Want to get past a challenge? You don’t need to avoid challenges. Instead, try embracing them with a growth mindset to become stronger and more resilient.
Challenges give us two choices:
One is a fixed mindset, and the other is a growth mindset. Guess which gives you a better life? Let’s talk about the difference between the two.
A fixed mindset means we steer clear of anything—challenges, activities, situations—that pushes us outside our comfort zone. As Carol Dweck explained, we do this because we believe we’re making our lives safer and easier.
But the truth is avoiding challenges and staying in tight-fitting comfort zones can leave us feeling empty, directionless, and bored.
A growth mindset does the opposite.
It drives us forward and inspires us to seek out challenges. It helps us to embrace challenges as an opportunity to get stronger and learn something new. It encourages us to feel the fear and do it anyway.
Here’s another difference—a fixed mindset makes excuses:
“Now isn’t the right time for that.”
“I might upset the apple cart.”
“I’m too tired.”
“I’m not the kind of person that can do that.”
“My parents never taught me how to do it.”
“It’s too hard. I’m not smart enough.”
A growth mindset doesn’t look for excuses or make-up reasons for certain behaviors. Instead, it lets us take responsibility for our actions, rather than justify our bad behavior by blaming external factors—like traffic, our mother, or our salary.
We can toss that list, step up and move on more powerfully when we…
I remember walking into my office 10 minutes late for a session with a client. I’d been in heavy Chicago traffic; I felt rushed and annoyed. I looked at my client and said, “I got stuck in traffic. Come on, let’s go.”
He just sat there. He folded his arms across his chest and looked me in the eye. He said, “No.”
I was confused for a moment, and I began offering up a litany of excuses and explanations. “Traffic was unbelievable. I missed a light, and it was gridlocked.”
He looked at me and said, “If I was the president of the United States, would you have been late to this appointment? It’s not that you were late because of traffic. You didn’t leave earlier because I wasn’t important enough to you.”
It stopped me dead in my tracks. He was right. I wasn’t late because of traffic. I could have left my house fifteen minutes earlier. I could have planned appropriately.
I was late because I didn’t prioritize him.
Running late may not seem like a big deal to many of us. We all know people who are perpetually running late. Maybe we’re even one of them. But if we want something bad enough, we will show up ready and on time.
When we set our priorities with a growth mindset, we don’t need to make excuses.
What do we need to do?
When someone calls us out on our bad behavior, do we get defensive, or do we listen? A growth mindset allows us to listen to the feedback of others.
To embrace growth, we need to learn from criticism. We need to seek it out. An honest critique is a gift. It gives us feedback on where we can improve. A growth mindset lets us drop our defenses and understand the criticism so it can make us better. It can help us learn.
And we can learn from anyone. Even babies!
When we fall, do we stay down, or do we get back up?
Think of babies learning to walk. What if a baby said, “I’m just not good at walking. It’s too hard. I’m going to keep crawling instead!” Imagine what she would look like going to school or trying to get a job? It’s a silly picture, but it proves the point.
With a growth mindset, a setback is simply a chance to practice persistence.
But sometimes, that fixed mindset won’t budge. It’s been a part of us for a while, after all. But as we become more aware of it, we can look for more ways to bypass it.
Jilt the Jealousy and Be Inspired Instead
When we look at someone’s win and say, “I could never do that,” we’re shaming ourselves. We’re making excuses (there’s that list again!) We’re seeking justification. We’re shifting the blame on circumstances beyond our control. We’re comparing ourselves:
They were able to succeed because they went to an Ivy League school.
They were able to win because they had more time to train.
They were able to get sales because the boss likes them better.
They came from money, so they have an advantage.
What if we looked at someone’s success as a source of inspiration? What if we learned from their mastery? What if we explored how they overcome their obstacles so the next time, we can do the same? Because the reality is, obstacles keep us strong. They teach us to think on our feet and come up with new solutions.
Look at all we’ve learned over the past year and a half. The pandemic has taught us a greater appreciation for others, how to reconfigure our approach to work, how to get along with others, and many other things. These will serve us well beyond these immediate challenges.
There are always great lessons if we can just let ourselves step back and reframe. When we do that, we will no longer find ourselves asking…
An attorney came to see me. He said, “I think I want to quit law.” He explained he was feeling miserable. It was boring. He wasn’t enjoying his work, and every day felt like drudgery. “I dread every day I go to the office. It’s not bringing me any joy.”
I said, “Do me a favor tonight. Do you have a case tomorrow?”
“Yes, but it’s nothing special. Another energy law case. I’m pretty much already prepared.”
I told him, “I want you to go home and prepare for tomorrow as you’ve never prepared before. Even if you know this stuff inside and out, I want you to make tomorrow’s case your best case ever.”
He agreed and went home. The next day I got a call.
“Guess what! I did what you said. I went home and prepared like crazy. I presented the case today, and I was on fire! I dominated the meeting; everyone listened to me. I felt alive again! It was amazing!” He was radiant, and I could hear the enthusiasm return to his voice.
I told him to repeat the preparation and to keep pushing himself past complacency. Every step of his career fell in line after that; he started rapidly moving ahead. Today, he’s pioneering a whole new type of law because he developed a growth mindset. He leaned into his life.
So back to our two choices that show up with every challenge—do we give up, or do we embrace it and move forward? Here’s the thing: It’s not the right job that makes us happy. It’s not the right school, or the right social circle, or an easy life.
Start today. When the next challenging situation or conversation comes along, and it will, lean in.
Grow your mind, and your life will follow.
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The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.