About a year ago, when I was struggling to get my blog Writing on Glass off the ground, my career coach suggested I give Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck a read. Dweck wrote the landmark book "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success," advertised as a manual for 'how we can learn to fulfill our potential.' At first, I worried that the 1986 book might be outdated. But by the time I finished reading, I was practically shoving the book onto every person I met.
In "Mindset," Dweck draws on her extensive psychology research to show how one perspective shift can drastically reduce your self-doubt and fear of failure. The change in mentality she advocates? Simply choosing to believe that your talents and abilities are fluid, rather than fixed.
Dweck explains that most people develop one of two dominant attitudes towards human ability. Attitude #1, which Dweck calls the 'fixed mindset,' assumes that everything from intelligence to athleticism to charisma is fixed. In other words, we’re born with a certain amount of smarts and hand-eye coordination, and that’s that. People with a fixed mindset are constantly vying to prove themselves or to protect their ego. They shy away from challenging opportunities, consider a long learning process to be a sign of inadequacy and cringe when asking for help.
The opposite of the fixed mindset is the 'growth mindset,' a stance that assumes human ability is fluid. Intelligence can be developed and so can athleticism; the more hard work a person puts in, the higher her grades and the better her chances of making varsity. Growth mindsetters are more likely to embrace challenges, relish the process of learning and ask for help when they need it. As a result, growth-minded people achieve much higher rates of success than their fixed-minded counterparts. They usually have more fun, too.
As it happens, reading "Mindset" helped me realize that I was suffering from typical 'fixed mindset' syndrome. Every time I thought about starting a blog, I second-guessed myself. Would my writing be impressive enough to my readers? Would other people criticize me? What if I didn’t have the will power to keep posting? The pressure was crushing, and as Carol Dweck would have predicted, it completely stalled my progress.
For those of you who recognize this kind of self-talk, I can assure you: adopting a growth mindset was insanely freeing. The new perspective was exactly what I needed to start my blog. Gone was the voice in my head telling me to 'prove myself' and avoid failing. Instead, I had the soothing certainty that I was improving every day. Once I was able to see each piece of writing as another opportunity to hone my skills, I stopped caring if one of my posts missed the mark. The point was to learn, not to be perfect.
If you’re struggling to get a new initiative off the ground, or going to work each day with the burden of self-doubt, I promise that trying on a growth mindset will only lead to good places. No one attitude is a cure-all, but I can say from experience that prioritizing learning over success will make your daily work — and your daily life — a whole lot happier.
Stephanie Newman writes about feminism at Writing on Glass and publishes a weekly newsletter on how to advance gender equality. She also founded the creative consultancy Stellia Labs, which helps entrepreneurs build growth-focused content strategies.