What sets those who accomplish great things apart from those who fail to realize their ambitions? You might guess intelligence, appetite for risk, or even creativity. Those are all sensible-sounding suggestions, but that's not what science has found.
According to work by pioneering Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck and others, the best predictor of success in life is none of these usual suspects--it's your mindset. Those who achieve great things generally believe they can improve and grow as people. This is called a "growth mindset." Those who are frustrated in their attempts to realize their dreams tend to believe their abilities and talents are static, a.k.a. they have a "fixed mindset." (Read more about the science behind this insight here.)
All of which is fine and good, but raises one essential question. If up to now you've tended to view your abilities through the prism of the fixed mindset, is there anything you can do to change? Absolutely, according to a post on Dweck's website, which lays out steps for fighting back and learning to view your abilities as works in progress. Here they are in brief to get you started.
1. Think of your mindset as a voice
How does a mindset manifest itself? It controls the ways you talk to yourself in the privacy of your own head. Recognizing this fact is the first step to achieving a growth mindset. "As you approach a challenge, that voice might say to you, 'Are you sure you can do it? Maybe you don't have the talent' or 'What if you fail--you'll be a failure,'" the post explains, adding that, "As you hit a setback, the voice might say, 'This would have been a snap if you really had talent.'"
Pay attention to your thoughts and see if you frequently tell yourself anything similar. If so, you've spotted the fixed mindset at work, undermining your potential for success.
2. Choose growth
Now that you know what you're up against, the next step, according to Dweck, is recognizing that you aren't stuck with the thoughts you currently have. "How you interpret challenges, setbacks, and criticism is your choice," the post points out. "You can interpret them in a fixed mindset as signs that your fixed talents or abilities are lacking. Or you can interpret them in a growth mindset as signs that you need to ramp up your strategies and effort, stretch yourself, and expand your abilities."
3. Talk back
When it comes to that limiting voice in your head, feel free to be as sassy as you like in response. Tell that voice exactly what's wrong with how it's framing situations, and actively reformulate your approach to challenges and setbacks to reflect a belief in personal growth. The post offers examples:
The fixed mindset says, "Are you sure you can do it? Maybe you don't have the talent."
The growth mindset answers, "I'm not sure I can do it now, but I think I can learn to with time and effort."
Fixed mindset: "What if you fail--you'll be a failure."
Growth mindset: "Most successful people had failures along the way."
Changing the script in your head is a huge step, but Dweck's site ends with a healthy reminder that the whole point of doing so is to change not just your thoughts, but your actions as well. Don't content yourself with a remodeled inner voice. Get out there and practice what you're preaching to yourself.
5. Add this three-letter word
For a bonus fifth idea for creating the mindset necessary for success, you can check out this video of Dweck posted on the Brainwaves YouTube channel and recently featured on New York magazine's Science of Us blog. In the video, Dweck suggests that just three little letters can have a huge impact on your mindset.
"We've found that putting in certain phrases, like 'not yet' or 'yet,' can really boost students' motivation. So if a student says, 'I'm not a math person--yet' or 'I can't do this--yet,'" she explains, "it puts their fixed mindset statement into a growth mindset context of learning over time."