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Growth vs. Fixed Mindset: The Key to Confidence

Carol Dweck, a psychologist and researcher, found that people fall into two categories of mindset. One group believes traits like our intelligence and abilities are innate and unchangeable and we only have a set amount of them or fixed mindset. The other group believes that we can change and grow depending upon the level of effort we put into things or growth mindset. These mindsets can play a huge role in how we behave and the level of success we feel in our lives.


These mindsets are similar to another psychological theory of internal vs. external locus of control. This concept, developed by Julian Rotter, is based on how we perceive things that happen to us. Some of us with internal locus of control believe that we have control over our circumstances, can find resources, and--through our own decisions and hard work--can find success. Those with external locus of control often feel that the things that happen to them are outside of their control, and often attribute them to luck or fate.


It's not that one or the other is necessarily bad. Indeed, sometimes things really are not in our control. The point is, though, that the more we assign control and choice to the external world, the less we feel a sense of free will and instead feel like life is happening to us. It can be very defeating.


People with fixed mindset often share these traits: they avoid challenges, give up easily, don't think effort is worthwhile, can't handle constructive criticism and feel jealous of others' success. People with growth mindset and more internal locus of control share these traits: they like a challenge, persist in the face of setbacks, are willing to put forth effort, can allow for feedback and find inspiration from the success of others.


A prime example of growth mindset is Thomas Edison. His teachers told him he was too stupid to learn anything, he was fired from jobs for being non-productive, and he tried over 1,000 times before successfully creating the lightbulb we all still use today. He never gave up and believed more in himself than what others thought about him for sure. In fact, history is full of incredible leaders and innovators who definitely did not possess a fixed mindset.


So how can you change your locus of control and mindset? That leads us to yet another concept called bias toward action or inaction. If you don't believe your efforts are worthwhile, then you will have a bias toward inaction. You won't try for more. However, to make the shift, you have to will yourself into action. Make a goal and the steps to get you there. Set some deadlines. Visualize yourself completing this goal and how it will feel. Affirm yourself by saying: "I'm not perfect, and I'm not limited. I am not a failure just because some things have failed. I can keep learning and adjust to do better. I'm willing to try."


You can also look here for some exercises and worksheets to help: https://positivepsychology.com/internal-external-locus-of-control/


Lastly, in our culture, it can be easy to argue that effort is not rewarded and we attribute the most success to the "natural." Certainly, it feels like all the influencers out there on social media haven't always worked very hard to make those millions. The athlete who has spent hours of practice on the field or court isn't always the winning bet against the opponent with less experience, and the lottery winner certainly had an external force of luck. But, I can also provide examples of many who didn't know how to maintain their success or influence, frittered away their millions, and lost their natural abilities one way or another. So in achieving your sense of confidence and ability to feel your own measure of success, growth mindset is still key. Go forth and grow!


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