Studies have shown one of the strongest indicators of future success in life is whether you live with a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.
Fixed mindset: People who believe intelligence is something you’re either born with or you’re not. These people go to great lengths to avoid situations that reveal their lack of intelligence or competence—leading to insecurities about how they compare to those around them.
Growth mindset: People who believe intelligence is a reflection of their ability to learn and equate learning with effort. As long as they keep trying, and continue to see the obstacles in front of them as a natural part of the process, they will improve.
However, while it might seem obvious that living with a growth mindset is the better way to go, it’s easier said than done.
For example, the other day I was taking my middle son to Jui Jitsu.
We just started parent-child classes, and I take him every week. After class, one of the instructors said to me, “When are we going to get you in here?” It reminded me of something my wife and I have talked about, where we remember as kids our parents telling us to “go dance” or “go play basketball,” but they weren’t doing those activities themselves. When the instructor asked me, immediately a handful of excuses came to mind: “Ah, I’m so busy these days. This is more for my son—I already have a workout routine,” and so on.
But I caught myself. I was operating from a fixed mindset.
More importantly, I wanted to show my son that I was willing to do new things too.
Right after his class was an adult class, and so I stuck around and hopped in. And the whole experience really caught me by surprise. In other areas of my life, I consider myself to be highly proficient: I’ve built multiple companies, I’ve invested in dozens of startups. I’m not used to being the newbie.
But there I was, in that Jui Jitsu class, with no clue what to do, no technique, and exhausted.
And yet, I found the whole thing exhilarating.
Having a growth mindset is not a destination. It’s a way of approaching life. It’s a state of being.
Every time I push myself to try new things, I find that my sense of curiosity and creativity heightens. When we become “experts” in one or two things, we start to fall into patterns of efficiency. We do what we know, and start to draw on those limited number of experiences in order to make decisions. But when we explore uncharted territory, even if the thing has nothing to do with our career or primary focus in life, suddenly we’re able to start drawing on a wider range of experiences—allowing us to consider a wider range of possibilities.
This is exactly what happened to me after starting to try my hand at Jui Jitsu.
By day, I’m the cofounder and CEO of a plant-based nutrition brand called Koia, and lately we’ve been having an issue with sourcing one of our ingredients. It has been in short supply, and I’d been racking my brain on how to solve the problem.
Well, after my third Jui Jitsu class, I came home that evening dead tired, went to sleep, and woke up in the middle of the night with a different idea. All of a sudden, I was able to see the problem from a completely different perspective. And all I could think about was how much these Jui Jitsu classes had been forcing me to learn new skills, confront new problems, and look for solutions in ways I had never had to consider before.
So, how do you adopt a growth mindset—in business and in life?
First, you have to become self-aware enough to notice when you are operating from a fixed mindset, which is “I’m smart” or “I’m not smart” or “I’m good at this” or “I’m not good at this and never will be.” Fixed mindsets are more binary, so being able to catch yourself when this happens is the first step.
Second, you have to actively practice choosing a growth mindset over a fixed mindset. This might mean signing yourself up for something brand new like Jui Jitsu with your kid. This might mean deliberately picking up a new hobby every couple of months or years. Or, this might mean widening the sort of information you consume on a daily basis: reading different books, listening to different music or podcasts, and so on. Traveling, and experiencing different cultures and ways of life is great for this. The goal is to expand your awareness of the world around you and step outside your comfort zone as often as possible.
Third, you will be far more successful at adopting a growth mindset if your surroundings and the people around you are doing the same.
There’s a great article in Harvard Business Review about this titled, “The Business Case for Curiosity.”
In my company, we call this “open-door thinking.” It’s this idea that you can’t go on doing things the way they’ve always been done just because that’s the way they’ve always been done. I would consider that “closed-door thinking.” Instead, even when something is working, it’s worth leaving the door open for spontaneity to walk in. It’s worth remaining curious about what could be better, or could be different if one or a handful of variables were to change.
All with the goal of reframing fear, and changing the way you look at obstacles in front of you.
We all have the potential to live and operate with a growth mindset. We just have to remember it takes practice—and if we stop practicing, our fixed mindset comes right back.
Chris Hunter is the cofounder and CEO of Koia.