Two weeks ago, I discussed the importance of developing a life-purpose map to help you get where you want to go. Last week, I introduced the idea of gaining a fresh perspective on your goals and stretching outside of the familiar to challenge yourself in new ways. The third and final post in this mini-series outlines my journey through setting SMART goals. Join me as I launch my journey toward growing a growth mindset.

Spring has sprung in Asheville, NC
Spring has sprung in Asheville, NC

Assess Your Mindset

Stanford University professor Carol Dweck has studied mindset for over 30 years. If you want to know whether you have a fixed or a growth mindset, take her short quiz.

I know I’m onto something when I read part of my results: “You may be coasting when you could be excelling. You probably have more potential than you are using.”

Add to that my husband’s recent question, “Do you want to look back at this time with regrets, or amazement at all you’ve accomplished?” Easy. I hate regret.

Quilled ornaments at Thyme in the Garden.
Quilled ornaments at Thyme in the Garden.

Steps Toward a Growth Mindset

Once I recognized that I want to develop stronger tendencies toward a growth mindset, I tried imagining what would be different when I had one. In other words, starting with the end goal in mind. But what exactly does someone with a growth mindset do?

Growth Mindset Attributes

Below is a comprehensive list of mindset attributes compiled from a wide variety of resources including Precision Nutrition, Future Learn, Carol Dweck’s research, and Steve Hogarty at WeWork.

  • Practice “beginner’s mind
  • Seek new perspectives
  • Seek out challenges
  • Be self-compassionate
  • Think on a continuum
  • Focus on effort over results
  • Embrace and analyze “failure” or mistakes
  • Take small steps daily
  • Get out of your comfort zone
  • Roll with the punches
  • Set realistic and reasonable expectations
  • Identify and record bright spots
Wood ducks remind me of my desire to grow a growth mindset. I think of problems as water droplets that I can shake off my feathers and continue to go with the flow.
Wood ducks remind me of my desire to grow a growth mindset. I think of problems as water droplets that I can shake off my feathers and continue to go with the flow.

Create a Shortlist

I can hear you griping. It’s just like reading a better eating habits list that starts with “chew each bite forty times,” “avoid multi-tasking,” and “set your fork down between each bite.” If you’re like me, you took one look at the long list and felt like quitting before you even started.

That’s the fixed mindset at work.

Read the list again. What three actions jump out at you? What are a few items you feel could be helpful but not impossible, that might result in forward progress? That’s where to start. Here’s my shortlist.

Thyme in the Garden, a lovely boutique garden shop outside of Asheville, NC
Thyme in the Garden, a lovely boutique garden shop outside of Asheville, NC

Channel Your Inner Wood Duck

My mantra for “roll with the punches” has been to “channel my inner wood duck.” I love the beautiful, multi-colored birds pictured above. I imagine water droplets — problems — landing on my feathers and simply shaking them off and continuing on my way down the stream. No harm, no foul.

What’s a Reasonable Expectation?

When I reached “set realistic and reasonable expectations,” I hesitated. What change might I see by summer, if I put serious effort into it? Can someone with decades of fixed mindset develop a growth mindset in all areas of life? Is it a lifetime pursuit? If I wanted to see measurable progress, how might I go about making a deliberate change?

Beautiful blooming bushes remind me of the one constant in life: Change.
Beautiful blooming bushes remind me of the one constant in life: Change.

Growth Mindset Action 1: Identify Bright Spots

I finally settled on the last one on the list, “Identify bright spots,” as my first action. I already have a habit of recording three wins each evening (an activity suggested in Dan Sullivan’s The Gap and The Gain). So it should be straightforward to change that to “record bright spots related to a growth mindset.”

In this way, I am training myself to call obstacles challenges and opportunities, not roadblocks. Language matters.

Blooming tulips during a walk in Asheville, NC.
Blooming tulips during a walk in Asheville, NC.

Whichever task you choose, focus on one action for two weeks. Write down your start and end date on a calendar or app. Then at the end of two weeks, assess whether you notice a difference.

Set up a support system. Give yourself a sticker when you complete your daily task. Set up reminders to keep it front and center. Tell someone about your intention. When you reach the end of the time period, decide whether you want to keep the habit (if it helped) or change focus to a new one. Every two weeks, evaluate your progress.

Ready to grow? Get set, GO!

Published by Courtenay Schurman

Co-author of The Outdoor Athlete (2009) and Train to Climb Mt. Rainier or Any High Peak DVD (2002), author of Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills/conditioning chapter 4 (3 editions), and Peak Performance column for the Mountaineers Mag (2014-present). Member of PNWA, SCBWI, EPIC. Served on the steering committee for WOTS (2019-present). Completed UW Certificate program for Children's Literature and Memoir. Co-owner of Body Results, Inc. in Seattle. Climb leader with Seattle Mountaineers for over 15 years. Volunteer at Woodland Park Zoo since 2014.

2 replies on “How to Grow a Growth Mindset”

  1. I truly needed this post, if only to REMIND me of the importance (the criticality?) of cultivating a Growth Mindset. I have BELIEVED in seeking growth for so many years… yet I have not taken many strides to go from beliefs to actions; the notable exception, of course, is around my passion for outdoors pursuits.
    As our quirky universe often likes to do, I was recently made aware that I now must (ooohhh…big scary word!) scramble out of one of my comfortable ruts and explore a big bad world out there. I had, a couple months ago, some big health scares that made it painfully very clear that, if I do not make significant and sustained efforts to change part of my lifestyle, I will have to give up what I like the most: hiking, backpacking, exploring the outdoors. The big bad world I need to go and explore is the proper-nutrition universe; understanding what is good and what is less so, how to select and procure these beneficial foods, how to then plan my three daily meals, how to prepare the food (no… shoving a plate in the microwave and hitting “ON” can’t be the sole answer), and consuming my masterpieces as if I had time to truly enjoy a meal, etc. From your list, being compassionate will be key as I totally expect my first “creations” to fail at grabbing even a distant tiny twinkling Michelin star. Focusing on effort over results would be my next priority; this is not unlike “showing up” when I need to train over the long winter months – I may not hike more than 4 or 6 miles, but I am out walking. I may have to share some or all of my meals with the raccoons in the backyard, but that’s OK if I put on a good effort trying to whip up something edible. The last one of my top three would be to set reasonable and realistic expectations; I am not the most patient or the most forgiving of “students”, but I have made some progress over time.. I CAN do it! The aforementioned universe appears to have always watched over me and, just as I have to become a health-conscious cook, I not only came across your blog….and my thru-hiking mentor, who used to work in the restaurant industry and is very health-conscious, decided to transform our weekly lunches at his home into crash-courses in whole foods preparation! I am feeling for my overworked guardian angel, but I am also very grateful for his continued faith in me.

    1. Awesome, Gerard — and remember, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. And we are ALL “works in progress” – what I call WIP’s — and think of it as a culinary adventure. How can you make small actions fun and inviting? How can you break down the scary into bite-sized chunks (pun intended) so that you are excited about learning and growing rather than dissing yourself for not being there yet? You got this! No, WE GOT THIS, together!

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