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3 Ways to Focus on Progress, Not Perfection

How the “growth mindset” makes change possible
Embracing a growth mindset

From time to time, I learn something really significant from work my second-grader brings home from school. Recently, he brought home a worksheet that distinguished between a “fixed mindset” and a “growth mindset,” and it was a genuine a-ha moment for me.

I’d heard and read about the growth mindset before, the idea that progress and change are possible for each of us—we are not “stuck” in who we think we are or what we think we can do. But there are three things I learned from that worksheet that deepened my understanding of the idea.

Start each day with encouragement for your soul. Order Mornings with Jesus 2019

1)  Choose Growth-Oriented Language

The worksheet offered a lovely set of vocabulary choices that feel helpful to me in my self-talk as well as the words I use to help others (including but not limited to my son) through challenging situations. “I should try a different strategy,” “I’m going to have to think through this one more carefully,” and “This will be challenging, but I’ll keep at it” are going to make their way into my resolutions as phrases I can use to integrate a growth mindset into everyday life.

2)  Check Your Self-Expectations

My son had pasted, “I am so good at this” in the “Fixed Mindset” column. At first I wondered if he had made a mistake—confidence is a necessary foundation for growth, isn’t it? But then I realized that expecting competence and success from ourselves can be a limiting thing as well as a positive one. Even though I think of myself as a skilled baker, for example, I know I need to read a new-to-me recipe carefully before I make it—and have the patience to try again if it doesn’t come out well the first time.

3)  Know When to Take a Break

So many of the growth mindset language focuses on giving yourself time to work through a problem. This makes sense—a fixed mindset is immediate, inflexible and permanent (i.e. “I give up!”). But for growth to happen, we need the space to review, reflect and approach a problem from a new perspective. Stepping away from a challenge can provide that space, and can give us a chance to let go of guilt, self-judgment and expectations of perfection, and get back to the business of growing and learning.

Has the “growth mindset” helped your life?

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