Those seven words are an incredibly toxic sentence often passed down at critical moments in our personal growth. So often we are told, even as kids, that if we aren’t naturally talented, we shouldn’t bother trying to get better. “You either have it or you don’t” are the seven deadly words that describe a fixed mindset. It’s also expressed with statements like “We’ve always done it this way” or “I’m really not much of a _____ person.” The fixed mindset pigeonholes a person by what he or she is good at, and only by that. It’s labeling to control people and outcomes. It avoids challenges, gives up easily, sees effort as worthless, ignores constructive criticism and breeds the insecurity that leads to feeling threatened by others’ success. The fixed mindset is pressured by expectations that performance must match talent, and limited by a sense of entitlement.
The worst part about it may be that so often, we do it to ourselves. That’s why I’m so drawn to the opposite way of thinking: the growth mindset. The growth mindset is based in a desire to learn. It embraces challenges, persists despite obstacles, thinks of effort as a means to mastery, and welcomes the chance to learn from criticism. A person with this mindset views others’ success as a window into lessons and inspiration for even greater personal success, fueled by the power of free will (not expectation). A great description of this thinking and example of its power can be found at Khan Academy, the online library of free educational videos accessed by nearly 21 million viewers: “Most people are held back not by their innate ability, but by their mindset. They think intelligence is fixed, but it isn’t. Your brain is like a muscle. The more you use it and struggle, the more it grows. New research shows we can take control of our ability to learn. We can all become better learners. We just need to build our brains in the right way.” Let’s talk about three concrete ways to build this mindset and why these will benefit you.
1. Positive self-talk. A mindset is like software: it runs on a script. So if you want to change your performance, you have to change the script running inside your head. There has to be new words to replace, “You either have it or you don’t.”
The new script for a growth mindset says, “You have the ability to make yourself into anything you want. Your inborn talent is important, but how much you work is even more important.”
This new script does not impose a cap on your performance or cultivate a sense of entitlement (if you “have it,” then you naturally must be better than those who don’t, right?) Instead, you’re issuing yourself a challenge to do the work only you can do, using the unique talents inside yourself.
2. Positive habits. A recent New Yorker article, “Better All the Time,” pointed out that the growth mindset and the performance industry has created “the mainstreaming of excellent habits.” If greater success and performance s possible with hard work, then the more consistent and targeted the work, the more growth can be expected.
This is why we see expansion of the teams of specialists who help high-level performers “focus more intently on those small details which cumulatively add up to better performance.” The key words there are cumulatively add up. Small actions repeated over time create the critical mass for better outcomes.
3. Positive feedback. We live with big data all around us, delivered via technology that measures how you are doing compared to yesterday, last week, last year, your competition, but most of all yourself. There is no substitute for hard numbers to rank performance, and it widens the gulf between a growth mindset and the abstract “you either have it or you don’t” thinking. An example from the New Yorker article:
“Chris Hoy, the British cyclist who won two gold medals at the London Olympics in 2012, [was] trailed by a team of scientists, nutritionists, and engineers. Hoy ate a carefully designed diet of 5,000 calories a day. His daily workouts—two hours of lifting in the morning, three hours in the velodrome in the afternoon, and an easy one-hour recovery ride in the evening—had been crafted to maximize both his explosive power and his endurance. He had practiced in wind tunnels at the University of Southampton. He had worn biofeedback sensors that delivered exact data to his trainers about how his body was responding to practice. The $80,000 carbon-fiber bike he rode helped, too. Hoy was the ultimate product of an elaborate and finely tuned system designed to create the best cyclist possible. And—since his competitors weren’t slacking, either—he still won by only a fraction of a second.”
Researchers are finding that the best aren’t getting even better; as the magazine article points out, more people (like Hoy) are becoming extraordinarily good. This trend is only possible with a growth mindset that allows for a larger, deeper pool of potential within each of us, even those without a surplus of natural talent.
Your Game Changer Takeaway
Success and growth depends on relationships, including your relationship to your own beliefs and talents. A growth mindset frames your potential for maximum performance. Success does not depend on whether “you either have it or you don’t.” It’s about how hard you are willing to work consistently and adapting to performance feedback. A fixed mindset looks back, rejecting the dynamic potential of hard work. Get rid of the thinking that holds you back. A growth mindset erases those seven deadly words.
The Molly Fletcher Company inspires leaders, teams and organizations to kick-start growth. A keynote speaker and author, Molly draws on her decades of experiences working as a sports agent. Her company’s Game Changer Negotiation Training workshops teach business people the framework for successful negotiating, so that you can close more deals while building stronger relationships. Sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter and subscribe to the Game Changers with Molly Fletcher podcast on iTunes.