Getting this one thing right changes everything.
We have complete control over our biggest problem. Our mindset-the assumptions, judgments, and expectations we have about the world, about God, about ourselves-filters how we perceive and process information. Our mindset is such a powerful force over our lives, determining what we do and what we don’t do. Yet often it’s invisible, taken completely for granted. Worse, we often don’t realize it’s lying to us.
I’m seeing this theme repeatedly repeated over and over, again and again. (Aside: That last sentence was just to troll the grammar nerds and make them twitch. Did it work?) I have read several unrelated books in the last few years, and, although they use different terminology, they all focus on this same theme. I want to share the latest one with you today, because changing your mindset will change your life. It’s changing mine.
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck, PhD (not an affiliate link). This book is about the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. Dr Dweck writes in plain, everyday language, no psycho-babble, with lots of stories. It’s a fun, easy, and worthwhile read.
The fixed mindset says our traits, like intelligence, athletic ability, musical talent, writing or math competence, business and social skills, etc., are fixed at birth. You either have a skill or talent or you don’t, and there’s nothing much you can do about.
This is the fundamental lie that holds us back. Because if my abilities are fixed and I can’t change them, then any failure is a reflection of me and my character, so I dare not risk trying. And any successes I experience validates my superiority over other mere mortals who weren’t born special like I was. So failure is a threat to my identity because I am what I do. We write a lot about this lie on this site, most recently.
Yet the fixed mindset breeds failure because it disparages hard work. Having to work hard at something means I don’t have natural talent. We can’t risk exposing that, especially to ourselves. Because my fixed mindset value comes from what I can do and how well I do it, not who I intrinsically am; namely, a child of God.
The growth mindset, on the other hand, says you can develop skills and talents through hard work and effort. Yes, some people are more gifted in certain areas than others, but there are no “naturals.” Everything worthwhile requires hard work. Growth mindset people view failures as learning experiences, not threats to their identity.
We feed either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset to our children, employees, spouses, and even ourselves by what we praise or criticize.
If a child brings home an “F” on a test and we say, “You’re so stupid”, we’ve tied their value to their results. We get that. But the same is true in the positive. If the child got an “A” instead and we say, “You’re really smart!” The child hears, “So if I’d gotten an ‘F’, that would mean I’m really stupid. My value is tied to my results. I’d better only do safe things I know I can succeed at.” What’s happened? We’ve instilled a fixed mindset by praising (or criticizing) the child’s traits, in this case, their intelligence.
To pass on a growth mindset, don’t praise (or criticize) traits. Praise (or criticize) effort. When the child brings home an “A”, say something like, “Wow, that’s great! You must’ve studied really hard!” The message the child hears is, “My performance is tied to my effort, not my value.” If they bring home an “F”, say something like, “What happened? Did you study? Did you do the homework? Or did you just not understand the material? Let’s figure out what went wrong and then I can help you fix that.” Then help them build study habits, get tutoring, or find whatever strategy works for them. The message they hear is, “When I fail, I can fix it.”
Note: Dr. Dweck caveats that this is not an argument for lowering standards or giving “effort grades,” as we see sometimes in schools today. A growth mindset keeps the standard high and tells the truth about failure, but also provides the tools to meet that standard.
Yes, this is a trendy pop-psychology. But it’s accurate. And I love it when modern psychology catches up with the Word of God, don’t you? Mindset is all over the Bible. Here’s my favorite mindset verse:
For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)
The fixed mindset is all about Fear. People with this mindset live in fear of being discovered-that they aren’t really smart or talented. They aren’t really the “natural” everyone thinks they are. They live their life one failure away from being discovered and having their identity completely destroyed. Their fixed mindset chains them to safe mediocrity, never daring to be who God created them to be, never chasing the thing that makes their heart leap.
As Christians, we know where the fixed mindset comes from inner vows we make to protect our heart because of past wounding. Judgments and words spoken over us by authority figures. Lies of the enemy we believe.
But Jesus wants us to live from the power of his love. He bought freedom for us on the cross, and the Holy Spirit makes it available to us every day. His love is the most powerful force on the planet. There’s no fear when we’re living out of that place. We make decisions from the sound mind he gave us, we take wise risks, and we learn from our failures.
It’s not a binary thing. The truth is we all have fixed mindset days and growth mindset days. Learning what triggers your fixed mindset is the key. If you recognize your fixed mindset, you can actively replace it with a growth mindset.
For me, my biggest trigger is when I feel overwhelmed. My fixed mindset kicks in, opening the door to self-hatred: You’re not doing all the things. Look at everything you didn’t get done. You’re such a loser! And it’s all downhill from there. I’m learning a growth mindset: No, I got something done, and I did it well. And my value isn’t in what I do, but because Jesus loves me so much. I choose to see myself through my Lover-King’s eyes.
What areas in your life are under a fixed mindset? What triggers it? In what areas have you learned a growth mindset? Do you know who you are? Learn how to discover the wonder of who you really are in a fun and engaging story. Download Dave’s free eBook The Runt: A Fable of Giant Inner Healing.