4 Ways to Hold On to a Growth Mindset in the Face of Failure or Criticism

Just because you believe in the benefits of having a growth mindset doesn’t mean you’re not plagued with thoughts like, “I’m just bad at this,” or, “They are so talented; I’ll never be as good as they are.”

Carol Dweck, the psychologist who coined the term, acknowledges that maintaining a growth mindset is challenging:

“We all have our own fixed-mindset triggers. When we face challenges, receive criticism, or fare poorly compared with others, we can easily fall into insecurity or defensiveness, a response that inhibits growth.”

I was introduced to the growth-mindset concept during my college football career. As you might imagine, fixed-mindset triggers are abundant in college athletics. You’re subject to endless evaluation and criticism by fans, scouts, coaches, teammates, and often yourself.

Through my efforts to respond positively to these triggers, I eventually found ways of thinking that made it easier for me to maintain a growth mindset. This is where I developed the four practices that I’m going to share with you.

1. Revisit Progress

If you’ve been practicing a growth mindset for a while, it’s likely that you have seen some form of progress. Remind yourself of that progress, and use it as evidence that you can continue to improve by staying the course.

“I’ve gotten way better at X by doing this. In time, I believe it will help me with Y, too.”

2. Reframe Failure

Most will acknowledge there is plenty to learn from failing. In the event that you do fail, try to reframe it as a single occurrence (although it almost certainly will not be 🙃). Focus on what you will do better or try next time, not on what went wrong this time.

“I failed at X this time, but next time I will make sure to do Y.”

3. Restructure Objectives

It can be difficult to apply a growth mindset to a long task because it takes time to get the feedback that you need to evaluate yourself. In that case, try breaking things down into smaller, repetitive objectives. By doing so, you can evaluate yourself more frequently, which gives you more opportunities to practice applying a growth mindset.

“I overlooked X today. But now I know about it, so tomorrow I will be ready.”

4. Recognize & Reflect

Inevitably, something will cause you to slip into a fixed mindset. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s helpful to reflect on whether there’s somewhere you need to improve; if there is, just pivot back to a growth mindset. Realizing that you haven’t been applying a growth mindset is itself the first step to doing so!

“I really want to get better at X, and I’m going to figure out how to.”

Today, I’m a member of the software industry, which offers its own fixed-mindset triggers. There isn’t a need to perform physically, but the expectation to be exceptionally proficient and skilled at your craft still exists.

Fortunately, these four approaches make it much easier for me to maintain a growth mindset — remembering, of course, that there’s no right or wrong mixture of fixed vs. growth mindset to have in your life. You have to find what works best for you. I hope this approach helps you in your quest to do that.