Having a Growth Mindset: Why Failure is Our Friend
Hello everyone! I’m Briley Casanova with Complete Performance Coaching. Today, I want to talk to you about something that I think most athletes forget as a mindset to aid their performance… Heck, even I didn’t take advantage of this as much as I probably could have when I was an elite gymnast. What I want to introduce to you today, if you haven’t heard about it already, is the idea of having a “growth mindset.”
Now you may be wondering, “What is a growth mindset? What other kinds of mindsets are there? I thought there was just good and bad or positive and negative?”
For the sake of brevity, let’s get into the two main opposing mindsets that performance coaches recognize: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. Thanks to Dr. Carol Dweck’s specific research on these mindsets, we have learned a lot about their particular traits.
First, let’s start with the fixed mindset. As you may already intuitively understand, it is what it sounds like – fixed and not willing to change. Basically, people who have a fixed mindset usually see their abilities (athletic, academic, etc.) as innate and unable to grow or develop. Additionally, those who tend to have a fixed mindset often have a hard time straying from routines. They avoid change, approach life with an all-or-nothing or win at all costs viewpoint.
Losing is Not an Option
In regards to mistakes and failure, with a fixed mindset, those are not optional. Winning is the only answer, and if you don’t win, you are a complete failure. Forget about trying something new or adjusting a goal with a fixed mindset, because usually talking yourself out of it or accepting things as the way they are is the final choice.
Now, let’s discuss the growth mindset traits. Those who embody a growth mindset usually have the view that their abilities in sport, academics, or otherwise are trainable and are able to change through properly allocated effort and failure. Regardless of talent level, those with a growth mindset tend to ignore the notion that God-given or natural-born abilities are what really contribute to success.
If you have a growth mindset, you are also likely to orient yourself with the idea that failure isn’t fatal, and it’s a necessary part of life and achievement. In fact, you welcome failure, mistakes, and losses and take lessons from those experiences. Now, I know failure does not sound enticing to an athlete, but consider opening your mind to it a little bit.
Now, of course, it is also important to recognize a level of both mindsets falling on a spectrum. If you read about the fixed mindset thinking, “Hmm, I might have a few of those traits, but not towards every task or not in all aspects of my sport…” I do want to highlight that there is definitely room for seeing these mindsets as part of a spectrum as opposed to fully identifying with one or the other. There is not a “one size fits all” when it comes to mindset or achievement.
We as athletes love to strive for perfection. After all, that is what is asked of us, right? Coaches, parents, teachers, peers, mentors and ourselves want what is best for us, which means asking for our best effort and typically stem from “fixed” or “proper” behaviors. Winning does require steps to acquisition. When we think about it, what is asked of us (high effort, striving for perfection, winning, etc.) is also what was asked of our coaches, parents, teachers, and mentors when they were younger, so it makes sense that we are taught to follow in their footsteps if we want to achieve similar success.
Historically, the things that athletes did in the past to win medals and outperform the rest of the world all worked, so those are viewed as the consistent ways to keep winning. From my experience and knowledge, the previous answer to winning and following in the footsteps of the champions before us is the “old-school” or “fixed” mentality. Today, I aim to slightly challenge that notion or at least provide an alternative for those who have tried that process and it may not have worked for them.
Breaking Down the Fixed Mindset
Here is where the issues come in for the old-school ways of doing things. Let’s say an athlete has extreme levels of talent and was naturally born to be excellent at a sport. The issue with relying on such talent is that it potentially leads to early burnout. If an athlete has successfully relied on their talent throughout their childhood and teenage years and aims to continue their sport into adulthood, at some point in time, injury, failure and mistakes that come with human nature will catch up to them despite their God-given abilities.
Relying on Talent
If we rely on our talent, this mindset of not requiring effort, growth, or change will lead to frustration and potentially quitting too early. Since those with a fixed mindset will eventually reject failure as necessary and glean positive use from mistakes, their confidence and emotional control will hurt beyond repair.
Let me tell you – if you haven’t experienced this already, it is really hard to cope with losses and difficult times with a fixed mindset. Think about it… if you have a hard time with accepting mistakes and learning from them or choosing to see all wins and losses as a part of your experience, why would you want to keep torturing yourself to try and grow or develop? Sounds like too much effort when talent is necessary in the first place with a fixed mindset.
Lacking Ability to Cope
Imagine an athlete with “less” talent than the athlete example mentioned above. If this athlete has the same view of not accepting failure or loss as important for improvement, imagine if they get injured, make a mistake at a competition or just practice poorly in general. Since this athlete has less talent to rely on in the first place, they likely will have less of a coping mechanism or reason to keep working through the difficulty than someone with “more” talent. This is why I want to open up the idea that a more growth-oriented mindset is not only more helpful, but it makes success and achievement more accessible to everyone.
Adopting a Growth Mindset
With this being said, I encourage you to open your mind towards considering the approach of a growth mindset, no matter your perceived level of talent.
In a nutshell, those with a growth mindset understand their abilities can be developed and improved with concerted effort and they can learn from mistakes and failures. Knowing that these things are inevitable, those with a growth mindset know that struggle and difficulty are a necessary part of learning and becoming more successful in whatever the task is.
Finding Purpose in Failure
Beyond that, those with a growth mindset usually understand that failure is a friend and a teacher, as it is the mistakes and negative events that contribute to one’s memorable experiences. Since both positive and negative events usually have strong emotions attached to them, a growth mindset understands that both the positive and negative times equally contribute to one’s sport story and overall experience. Those emotional and memorable experiences provide excellent learning opportunities and don’t stop someone from continuing to work through difficulty.
Frustrated Mindset Can Take Control
Unfortunately, a fixed mindset often leads to so much frustration that instead of taking back control of oneself and the situation, that mindset gets control over them. Taking on the same situation between mindsets, someone with a growth mindset would not internalize failure as much as the fixed and learn to control what can be controlled. The growth mindset recognizes that achievement does not come naturally, or else effort would not be required like the fixed mindset typically expresses.
Making the Change
After discussing the various aspects of both mindsets, let’s talk about how to change from having a fixed mindset (if that’s where you fall on the spectrum) to a growth mindset. Our mindset, like our opinions, beliefs, and values are all a part of how we see the world and the choices that we make. Like these things, we can change our minds at any time, whether it is by intentional choice or sometimes simply take place over time as we age.
Random vs. Intentional
Have you ever simply woken up one morning and decided to change your mind about how you feel about something? Perhaps it was a random event, or maybe you had a more intentional approach to changing your mind. If it was more intentional, perhaps you gained more perspective, experience or information about a certain topic and something inside you eventually flipped like a switch. Either way, whether it was random or intentional, I am sure each of us have all experienced a time where we have changed our views about something.
What this change boils down to is breaking habits with choosing to direct our effort towards other things, if changing your mind/mindset is what you want to do. One way that I learned to change my mindset is viewing it like this: just get better 1% every day. If you want an example of putting this into action, I learned this tip via Justin Su’a’s Increase Your Impact podcast episode called “1% Better”. His discussion about getting 1% better every day as opposed to trying to go for 100% improvement every day opened my eyes to approaching a mindset shift.
Change is Gradual
Remember that these mindsets fall on a spectrum, so try to change gradually as opposed to all at once. Just be better 1% every day and see where you improve over time: day by day, week by week and then month by month. It will be a lot easier to work in bite-sized increments as opposed to a complete mind overhaul. Take it one day at a time.
To close this discussion, here are some final thoughts I want to highlight:
-A growth mindset can supplement talent or “lack of” talent. It won’t hurt the athlete whether they are “talented” or “not as talented.”
-Relying on talent and a fixed mindset alone does not allow you to use other mental skills or tools to improve yourself. Talent, while not a bad thing to have, can still be limiting: using talent alone will not allow for as many coping skills when injuries, loss, and failure inevitably come along.
-A fixed mindset is not always a bad thing, but when it comes to mistakes, failure, unforeseen circumstances or negative events, it can be a hindrance when not used in an effective way.
-A growth mindset does not always guarantee success, but it does lead to a higher likelihood of high achievement and adds a mental skill in one’s “tool belt.”
-Both fixed mindsets and growth mindsets fall on a spectrum, so choose the option that suits your needs in a helpful way instead of one that limits you.
You Have Control
In the end, we have the power to direct the course of our lives, and that includes our abilities in our sport of choice. Why embody a more limiting, closed mindset when choosing a more growth-oriented, helpful and effective way of thinking is more accessible and allows a higher likelihood of success? Not only will success likely come your way, but you will definitely experience more enjoyment in your sport. I hope you allow yourself the opportunity to fall more on the spectrum of a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed one, however that applies to you. I hope this discussion leads you to more effective mindset management.
Feel free to reach out to me directly at briley@completeperformancecoaching if you have any feedback or questions about this post. I’d love to talk to you and hear your thoughts. Happy competing!
References used for inspiration:
Dweck, C. S. (2008). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House Digital, Inc.