What sets truly successful people apart from those who never realize their dreams? Is it a particular set of habits? An increased appetite for risk? Skill at networking? Plain old smarts? No doubt each of these factors plays a part in some people’s achievements, but perhaps underlying all of these differences is a particular and profoundly powerful mindset.
That’s the gist of several fascinating articles out recently; they argue the fundamental difference between the wildly successful and the merely mediocre is not any inborn characteristic or individual learned behavior but how we think about skills and learning in general.
Can People Really Change?
Some folks, it seems, think that, basically, when it comes to skills and abilities, you get the hand you’re dealt, and that’s that. You are however smart you are, however hard working, and there’s little to nothing you can do to change these fundamental characteristics of your personality. That’s called a fixed mindset.
Other people know differently. Those with the opposite view, called a growth mindset, believe that with effort and perseverance, you can expand your intellect, broaden your skills, improve your character, and overcome obstacles. They see the key to getting ahead not as inherited talent or skill but good, old-fashioned hard work. Any guesses as to who ends up more successful?
If you haven’t guessed yet, achievers generally have a growth mindset, a fact proven in large part by the research of renowned Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck. In a lengthy and fascinating article, PolicyMic recently delved into her findings in depth, but the basic takeaway is short and sweet: "It's all about your mindset. Successful people tend to focus on growth, solving problems, and self-improvement, while unsuccessful people think of their abilities as fixed assets and avoid challenges."
How to Get a Growth Mindset
Dweck may be a pioneer in this line of research, but she’s not the only scientist studying the profound effects of our mindset on success. Another recent study built on her work by polling high school students about their attitudes. Some students told the research team that they believed people fell into particular categories--some were geeks, for instance, others jocks--and that in general they’re unlikely to change over time. Others told the scientists that people generally adapt and grow.
What effect did the belief that people can change have on students? Though Dweck’s work suggests those with a growth mindset will be more successful in the long term, this recent study also found big effects in the short term. In short, those with a growth mindset had less stress and anxiety and more self-esteem, and they were in generally better physical health.
That’s even more compelling evidence you should strive for a growth mindset. But is it possible to change your outlook if you’ve previously been more of a believer that abilities are fixed? Yup, according to the same research team’s follow-up experiment. Simply telling the high school students in a single session that evidence shows people can change had large positive effects both physically and psychologically a year later, with no other follow-up.
"Our research shows that adolescents can learn to tell themselves a different story, a story in which people have the potential to change," the authors conclude.
If they can do it, so can you. You’ll be more successful for it.