How to Visualize a Growth Mindset
20 statements to help you see things differently
Dr. Jeremy Sutton
Unless you’ve been off the planet for the past five years, you’re probably aware of the importance of adopting a “growth mindset” — or at least you’ve heard the term. Researcher Carol Dweck’s influential TED Talk and her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success emphasize the importance of the growth mindset.
But simply adopting this way of seeing the world is easier said than done. Integral to a growth mindset is an acceptance of neuroplasticity — the brain’s ability to make new connections and reorganize synaptic connections.
A growth mindset is about adopting an outlook that says “I can become smarter, more intelligent, and more talented by investing my time and effort.” Someone with a “fixed” mindset, on the other hand, believes that our abilities are relatively static — you either have it or you don’t.
The crux is whether you view the brain as fixed or malleable. And it matters because the mindset you adopt can lead to a marked difference in your approach to life and your mental well-being.
If you see intelligence and talent as unchanging, you are unlikely to put in the effort to develop. But if you see room for growth, you will invest your energies into achieving more ambitious goals.
Ultimately, those with a growth mindset achieve more of what they want and succeed more often when the rest of us have already given up. They also experience less anxiety, depression, and perfectionism.
As Dweck is quick to point out, it’s not enough to tell yourself you can improve.
Here are three key elements:
- You can’t simply say “I am optimistic and flexible in my thinking.” It’s something you must do.
- Praising and rewarding productive effort is not enough. You must also maintain a focus on the outcome.
- Saying to yourself and others that a growth mindset is the right thing to do, but you must back it up with focused effort.
How can I adopt a growth mindset?
This is where visualization can help. Popular in sports psychology, visualization has been shown to maintain skills and even fitness in injured elite athletes. After all, for much of the brain, imagining something is almost the same as actually doing it. And the more real you can make it, the better.
Here’s how you begin the change. The following statements are all linked to a growth mindset and have been split into four groups: challenges, growth and change, strengths and talents, and passion.
- See failure as an opportunity to learn from your experiences rather than an end in itself.
- Accept that to accomplish anything worthwhile, you will face challenges and failure.
- Be tenacious. Hard work is not to be feared. When you fall, get back up.
- See challenges as opportunities for self-improvement.
- Replace the word “failing” with the word “learning” in your vocabulary.
Growth and change
- Believe in yourself, your skills and abilities, and your capacity to change.
- Enjoy being curious. Commit to lifelong learning, however that may look.
- Try out different learning tactics and strategies. No strategy fits every situation.
- Celebrate your own growth and that of others.
- Focus on learning well rather than learning quickly.
Strengths and talents
- Become more aware of your talents and strengths.
- Be proud of your imperfections—they make you unique.
- Stop seeking approval from others.
- Recognize that “genius” is hard work plus talent, not talent alone.
- Cultivate a sense of purpose, and keep things in perspective.
- Foster passion in all that you do, even when it is mundane.
- Seek to inspire others and to be inspired rather than envious.
- Reward actions rather than traits.
- Cultivate grit (determination and perseverance).
- Take risks, and be vulnerable with others.
Where do I start?
We will use the scientifically proven power of visualization and mindfulness and their effect on the neuroplasticity of the brain.
Begin by making free time for mindful visualization.
- Choose one of the groups of statements above and spend five minutes reading through them.
- Select a statement that resonates with you.
- Find somewhere quiet and comfortable where you are unlikely to be interrupted.
Spend a few moments, eyes shut, with an awareness of each breath.
- As thoughts come into your mind, gently guide your focus back to your breathing.
- Breathing comfortably, turn your mind to the statement you have chosen.
- Repeat it in your head—or out loud, if you prefer.
- Imagine what it would be like if tomorrow you chose that phrase as your mantra for life in everything you do: How would you feel? What would you look like to others? What could you do?
- Imagine the possibilities of adopting this single statement.
Repeat the process every day for the next two weeks, and notice how different you feel from when you began.
The above practice has the potential to rewire your thinking to something more helpful and leads to habit-forming.
It becomes natural to approach choices, obstacles, and opportunities with a more helpful growth mindset. Perhaps most importantly, it could offer protection from mental health problems.
Good luck. And who knows where saying yes will take you?
Dr. Jeremy Sutton
Psychologist and writer in Positive and Performance Psychology (www.positivepsychology.com). Exploring positive psychology and cognitive science to better understand human potential. Owner of the "Learning to Flourish" community dedicated to sharing the tools for wellbeing (link below).