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The Growth Mindset

February 20, 2012

It's all about growth and development.As we discussed last week, there are two basic mindsets:  fixed and growth.  The fixed mindset believes that the ability that we are naturally born with can only be altered slightly.  On the contrary, the growth mindset believes that through persistent effort we can significantly alter our abilities.  The growth mindset is so much more appealing isn’t it?  Don’t we teach kids to work hard in school and go after their dreams?  Shouldn’t we all have growth mindsets?

So, why does the “fixed mindset” exist?  I think the answer is quite simple, we become focused on external factors and approval in the fixed mindset.  We need the approval of others, $$$ and external success to validate who we are as people. This is a tough way to live, especially because we are allowing things outside of our control to essentially control us.  In the growth mindset, it is all about the internal focus on maximum effort and getting better.  What if I give maximum effort and I still lose?  Have I been successful?  In a growth mindset, you have been successful, while in a fixed mindset you are a failure.

So Dads, what message are you giving your kids?  Is it all about winning, GPA and the bottom line?  That’s fine, but then you cannot be shocked when your kids grow up to be uptight, fearful perfectionists, who might achieve well, but who are not particularly happy people.  I can hear some of you screaming, “Get real Pat!!!  It is dog-eat-eat out there big boy!  You gotta win.”  True, it is dog-eat-dog out there.  But, the real question is the way to win by externally focusing on winning?  Do the best, most creative companies get long term results by cramming spreadsheets and quarterly targets down peoples’ throats?  I don’t think so.

How many 13 or 14 year old athletes have you seen that have just got burned out and quit?  I have seen a few.  Why did they quit?  A fixed mindset that is obsessed with results and loses the joy of personal growth and development.  Our job as parents is to encourage growth in our children.  We might have to start by putting our own externally based fixed mindset away, so our kids do not feel like that is all that matters.  As a competitor,  I struggle with not focusing on the outcome, but I also know that is not the true path to high level performance of any kind.

Give your kids the gift of “growth” by focusing on their effort level and not the final outcome.

Patrick Donohue is a Life Coach in Oak Park, IL.  For a complementary session, contact him at

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