Imagine you are a tennis player who has just won a match against a tough opponent. You feel happy and proud of your performance. You think to yourself: "I did well. I have the skills and abilities to win. I can always get better."
Now imagine you are a tennis player who has just lost a match against a tough opponent. You feel frustrated and disappointed with your performance. You think to yourself: "I did poorly. I don't have what it takes to win. I'll never improve."
What is the difference between these two scenarios? The difference is not in the outcome of the match, but in the mindset of the players. The first player has a growth mindset, while the second player has a fixed mindset.
A mindset is a set of beliefs and attitudes that shape how you view yourself, your abilities, your challenges, and your goals. A fixed mindset is when you believe that your qualities and talents are fixed and cannot be changed. A growth mindset is when you believe that your qualities and talents can be developed and improved through effort and learning.
Now, you may ask: Why does mindset matter for sport and exercise? Because your mindset influences how you approach your sport and exercise activities, how you cope with difficulties and setbacks, how you respond to feedback and criticism, and how you enjoy and perform in your chosen physical activity.
According to research, having a growth mindset allows athletes to embrace learning, and welcome challenges, mistakes, and feedback. A growth mindset guides one's response to challenge and their ability to self-reflect in the face of setbacks. A fixed mindset, which is characterized by the interpretation of situations as unchangeable, leaves little or no room for personal agency. In jobs, relationships, and daily operations, challenges are absolute. How one engages with those challenges (and their perceived level of agency within them) will influence further behaviour.
In sport and exercise, having a growth mindset can lead to increased motivation, resilience, confidence, enjoyment, and performance. Research has shown that athletes with a growth mindset tend to set more challenging goals, persist longer in the face of obstacles, seek more feedback, learn from their mistakes, and perform better than athletes with a fixed mindset. Moreover, having a growth mindset can enhance one's intrinsic motivation, which in turn has been associated with higher levels of satisfaction, emotional well-being, and adherence in sport and exercise psychology.
In this article, I will explain what growth mindset is, how to develop it, and why it can benefit you in sport and exercise. I will also provide some examples of how growth mindset can help you overcome challenges or improve your performance psychology.
What is growth mindset?
Growth mindset is the belief that one's qualities and talents can be developed and improved through effort and learning. People with a growth mindset see themselves as works in progress, who can grow and change with experience. They are not afraid of challenges, because they see them as opportunities to learn and improve. They are not discouraged by mistakes, because they see them as feedback and sources of information. They are not threatened by criticism, because they see it as a way to identify their weaknesses and work on them. They are not jealous of others' success, because they see it as inspiration and motivation.
The opposite of growth mindset is fixed mindset, which is the belief that one's qualities and talents are fixed and cannot be changed. People with a fixed mindset see themselves as static entities, who have a certain amount of ability and potential that cannot be altered. They are afraid of challenges, because they see them as threats to their self-image and competence. They are discouraged by mistakes, because they see them as failures and evidence of their limitations. They are threatened by criticism, because they see it as an attack on their identity and worth. They are jealous of others' success, because they see it as a sign of their inferiority.
Research has shown that people can have different mindsets in different domains, such as intelligence, personality, creativity, sports, or relationships. For example, one can have a growth mindset about their intelligence, but a fixed mindset about their personality. One can have a growth mindset about their creativity, but a fixed mindset about their sports skills. One can have a growth mindset about their relationships, but a fixed mindset about their health.
However, having a growth mindset in one domain does not guarantee having a growth mindset in another domain. Therefore, it is important to cultivate a growth mindset in all domains that are relevant and meaningful to one's life goals and aspirations.
How to develop a growth mindset?
Developing a growth mindset is not a one-time event, but a continuous process that requires awareness, practice, and feedback. Here are some practical strategies for developing a growth mindset in sport and exercise:
- Set process goals. Process goals are goals that focus on the actions and behaviours that lead to the desired outcome, rather than the outcome itself. For example, instead of setting a goal to win a race, set a goal to follow a specific training plan, or to improve your technique, or to run faster than your previous time. Process goals help you focus on what you can control and what you can improve, rather than what you cannot control or what you already have.
- Restructure negative thoughts. Negative thoughts are thoughts that undermine your confidence, motivation, and performance. They often involve words like "can't", "should", "must", "always", or "never". For example, "I can't do this", "I should be better", "I must win", "I always choke", or "I never succeed". Negative thoughts can trigger a fixed mindset and make you feel helpless and hopeless. To restructure negative thoughts, you need to challenge them and replace them with more positive and realistic thoughts. For example, "I can do this if I try hard and learn from my mistakes", "I can be better if I practice and seek feedback", "I want to win but I can also learn from losing", "I sometimes choke but I can overcome it with relaxation techniques", or "I have succeeded before and I can succeed again".
- Use positive self-talk. Positive self-talk is the act of talking to yourself in a supportive and encouraging way. It can help you boost your mood, confidence, and performance. It can also help you cope with stress, anxiety, and pain. Positive self-talk involves using words like "can", "will", "choose", "try", or "improve". For example, "I can do this", "I will give my best effort", "I choose to see this as a challenge", "I will try again", or "I will improve with practice". Positive self-talk can help you foster a growth mindset and make you feel more empowered and optimistic.
- Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is the state of being fully present and aware of your thoughts, feelings, sensations, and surroundings in the moment, without judging them as good or bad. Mindfulness can help you develop a growth mindset by helping you focus on the process rather than the outcome, accept your emotions rather than avoid them, learn from your experiences rather than dwell on them, and appreciate your strengths rather than compare yourself to others. Mindfulness can be practiced through various techniques, such as meditation, breathing exercises, body scans, or mindful movement.
- Find role models. Role models are people who inspire you and demonstrate the qualities and behaviours that you want to emulate. Role models can help you develop a growth mindset by showing you how they overcome challenges, learn from mistakes, seek feedback, celebrate effort, and achieve their goals. Role models can be anyone who has achieved success in your domain of interest, such as athletes, coaches, trainers, mentors, peers, or friends. You can find role models by reading their stories, watching their videos, listening to their podcasts, following their social media accounts, or contacting them directly. And then you can visualize becoming someone like them in the future.
Benefits of growth mindset for sport and exercise
Having a growth mindset can benefit you in many ways in sport and exercise. Here are some of the benefits of having a growth mindset for sport and exercise:
- Increased motivation. Having a growth mindset can increase your motivation to engage in sport and exercise, because you see them as opportunities to learn, grow, and improve. You are not afraid of failure, because you see it as a temporary setback, not a permanent label. You are not complacent, because you see that there is always room for improvement. You are not bored, because you see that there is always something new to learn or try.
- Increased resilience. Having a growth mindset can increase your resilience to cope with difficulties and setbacks in sport and exercise, because you see them as challenges, not threats. You are not discouraged, because you see that you can overcome them with effort and learning. You are not stressed, because you see that you can control your response to them. You are not depressed, because you see that you can bounce back from them.
- Increased confidence. Having a growth mindset can increase your confidence in your abilities and potential in sport and exercise, because you see that they are not fixed, but malleable. You are not insecure, because you see that you are not defined by your performance or comparison to others. You are not arrogant, because you see that you are not superior or inferior to others. You are not anxious, because you see that you can handle any situation or outcome.
- Increased enjoyment. Having a growth mindset can increase your enjoyment of sport and exercise, because you see them as fun and rewarding activities, not as chores or obligations. You are not pressured, because you see that you are doing them for yourself, not for others. You are not frustrated, because you see that you are making progress, not stagnating. You are not burned out, because you see that you are balancing them with other aspects of your life.
- Increased performance. Having a growth mindset can increase your performance in sport and exercise, because you see that they are influenced by your effort and learning, not by your talent or luck. You are not distracted, because you see that you are focused on the process, not on the outcome. You are not careless, because you see that you are attentive to details, not to shortcuts. You are not stagnant, because you see that you are constantly improving, not plateauing.
In this article, I have explained what growth mindset is, how to develop it, and why it can benefit you in sport and exercise. I have also provided some examples of how growth mindset can help you overcome challenges or improve your performance in sport and exercise. You may also want to check out this article where I talk about developing a growth mindset and achieving your goals.
To summarize, growth mindset is the belief that one's qualities and talents can be developed and improved through effort and learning. Growth mindset can help you embrace challenges, seek feedback, learn from mistakes, and celebrate effort. Growth mindset can also increase your motivation, resilience, confidence, enjoyment, and performance in sport and exercise.
I hope you have found this article informative and useful. I encourage you to apply the growth mindset principles to improve your mental health and performance psychology. Remember, you are not fixed, but flexible. You are not limited, but limitless. You are not stuck, but growing.
I would love to know if you have used growth mindset in your life. Feel free to comment below!
If you enjoyed reading this article, you may also like this article that summarizes 10 Effective Mental Strategies for Sports Performance Enhancement: