The growth mindset and its opposite, the fixed mindset, were discovered by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck and popularized in her bestselling book, Mindset. In her research with children she noticed it was not necessarily the smartest students who got the best grades and went to the best colleges. More often, the students who did the best were the students who the most tenacious. When she investigated what made these students persevere in the face of challenges, she found their mindset is often what made the difference.
The students who kept working on problems despite being frustrated usually had a growth mindset. They relished a challenge because they saw it as an opportunity to learn. We all enjoy solving problems easily. It makes us feel smart and it gets rid of problems faster. However, we don’t grow unless we occasionally struggle with problems slightly beyond our skill level. The students who struggled with difficult problems without giving up saw the problems as an opportunity to grow. That is, they didn’t believe the problem was only a test of their abilities, but that it was actually a way to expand their abilities.
The opposite of a growth mindset is a fixed mindset. Whereas students with a growth mindset saw a difficult problem as a chance to learn, students with a fixed mindset saw a difficult problem as a chance to fail. They believed their intelligence or skill was largely innate and encountering a problem they couldn’t solve immediately meant they had reached the fixed boundary of their abilities.
For students with a fixed mindset, a problem wasn’t a challenge but a sign of failure. As a result, these students often avoided trying new things unless they were already confident they would do them well. These were often students who had been told they were smart and they didn’t want to risk failure because it might prove they weren’t so smart after all. Students with fixed mindsets were more reluctant to take on new challenges, and quicker to give up when things got tough.
Students with a growth mindset were the opposite. They were more likely to try new things, knowing they probably wouldn’t do well at first. They felt more confident that they would improve with practice. They were less concerned about looking smart and more concerned about getting better. They were more willing to take harder classes and try new things. They were more confident that even if they did badly, they could improve by working hard. They sometimes did worse in the short term than the students with a fixed mindset, but they usually did better in the long run.
A growth mindset and addiciton
Growth vs. fixed mindset isn’t only important for children in school. Mindset makes a difference at any age. Having a growth mindset is especially important for overcoming addiction. For one thing, a fixed mindset has been linked to depression and anxiety. The belief that you can’t improve your own skills and abilities is a form of learned helplessness, which can lead to depression. It’s the feeling that it doesn’t really matter what you do, so you might as well give up. A fixed mindset also creates a lot of anxiety because you feel like you have little control over your own circumstances, so you just have to wait for whatever happens. Depression and anxiety are highly correlated with depression and changing your beliefs about your own abilities helps control depression and anxiety.
More to the point, addiction is the biggest challenge most people will ever face. To even try to recover from addiction requires some level of belief that you can change. If you don’t believe you can change, why spend the time and money to try? Addiction will present many new problems, which you can either view as opportunities to grow or opportunities to fail. If you are going to persevere for very long, it helps to see these problems as soluble and also as opportunities to become a stronger person.
How to develop a growth mindset
Notice your thoughts.
The first step in developing a growth mindset is to become more aware of fixed mindset thinking. When you find something challenging, what’s your first thought? “I can’t do this”? “I might look foolish”? Whatever it is, accept that’s how you feel right now and then work on changing it. A practice like mindfulness meditation might help you become more aware and accepting of your thoughts.
Know that change is inevitable.
Some things are so difficult that we find it nearly impossible to believe that we will ever be good at them. However, we change all the time and whether that change is good or bad depends mostly on our efforts. Try to remember other times you felt hopeless but eventually succeeded anyway. Most of us struggled at first to walk, talk, read, write, and do basic arithmetic but now those things are so automatic we hardly remember the struggle. What seems hard today will usually seem easy after a year of consistent effort. That includes the various challenges related to overcoming addiction.
Focus on the process
Most of the time, improvement comes slowly. Some days are up and others are down. It’s hard to notice small daily improvements and when you don’t see the improvement, it’s easy to get discouraged. The solution is to focus on the process rather than the results. Work with your therapist and other treatment staff to figure out a process that works for you and stick to it. There might be weeks or months where you don’t notice any progress, but after a year will see a huge difference.
One powerful ways to adopt a growth mindset is to reframe problems as challenges, rather than things that happen to you. A challenge is an opportunity to grow and become stronger. A challenge is like a barbell for your mind. Not only will you feel less helpless, but you may even find yourself taking on new challenges.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction or mental illness, The Dawn Medical Rehab and Wellness center can help. We are one of Thailand’s most respected addiction treatment and wellness centers. We use cutting-edge treatment modalities to provide personalized care to treat addiction, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, PTSD, and executive burnout. See our contact page to reach us by phone or email.