are you good because you work like mad trying to make the most of what you have?
Mindset, described by Carol Dweck, highlights the differences in the way in which people view their abilities and efforts.
In the fixed mindset, we believe that we are born with a finite amount of ability or with certain personality traits. We believe these things are not going to change during the course of our lives, no matter what our efforts. Take the adolescent who tries to convince me that the more they study, the worse they do on exams. They believe that they know what they know, and can know no more, no matter how hard they study. Often they think they're not smart enough to perform at a higher level.
In the growth mindset, in contrast, we believe we can build and nurture our given talents. This is the adolescent that knows that the more they study, the better they're going to do. They believe they can do anything, no matter what, with enough effort. They know they can push it to the next level.
It makes a difference. Whether in sports, academics, work or life, even the most gifted will find themselves in troubled waters, encountering failure. People with fixed mindsets are stymied by failure. They can't see that working on solutions and practicing are ways to develop their talents and excel. People with growth mindsets see failure as a challenge. When it seems like they're swimming upstream, going nowhere, people with a growth mindset move into problem-solving mode.
Rest assured, even if you think with a fixed mindset, there's hope. We know that there's great plasticity even in the adult brain. According to Dweck, you can cultivate a growth mindset at any age. It's like having grit and being resilient, but the focus for change is what's on your mind.
· What do you tell yourself about your successes (and those of others)? Is it ability or effort? The more you can see the ways in which your efforts contributed to a success, the better. If you can see effort as a key factor, when the waters get rough, you can tell yourself to work harder.
· Remember that time you failed at something big? Try to see you're more than that one experience. What did you learn from it?
· Having difficulty doing something? Consider the effort to be part of a constructive learning experience. Imagine yourself succeeding. Is there something new you need to learn to make it happen?
· Are you open to criticism? It's great to be great, but maybe it's greater to grow. Seek out feedback. Teachers, coaches and others can help us learn the pathways to success.
· Avoiding something because you think you can't do it? Try it. What've you got to lose?
When you know that you can achieve your dreams and reach your goals through hard work, then you know you've adopted the growth mindset.
Life is a state of mind - Being There