Grow your mindset, change your destiny

When I was a little girl, I was told many times that I was smart and gifted for languages. That’s a nice compliment, right? But what if I told you that this praise we give and receive, even with our best intentions, are in fact harmful to our mindset? That they limit our perception of learning and self-development?

That’s what Carol Dweck tells us in her best-seller “Mindset”*. Have you heard about it? According to the studies to which Ms. Dweck refers, the world would be divided into two categories of people: those with a fixed mindset, and those with a growth mindset.

As explained in this book, the people who have a fixed mindset tend to believe in inner talent and in natural predispositions. As a consequence, they constantly need to prove the world that they are smart and gifted. They’re afraid of challenges and setbacks because they need control. Admitting that they’ve made a mistake would be like admitting that they aren’t special after all, or even that they’re stupid. This is a very scary thought to them, as they’d consider this self-labelling as definite, unaware that intelligence is actually a muscle.

On the other hand, those who have a growth mindset believe that skills, abilities, personalities, intelligence, etc. develop and grow thanks to the mistakes and the learning opportunities that our environment offers us. As a consequence, the people with a growth mindset step out of their confort zone more eagerly, they take more risks and therefore have more results even though results aren’t what they focus on primarily. To them, learning is the goal, and stretching themselves is something they consider fun and interesting.

Is it a question of genes or of environment? What do you think?

It is true that if our parents have a fixed mindset, it’s more likely we will develop a fixed mindset too. However, this is not a question of heredity as much as it is linked the nature of the messages that were conveyed through them and through the other adults that shaped us.

Research shows that it’s mostly the environment, which, from early childhood, influences the mindset we develop as we grow.

The messages that children receive from the adults of reference are key to the development of their belief system.

For example, if when we accomplish something, we hear a message such as “Well done! You are so smart” or “Great, you did that so fast, you’re very talented” (hugs and kisses), we will tend to develop a fixed mindset and possibly believe that the love of our parents depends on this intelligence or talent that seem to make them so proud.

This doesn’t mean that praising is to be avoided altogether, but it needs to be of a different nature. Messages such as “I like when you concentrate to solve a problem”, “I’m impressed by how much you’ve practiced the piano recently, well done!”, or “Your drawing is beautiful, I like the details, you must have given it a lot of effort” highlight the courage, the creativity, the reflexion, the perseverance, the time and effort that were put into a task and will most likely foster a growth mindset in children,”. The tone of voice is of course essential too!

These reactions encourage children to carry on, to persevere and with time, to become resilient and gritty. These children have more chances to turn into adults who won’t be afraid in the face of adversity and will accept challenges with curiosity and enthusiasm.

To determine whether you have a fixed or a growth mindset, you simply need to observe yourself a little bit. How do you react when facing a challenge? Do you tend to concentrate on the results of your efforts or on the process? Do you believe in “naturals”? Do you think you are capable of changing, of evolving and of developing your intelligence?

To clarify things, you can take an free online test here →

The results can be mixed: it’s totally possible to believe in some aspects of the growth mindset and also share some beliefs of the fixed mindset. And we must keep in mind that our judgment usually varies according to our mood, our levels of energy or even our feminine cycle.

Sometimes, we really want to have a growth mindset, but we must admit that we don’t always react in a “growth” manner. Don’t judge yourself. It’s not really your fault and once you have noticed what you believe in, you can take control over your destiny and transform yourself.

Mindsets are the results of our belief system. The issue is that, no matter whether they are true or not, beliefs are so powerful that they dictate our behavior and shape our reality.

Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t: you are right — Henry Ford

But this is important: beliefs are only beliefs. They are shaped by our words and our thoughts. And as we can control those, we can also modify, reprogram and transform our beliefs. Isn’t that amazing?

Of course, if you don’t want to change, nobody can do it for you. But let me explain why you should…

  1. People with a growth mindset tend to be happier. They don’t compare themselves to others, they have more self-confidence and trust the future. As a result, they are less often depressed and they stay motivated.
  2. With a growth mindset, we can use mistakes, constructive criticism, and feedback to improve and self-develop. We can welcome this information as something precious and we can avoid feeling defensive.
  3. The growth mindset enables us to appreciate what we do and to continue loving it even when we face setbacks (they happen all the time, to everyone).
  4. The focus is on the pleasure of learning rather than on the result, which is counter-intuitive but is one of the keys to success. Those of you who play tennis know it: once you’ve hit the ball, if you check the court to see where it’s going to land, its curve will be slightly modified and the result is compromised. It’s in the actions and in the process that lies success.
  5. As a consequence, having a growth mindset makes you better equipped to reach your goals, even though you weren’t focusing on the results in the first place.

Not everyone is born to become Mozart, right?

Well, actually, if you dig a bit into the biography of Mozart, you will learn that at the beginning of his career, he wasn’t good at all. His music was made of pieces he had copied here and there from his fellow musicians, and nobody liked listening to what he was creating. It is effort and perseverance which allowed him to develop his skills to finally become the genius we know.

But ok, let’s admit it: not everyone can become Mozart. This is something fundamentally true since we all have our personal destiny. However, it’s important to know and accept that it is impossible to define the true potential of a person. It is impossible to predict what a person can or can’t accomplish after years of passion, determination, and practice.

Last week, I shared this quote of Hal Elrod of my Instagram, and I’d like to share it with you today.

The moment you take responsibility for everything in your life is the moment you can change anything in your life — Hal Elrod

Of course, that doesn’t mean you should blame yourself. Effort is key on the journey to self-development and skills-development, but it’s not the only element that is required. We aren’t all born in the same conditions and we must admit that a little girl born in a shanty town in Calcutta isn’t probably going to have the same opportunities as a little boy born in a rich family in California. It’s totally unfair, and it’s the lottery of birth.

Let’s take the example of Jessica Long. This young woman lost the use of both her legs when she was a child. You can’t really say that she was predisposed to win a gold medal in swimming, can you?

And yet she did.

Because on the path to success, work always beats talent.

You are responsible of your destiny. You are responsible of what you believe in. And you owe it to yourself, to the little girl in Calcutta and to the world to reach your full potential and to become who you are meant to be.

Ok so, you’ve got a fixed mindset and the previous paragraphs have convinced you that you can and should change? Here are the 5 strategies I used to transform my own mindset. It’s still a work in progress, but hey… it’s all about the journey, right?

  1. Observe yourself. Become aware of your reactions in different situations of your life. How does your mindset manifest? How do you react to constructive criticism? What is your inner dialogue? What kind of compliment do you pay to the people you admire?
  2. Accept yourself. This is the way you think today. This is your belief system. There’s no need for judgment and you’re far from being alone. You are on your path to change.
  3. Think of someone you admire and you would describe as very talented. How do you think they have reached this level of success? Now imagine all the time and effort this person has put into training, learning, improving, day in and day out, year after year. Admire them even more.
  4. Use the power of affirmations to transform your belief system. You can repeat (or sing, or write, or doodle) several times the following affirmations: “I improve every day”, “I learn from my mistakes”, “Everything I need to get better is within me.”, “I build my own talent”.
  5. Get out of your comfort zone, and embrace the risk. In a way, we are attached to believing that we were born smart or talented. It makes us think that we are special, a bit better than the rest. But it’s not true. You are not special. Neither am I. Nobody is special. Nobody is better than anyone else. We develop differently according to our interests, our beliefs, the efforts that we make. So take some risks and learn. I promise, it’s worth it.

You are not better than anyone else…. But you can become better than you were yesterday, every single day of your life.

And that’s how you change your destiny.

Your beliefs become your thoughts,

Your thoughts become your words,

Your words become your actions,

Your actions become your habits,

Your habits become your values,

Your values become your destiny.

Mahatma Gandhi

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  • This article was previously published in French on my website

French teacher, & Mindful Life Coach, I help intermediate — advanced French learners find their authentic voice and express it confidently