Do You Have A Growth Mindset?

What’s your mindset? Research shows that people with a “ growth mindset ” are more likely to focus on taking small steps to reach goals, experimenting along the way, while people with a “fixed mindset” tend to believe that talent is inborn and unchangeable, and so give up on their dreams way too easily.

If you want to improve in anything, start seeing mistakes and failures for what they are — the precise means of your education.  ~~ Gregory Ciotti

Lately, I’ve started a practice of writing “morning pages,” a strategy outlined by Julia Cameron in her book, The Artist’s Way, as an effective means to prime the creative pump. Each morning, I show up at a table by my dining room window, sit down with a cup of green tea, and write three pages of whatever is on my mind.

It’s quite simple, but not easy. And, over time, incredibly powerful.

A colleague recently introduced me to Gregory Ciotti’s blog on creativity, The Sparring Mind. One of the concepts that fits well with my own creative practice is fixed vs. growth mindset. Ciotti talks about bright girls being particularly unwilling to take risks because they believe their talent is inborn and unchangeable – largely because of the way girls are socialized in our culture. This happens to be a particularly crippling world view.

As a girl who went for the straight A’s and avoided topics that felt too foreign or difficult (in my case, math and science), I have direct experience with the limitations of a fixed mindset.

People who develop a growth mindset, however, are able to take risks because they don’t fear looking foolish. They actually want to experiment and to fail, because that’s how they learn. Ciotti argues that a strategy of “fake it until you make it” is actually quite effective — it results in small wins, which then lead to genuine confidence.

In Ciotti’s words, “Over time, this creates a key trait in the growth mindset: a passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval.”

By taking small steps (like writing morning pages instead of the Great American novel), we build our confidence and our curiosity about what comes next. As a woman, I’ve spent way too much time hungering for approval. One of the great advantages of aging, and being conscious about it, is the ability to see our own patterns over time – and then being willing to break free of them.

Instead of obsessing over the things you can’t change, focus on what you CAN:
Your attitude, mindset, and energy.  ~~ Mandy Hale

As I get older, I care less what people think of me, and way more about my own feelings and perceptions – and my ability to learn.

The research on bright girls is instructive. Psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson, PhD, has published excellent essays like The Trouble with Bright Girls, where she addresses how “fixed mindset” sets students up for failure.

I hold out hope that all of us, whether female or male, young or old, can foster a learning mindset. Taking small steps teaches us that consistent effort over time is the path to mastery. If we start a daily practice of any kind – whether morning pages, yoga, meditation, or whatever rings out bells – over time we will build confidence. And we become curious about where our small steps will lead. Before you know it, those morning pages turn into the Great American novel, or the start of your next painting, or the inspiration to dance.

Practice creativity daily and fearlessly. Ultimately, small steps foster a passion for learning and help to soften any hunger for approval.


* An earlier version of this was published at THAT’S THE WAY LIFE LIVES. Reposted with permission of the author.

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9 Comments

  1. I like the idea of “morning pages”, as it is simple and allows you to just go with the mind flow. This is especially helpful for those of us who struggle to write frequently. I would rather have a chat then put write a page of anything!!

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    1. Elaine,
      Morning pages are powerful. I find they “prime the pump.” I still need to get my butt in the chair & practice my craft, but the pages give me an ongoing thread that is very supportive. Thanks for your comments.

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  2. Everyone will approach this from their own experience. So from my own bright-girl experience I have to say that I don’t buy this theory. You have already said that women have to be superior to simply get the same job. Small wonder they do not want failure and mistakes because they know they will be judged by a harsher standard. Women simply cannot afford to make mistakes – it has nothing to do with choice.

    But you are correct that when they reach an age where it doesn’t matter any more, they are happy to do new things.
    I am learning Italian.
    If you want more female scientists and mathematicians I would like to call on those families in those professions to instill their passions in their daughters as well as their sons.

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    1. Jean,
      This is an interesting perspective. In my own life, I have definitely felt I could not afford mistakes, but the reasons for that were complex. They had to do with conditioning in my family, as well as societal pressure, plus my own naturally cautious nature. As I’ve gotten older I do feel more free to experiment, but not because it doesn’t matter any more. It matters deeply, to me, that I make choices about my creative gifts that more closely match who I am. I find taking small steps and being open to growth very valuable principles. I do hope we will have more women who choose whatever is important to them – whether studying math, science, Italian, or cooking. All of us deserve to thrive! Thanks for reading and commenting.

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  3. So much great info! I used to do morning writings on and off for years. You inspire me to get back into the habit. And I will check out Ciotti’s blog. Sadly, I’ve seen way to may young girls become paralyzed by the fear of imperfection on into their 30’s. On even the smallest things. So many missed opportunities.

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  4. Linda,
    Fear of imperfection is truly a dream killer. I wish there was a “perfect” way to free all of us from it, but it appears to require a lot of life experience and evolution. Perhaps there are a lucky few who are raised and socialized with so much support they don’t succumb to it, but I think those folks are far and few between. I’m glad the information was helpful.

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