A man running happily outside at sunset. Learn how to cultivate a growth mindset in this article.

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How to Cultivate a Growth Mindset—and Why You Should, According to Mental Health Pros

Experts describe how this mindset may be the path to tackling your goals head-on.

By Brigitt EarleyMay 22, 2024

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We all have our own way of thinking—of approaching the world and any task at hand. Some of us have more of a growth mindset, constantly questioning ideals in pursuit of the next step, asking questions like, “How can I be better, faster, or stronger?” Others have more of a fixed mindset, largely content with their performance and generally at ease putting one foot in front of the other day to day. 

But here’s the thing: Mindsets aren’t necessarily static. You can always shift your perspective and your willingness to grow. We spoke with mental health experts to learn more about how to cultivate a growth mindset—plus the benefits of doing so. 

What Is a Growth Mindset?

People with a growth mindset believe they can develop or enhance skills, talents, and expertise through discipline, dedication, effort, and learning, says licensed therapist Rachel Goldberg, founder of Rachel Goldberg Therapy in Los Angeles. The concept, which was originated by psychologist Carol Dweck in 2006, embodies the belief that you can continue to adapt and improve through hard work and collaboration.

“When faced with challenges, these challenges become opportunities for growth rather than setbacks or reasons to shy away,” Goldberg explains. In fact, challenges often fuel people with a growth mindset, provoking excitement about the potential to “conquer” them, she says.

For example, if you have a growth mindset, but have little to no stamina for running, that won’t stop you from hitting the pavement. You believe that even if you don’t have the skill, you can learn and acquire this talent by making an honest effort—with proper training, you could, without a doubt, become skilled enough to run a 5K or even a marathon one day. Of course, you know the path will not necessarily be easy, but that doesn’t phase you. You believe you can dedicate the time and energy to learn just about anything when you put your mind to it. 

Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset

A fixed mindset, on the other hand, is the belief that abilities and talents are innate or tend to be more static and inflexible, Goldberg says. While people with a growth mindset may feel invigorated by a challenge, individuals with a fixed mindset feel the opposite. Those with fixed mindsets tend to avoid challenges—often for fear of failure, Goldberg says. 

“They believe their effort is pointless and a waste of time, energy, and resources, thinking that if they’re not naturally good at something, they may only marginally improve, making it not worth the effort,” she explains. “They may also be more sensitive to negative feedback, viewing it as a personal attack rather than an opportunity for growth.”

So, rather than approach that goal of becoming a runner head-on, someone with a fixed mindset may think about it… only to quickly shut that little voice inside them down. They’re likely to tell themselves their attention is better spent elsewhere because it’s going to be a long, hard road that probably won’t lead to much anyway. They might think “I was not born a runner; there’s really nothing I can do but accept that.” 

Common Components of a Growth Mindset

“With a growth mindset, you believe you can gain expertise in just about anything if you simply give yourself the time and gain experience in it,” says Carl Nassar, PhD, a psychotherapist and a licensed professional counselor based in Denver. “Your future is not defined by your past, but instead, your future is yours to create.” 

Often, people with a growth mindset are pros at:

1. Embracing Challenges

People with a growth mindset see challenges as opportunities to learn and grow. “With a growth mindset, life is a continual learning opportunity, so you’re always learning from the mistakes as well as the successes, always discovering how to build a better life for yourself and those around you,” Nassar says. 

2. Learning From Mistakes

“With a fixed mindset, if you make a mistake, you believe there’s nothing you can do about it. A mistake simply means you’ve hit the limit of what you can learn,” Nassar says. “But if you have a growth mindset, you believe you can learn from this mistake, understanding what happened and improving, so you can do it better the next time around.” In other words, with a growth mindset, a mistake is just a stepping stone to helping you on your path to success.

3. Persisting Through Difficulty

Similarly, those with a growth mindset aren’t easily swayed off course by setbacks. Let’s use that running example again. For those with a fixed mindset, an injury may only serve to “prove” to them that they were never meant to be a runner and shouldn’t have tried in the first place. Conversely, those with a growth mindset may still feel dedicated to achieving their goal and working on rehabilitation to get back out there and try again. 

4. Accepting Feedback

“[People with growth mindsets] welcome—or even request—feedback as a way to improve,” Goldberg says. Feedback is not at all threatening; rather, it’s crucial to learning, growing, and overcoming new challenges. 

5. Believing in Themselves

Those with a growth mindset believe that effort and hard work will lead to improvement. “When you believe there’s always something more to learn, you challenge yourself to stay engaged in life and not miss out on the opportunities to become a better you tomorrow than you are today,” Nassar says. 

6. Finding Inspiration in Others

“[People with growth mindsets] feel inspired by someone who has already achieved what they’re attempting and possibly try to follow the steps that person took,” Goldberg says. Those with a fixed mindset, on the other hand, believe not everyone has the same talents.

7. Enjoying the Hustle

With a growth mindset, challenges don’t necessarily feel like hurdles. Of course, they can be hard, but in general, individuals who have adopted a growth mindset find the journey to their achievements enlivening rather than fearful or dreadful, Goldberg says. 

Benefits of Adopting a Growth Mindset

When you cultivate a growth mindset, you open yourself up to notable benefits, such as:

1. Higher Achievement 

According to 2018 research published in Brain Sciences, adopting a growth mindset is vital to learning and development—benefitting not only academic performance but also your fitness routine. “Being disciplined with fitness and wellness goals is challenging, but adopting a growth mindset can help you stay motivated, bounce back when you’ve had a setback, and give you the flexibility to pivot your approach when needed,” Goldberg says.

2. Better Mental Health Outcomes

Learning to adopt a growth mindset may also positively affect mental health, research suggests. This type of mindset tends to skew people  from avoidant coping strategies and, instead, helps them address any anxiety head-on, potentially helping them develop more healthy coping strategies over time. 

For instance, individuals with growth mindsets view setbacks as temporary, Goldberg says. “This view extends to their belief that any anxiety around challenges is also temporary,” she says. 

3. Improved Relationships

It makes sense that adopting a growth mindset might lead to personal growth, but it can also positively impact interpersonal relationships. According to Louis Tay, an associate professor in the department of psychological sciences at Purdue University, having a growth mindset toward others improves our ability to be empathetic. Instead of reacting to an unpleasant situation with bitterness or frustration, a growth mindset can help reframe the situation as a way to grow together, promote positive change, or even bond by sharing in their discomfort. 

How to Cultivate a Growth Mindset

With a little bit of creativity and hard work, experts say it’s possible to change your mindset. Here are five strategies that can help you adopt a growth mindset: 

1. Dig Deep

“One of the first steps in adopting a growth mindset is self-awareness, understanding where and how you may have learned a fixed mindset,” Goldberg says. “For instance, growing up, you might have felt overshadowed by your sibling who was praised for their athleticism. Perhaps you attended all their soccer games but never had the opportunity to find a sport that truly interested you because after not enjoying soccer, you were labeled not athletic,” she continues. “As an adult, you might think that improving your speed or physical ability would require too much effort because ‘you’re just not athletic.’” By recognizing where that fixed idea came from, you can trace back to moments when things could have been different. 

2. Reframe

After investigating how and when your existing mindset may have formed, you can start to reframe that thinking. “First, we listen to all the voices in our own heads with compassion,” Nassar says. “Then, we soothe those voices that insist we can’t grow and learn, and encourage those inner voices that tell us to give it a go.” 

Here’s how that could look in the above example, Goldberg says: “By acknowledging that if you and your sibling have the same parents and they are athletic, maybe you have some of that potential too.” 

3. Avoid Negative Self-Talk

Start replacing negative self-talk with positivity. “We can become mindful of our thoughts, and instead of getting hooked by negative or catastrophic thinking, we just let them pass through us like clouds on an otherwise blue sky,” Nassar says. 

For example, while it’s natural to have feelings of doubt every so often (“That run was so difficult that I almost didn’t finish, so I must not be cut out for this”), try a more positive spin: “I am so proud of myself for finishing that difficult run, and I’m getting better and better every day.” 

4. Set Attainable Goals

It’s important to establish concrete goals, but starting small can help you build confidence. Each time you accomplish a goal, celebrate those successes, no matter how seemingly minor. (Measurable results can be a huge motivator!) Then, set a new, more challenging goal you can work towards. 

5. Find an Accountability Partner

Surround yourself with people who believe in you, Nassar suggests, so that they can help support you in believing in yourself and your growth potential.

The Takeaway

Whether you want to learn how to be a better runner or learn a new language, there’s no doubt that it requires hard work and dedication—and that you may want to just give up sometimes. But if you can adopt a growth mindset, you’ll be better equipped to meet your goal, because you’ll truly believe that the hard times are just part of the journey, not the end of the road.

This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.

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