“Did I win? Did I lose? Those are the wrong questions.
The correct question is: Did I make my best effort?
You may be outscored but you will never lose.”
Many of you have heard of the book “Mindset” by Carol S. Dweck, some of you have read it. If not, let me give you some great reasons to do so.
It was recommended to me by several of my colleagues in the field of sport psychology and after reading it I understand why. Carol Dweck is talking about two types of basic beliefs that people tend to have which affect the way we live our lives and what we are able to achieve. First is the so-called “fixed mindset”: a belief that one’s qualities are “carved in stone”, they are unchangeable. The “growth mindset” on the other hand is a belief that our qualities can be developed throughout our lives. We are talking about all kinds of qualities: intelligence, personality, the way we communicate with people, build relationships, teach, learn, play sports and do business. The whole concept of the growth mindset changes the understanding of effort: many of us think that if we apply effort then we are not smart (talented, good or insert a suitable adjective here) enough for success to come naturally. For example, statements like “I suck at ball games”; “I was never much of a singer”; “I am just not good in math” and such reflect the fixed mindset. Growth mindset praises effort as the only way of developing oneself, i.e. winning.
I will focus specifically on the sport and how mindset is important in it. There is a certain myth of being “a natural” in sports, having an inborn talent for playing, let’s say, basketball. Not everybody knows that the most famous name in basketball, Michael Jordan, did not make the cut for his high school team, didn’t get accepted to the college team he wanted to play for and was not drafted number one (or two!) overall in the NBA. Where is the talent here? His talent as we now understand is his mindset: he worked, worked and worked even harder on his weaknesses in order to become better.
What about Babe Ruth? The legendary Yankee player with a big beer belly and even bigger commitment to the game which made him a champion in the end. Wilma Rudolph? Won three Olympic Golden medals, has a title of “The fastest woman in the world”. She was a very sick child and was promised by doctors never to be able to walk again because of the polio. “I just want to be remembered as a hard-working lady”, she said (Dweck, 2008, p.88).
Carol Dweck writes about several findings that defined the champion, a person with a growth mindset:
1. Success is doing your best. If you are doing your best you are always a winner.
2. Failure is motivating and informative, not a reason for frustration and dropout. When babies learn how to walk they do not consider themselves a failure and give up trying.
3.The process that brings success is under one’s own control.
While reading the book I was constantly noticing where in my life I was in a trap of fixed mindset. How do I get rid of it? The good news is that a growth mindset can be developed! So often we hear that kids are being praised for their abilities: “You won that medal, you are such a great athlete!”. What’s wrong about praising? In this praise the ability is emphasized. So, after hearing this, what would a kid think: “Well, I am a great athlete, therefore I will be winning”. But it takes a lot of effort to keep on winning. It is very important to praise effort and not the ability: “You did a great job practicing for this competition!”. The best teachers and best coaches, like the famous John Wooden, know how to develop the growth mindsets that would work in all the life domains.
These same principles work in business: it is not about charismatic leaders, it is about developing your team. Applied to a relationship: building a relationship is a lot of work and if it is hard it doesn’t mean “it was not meant to be”. The book provides questions and exercises on how to understand your mindset and help it become a growth mindset. Most important, when working with others (athletes, kids, business colleagues and relationship partners) you will be able to help them grow and become successful. With growth mindset so many more doors will open for you.
Dweck, C. S. (2008). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York NY: Random House Publishing Group, pp. 278.
Lisa Novoradovskaya is currently a master’s degree student in Sport and Exercise Psychology at University of Jyväskylä (Finland) and graduated with honors with a bachelor’s degree in social psychology from the Russian State University for the Humanities (Moscow, Russia). Her current research area is in sedentary behavior and promotion of physical activity.