Fixed vs Growth Mindset In Sports

Eli Straw
Fixed vs Growth Mindset In Sports

Recently I’ve been reading Mindset: The New Psychology Of Success by Dr. Carol Dweck. It’s one of the best psychology books I’ve read in a long time. Every page is full of incredible, applicable knowledge.

I think that’s why I like it so much.

My entire philosophy when it comes to sport psychology and working with athletes is finding ways to proactively build the mind.

Mindset discusses just how that can be done.

And as the title suggests, it all boils down to what you’re thinking and how you view life.

In short-your mindset.

What I want to do with this article is talk about the two main mindsets introduced in the book and then give you some ways you can work to develop the better of the two for yourself.

The Two Mindsets

When I work with an athlete, I see them as unique.

That’s because each one is, and that’s just the truth. Everyone has a different background, personality, and experiences that make their minds and the way they see the world one of a kind.

So, when I approach developing a certain mindset, I don’t view it as a one size fits all solution.

With that being said, what I’ve found so interesting is the simplicity of Dr. Dweck’s description of the two basic types of mindsets: a growth mindset and a fixed mindset.

The more I read, the more I realized; at the core, no matter how different an athlete is, one of these two basic frameworks of viewing the world is present.

The Fixed Mindset

As the name suggests, someone with a fixed mindset views intelligence, skills and traits as fixed, meaning they are what they are and cannot be improved.

There are a ton of examples that come to mind when thinking about the fixed mindset in sports. But to keep things simple, let's choose one mental skill and one physical skill.

In a fixed mindset, you would see confidence as something you either have or don’t have. If you struggle with believing in yourself, you may feel that it’s hopeless and you’ll never be as confident as your teammates.

This idea is strengthened when you see guys (sometimes with no real reason to be) who are incredibly confident and it seems to come effortlessly to them.

A great physical example is speed. You may view speed as something you’re either born with or not. If you are a slow runner in middle school, you might believe that you’re simply destined to always be slow.

The fixed mindset means you cannot grow. The skills you have and the traits you possess are there, and you can’t improve.

The Growth Mindset

In stark contrast to the fixed mindset is the growth mindset.

The growth mindset views intelligence, skills, and traits as ever moving. You can always improve your skills if you have the determination and work ethic to do so.

Going off the two examples from above, let’s say that right now you struggle with self-confidence. In the fixed mindset you’d say, “Oh well, that’s just the way I am.” But in the growth mindset you’d say, “What can I do to build my confidence?”

Do you see the difference?

The growth mindset isn’t about pretending you’re something you’re not. In fact, with this mindset you are forced to come to terms with where you stand right now.

But then the question is, now what?

You would begin taking steps towards building self-confidence.

If you are a slow runner, within the growth mindset you see this as something you can change. Through training, you can increase your speed.

The growth mindset means you are always looking for ways to improve. And if you’re not currently looking, it means at the very least you know you are capable of improving.

"The growth mindset views intelligence, skills, and traits as ever moving. You can always improve your skills if you have the determination and work ethic to do so."

Benefits Of A Growth Mindset

By looking at the two definitions, it should be clear which one is best for you as an athlete. The fixed mindset holds you back, while the growth mindset gives you the opportunity to reach your full potential.

But upon digging deeper, if you’re not yet convinced, here are the main benefits you can expect as an athlete from adopting the growth mindset:

  • Greater Resilience: this one is huge because as an athlete, you’re going to fail. Except, with the growth mindset failures are no longer something to fear. They are an opportunity to learn and improve.
  • Increased Motivation: when you are afraid of making mistakes-because in the fixed mindset mistakes mean you aren’t good enough-you’re likely not to have a lot of motivation to keep going. With the growth mindset, you will have motivation to keep working harder and pushing yourself because you know and have the belief that you can continually improve.
  • Willingness To Take Risks: in sports, there are many different ways to take risks. One that I think is impacted a lot by the growth mindset is trying out for a new team. With the fixed mindset a tryout is a judgment. If you fail, it means you weren’t good enough. With the growth mindset, it’s an opportunity. And you know, if you don’t make it, you can keep improving until you do.
  • Improved Focus: one of the main distractors you face as an athlete is the outcome. But why are you worried about the outcome in the first place? Mainly because you don’t want to fail, especially if you have a fixed mindset. With a growth mindset, you can focus more on the present moment and allow the outcome to happen.
  • Increased Self-Confidence: earlier I used self-confidence as an example. But beyond seeing it as something that can be improved, simply developing a growth mindset will increase your confidence by itself. This is because you have the trust within yourself that you can get better, no matter where you are right now. That trust will work to increase your self-confidence going into practices and games. In addition, the more you see yourself improve (in any skill), the more confident you will become.

Four Keys To Adopting A Growth Mindset

Now that you know just how important a growth mindset is to you as an athlete, let’s get into some keys that will help you adopt this frame of mind moving forward.

What’s really cool about this whole process is that, simply working on developing a growth mindset means you are already halfway there.

A fixed mindset person wouldn’t even see their mindset as something that can be changed. They’d say, “It’s just the way I am.”

By having the desire to work on adopting a growth mindset you are already on the right track.

Pay Attention To Your Thoughts

Whenever we’re talking about mindset, one of the first places we must look are our thoughts. Afterall, how we think and the words we speak are a reflection of our beliefs.

So, if you want to change your beliefs, you must change your thoughts.

It may seem simple, but altering the way you think in relation to certain situations will change your mindset. In addition, if the actual words you say are adjusted as well, it won’t be long before your mindset will match.

Words are powerful, and the way you speak and think cannot be outrun. No matter how you’d like to feel or what kind of mindset you’d like to adopt, if your thoughts do not change and the way you speak isn’t altered, you will stay the same.

Begin paying attention to how you respond to questions. This is a great place to start. Be sure to answer in a positive way, and in a way that points towards growth.

Do not be definite in the way you speak. Meaning, do not use any variation of these two phrases:

    That’s just the way I am.
    I can’t do that.

These do nothing but limit you.

By working to change the way you think and speak to yourself, always leaving room for improvement, you will be on your way to adopting the growth mindset.

"Words are powerful, and the way you speak and think cannot be outrun. No matter how you’d like to feel or what kind of mindset you’d like to adopt, if your thoughts do not change and the way you speak isn’t altered, you will stay the same."

Embrace Challenges

At the core of the growth mindset are challenges.

Challenges should be welcomed with open arms. Afterall, they provide tremendous opportunities for growth.

Without challenges, you remain in your comfort zone. This is a place people with a fixed mindset love to hang out. Not you. You love to push the boundaries, seeing how you can challenge yourself.

As an athlete, this can take on many different forms.

It may mean accepting the challenge of being a leader. You’re a year or two older and it’s time to push yourself to see if you can lead the team like those before you.

Or maybe it means challenging your abilities and skill level. Facing tougher opponents or trying out for teams that are a step above where you currently are.

You never know your true potential and what you’re capable of unless you push yourself. So begin accepting challenges and embracing them as part of the process towards growth.

"Challenges should be welcomed with open arms. Afterall, they provide tremendous opportunities for growth."

Be Thankful For Feedback (Criticism)

Look, I’ll be the first to say, it’s really hard to not have your feelings hurt when someone criticizes you.

I don’t care how tough you are, when people make comments about your game it’s difficult not to take it personally.

This is especially true when it comes from a coach or a teammate.

But let me ask you this; how do you expect to get better if you are too afraid to learn about the weak parts of your game?

I think we should all be our best coaches, with the ability to scrutinize ourselves and find areas that need improvement. However, sometimes it’s easy to grow biased and overlook certain aspects of our game.

Maybe it’s because it’s something we’re sensitive about, or maybe it’s because we know, deep down, just how much work would be involved.

Either way, there are things we overlook.

That’s why outside critique is so valuable.

But here’s the truth, we can’t control how other people deliver the news. Not everyone will be delicate (especially coaches). A lot of times this much needed feedback is overshadowed by yelling and perceived disappointment.

With the growth mindset, what you have to do is be grateful for any kind of feedback or criticism you receive. If you use it to your advantage, it proves to be a valuable way you can improve your game.

Learn To Love The Process

Within the fixed mindset, the end result is all that matters. Why? Because it shows whether or not you were good enough.

However, if you want a growth mindset, you have to learn to let go of the outcome and focus more on the process.

If you continually improve, each day and each game, the results will take care of themselves.

By falling in love with the process you give yourself the opportunity to grow rather than to be judged.

Not judged by other people, but judged by yourself.

When you’re consumed with the end result, you can’t help but judge yourself. I remember doing this all the time during baseball.

After each at bat I was judged.

If I struck out-I sucked.

If I got a hit-I was good (well maybe, but only if it felt like the perfect hit).

That’s a lot of ups and downs within your mind. Instead, what you should focus on is the process. That way, if you make a mistake or have a bad at bat, let’s say, you can learn from it rather than immediately declare yourself a failure.

Let go of the outcome and turn your attention onto the process. That’s what someone with the growth mindset would do.

"By falling in love with the process you give yourself the opportunity to grow rather than to be judged."

Final Thoughts

I would recommend Mindset: The New Psychology Of Success to anyone. It’s a fantastic read that truly dives into a powerful mindset all athletes should adopt.

There’s no denying, having a growth mindset where you're focused on continually improving yourself, is beneficial to athletes.

This will increase your confidence, motivation, focus, and much more.

In order to adopt a growth mindset, remember the four keys: pay attention to your thoughts, embrace challenges, be grateful for feedback, and learn to love the process.

If you apply these, you will be on your way to developing a strong growth mindset as an athlete.

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

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