“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” – Albert Einstein
“No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking”. – Voltaire
“No matter what your situation is, you gotta first be willing to first change your mind if you want to win with money…” - Me (Brad)
That last quote is one I shared with a room full of financially struggling single moms at a recent personal finance conference in Atlanta, GA. I always get a lot of puzzled looks when I say stuff like this. And I get it, at first blush it seems counterintuitive, “change my mind? What does that even mean?”.
And I’ll spend most of this post proving that it’s actually the most important first step if you ever want to get control of your finances and win with money.
But seriously, I can confidently say, after being a financial coach for over 10 years, it is absolutely true that, no matter what your financial posture is right now and no matter what your personal finance goals are, the absolutely most important element to achieving your financial goals is cultivating what I call a growth mindset.
But before we dig in, let’s talk a little bit about: what a growth mindset actually is, why you need one and how to get one.
So, what exactly is a growth mindset?
I’m going to unpack that in great detail in this post, but let’s start with a basic definition.
The growth mindset (a term coined by professor Carol Dweck) is a worldview that embodies the idea that, given enough time, focused effort and faithful discipline, most skills, endeavors or experiences can be learned and/or achieved. This entire post explores the "what, why and how to" of a growth mindset.
A growth mindset is often well defined by placing it next to its opposite, “fixed mindset” which is conversely characterized by a typically negative belief about achievement. Like I said, there’s much more to say and I’ll unpack this giant idea in the body of this post.
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Why is a growth mindset important, specifically why is it important in the often rocky terrain of personal finance?
As a coach, I’ve observed that this “mindset” issue is WAY more important than any “tools” or “tips and tricks”.
Why do I say that? Because, after a solid decade of financial coaching, I can confidently assert that my students that have had a flexible, malleable , “growth” mindset” coupled with specific goals and a strong, passionate, emotional “why”, were the ones who succeeded and succeeded at the fastest rate.
It’s always tempting to dismiss addressing the “why” in any type of personal growth context as “fluff”. But I can promise you that it’s not. In fact, I’ll say again that I believe it’s THE most important element. It’s the foundation of everything, actually.
It’s my strong contention that, in the realm of personal finance (and in life, generally), examining and refining your “why” is the most important and first question to tackle. It also just happens to be one of the most important factors in successfully developing your own bulletproof growth mindset strategy. Again, we’ll unpack this much more as we dig in.
The “how to” involves jettisoning what’s called a “fixed mindset” and embracing the beautiful, often messy but incredibly rewarding benefits of the growth mindset. et.
In fact, I find it more than a little ironic that, in order to even be able to develop a growth mindset, you actually need to have at least a microscopic fraction of a growth mindset to even want to learn the “how to”.
We’ll dive much more into the “how to” later as well, but let’s first give a little historical context to this “growth mindset” concept.
I wanted to take a moment and talk about the more recent history of this “growth" concept.
The aim here is to give you some background and not necessarily to be exhaustive. It’s always helpful to understand the context from which an idea comes in order to better understand the idea itself and therefore be able to apply it to our lives.
The growth mindset is really not a new concept. It’s been understood for centuries, but sort of rearticulated by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck in her work Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Here are a couple of excerpts that succinctly outline her research and insights.
“For twenty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value. How does this happen? How can a simple belief have the power to transform your psychology and, as a result, your life?
Believing that your qualities are carved in stone — the fixed mindset — creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character — well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.”
Additionally, here’s another quote from her work that further outlines what a growth mindset is and what it isn’t.
“Do people with this mindset believe that anyone can be anything, that anyone with proper motivation or education can become Einstein or Beethoven? No, but they believe that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training.”
I was grateful to see this type of realistic analysis. This “realism” concretely opposes much of what I would consider to be the nonsensically overblown promises of much of the “self-help” genre. That’s a bigger topic for another time. My aim with this content is to equip you with the “what, why and how to” of a growth mindset, so that we can get you some quick wins.
The whole point of this brief history is to try to convince you that indeed your personality, habits and abilities are not set in stone. Rather, they can be changed and I endeavor to show you how to do it.
In the case that you want to dive deeper into this topic, here’s another great article from “brainpickings” that brilliantly outlines Dweck’s take on the growth mindset in more depth and detail.
So now that we’ve established the “what, why, how” and some historical parameters of a growth mindset, let’s talk about a common fixture of a fixed mindset and how to overcome it. This very typical tendency in a fixed mindset is one focusing on externalities.
“So, what’s an externality?”, you ask.
Here are some examples of common financial externalities to help illustrate. They’re better understood with the prefix of, “If I only had”:
So, an externality in this case is any object or situation that lies outside of our immediate circle of control. Focusing on externalities is focusing on these elements as though they’re some sort of “genie in a bottle” and will sort of “hopefully rescue” or deliver you from a less than positive outcome. Most of us (including me, formerly) get caught up in externalities particularly when it comes to our financial lives.
I’m arguing that a better approach to personal finance and, indeed to life in general, is to focus on internal beliefs, attitudes and behaviors (i.e. a growth mindset) that can ultimately lead to these desired and positive external outcomes.
Don’t get me wrong, externalities are super important and definitely can be a blessing when they show up. But they can also be fleeting and unpredictable in some cases (like with inheritances and governmental “gifts” for example). The point is that you want to stop basing your life, your goals and aspirations on externalities that you can’t control and instead steer your focus toward internal attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that will move you toward your goals.
Put another way, while most of the above externalities are good in and of themselves, they’re outside elements that you often have very little control over.
No, you want to fix your ability to master your money on something MUCH more under your control, which is to say your mindset or the way that you think about money. And, the counterintuitive thing is that, the more you have this element under control, the more of those externalities have the opportunity (namely “more money and “a better job”) to show up.
So all that to say, the absolute most important element in mastering your money is developing a growth mindset.
Let me explain a little more and I think you’ll agree with me.
To illustrate, let’s explore your possible current circumstances. Which situation describes you best? Maybe you’re:
No matter which of the above scenarios you find yourself in, the single most important element that will help you elevate your money posture is for you to develop this habit of employing a growth mindset. We will unpack that even more specifically a little later on when we get to some particular “how to's”.
But what exactly is a “growth mindset”? While I touched on the high-level definition earlier, I wanted to take the time and unpack it a bit more.
As a review, I earlier defined a growth mindset as follows:
“The growth mindset is a worldview that embodies the idea that, given enough time, focused effort and faithful discipline, most skills, endeavors or experiences can be learned and/or achieved.
A growth mindset is often well defined by placing it next to its opposite, “fixed mindset” which is conversely characterized by a typically negative belief about achievement.”
Moreover, a growth mindset is really an approach to life that starts with some sort of realization about your current circumstances being perhaps less than ideal. At least part of that realization is that there’s something you need or want that you don’t have. And you quickly surmise that you’re going to have to make some internal (and likely external) changes to get it.
A couple of examples of this kind of realization could be: 1) a recurring problem that needs to be fixed or 2) a system that’s already working that just needs optimizing.
The bottom line is that you have to be 1) honest with yourself and 2) willing to change in order to successfully deploy and maintain a growth mindset.
A lack of willingness in either of those two areas indicates that you’re stuck in what I’m going to talk about next.
The opposite of a growth mindset is what’s referred to as a “fixed mindset”. This approach to life can be characterized as “closed mindedness” or to be “set in one’s ways”. As you can imagine, there’s not much space in this worldview for transformative growth.
If you find yourself making statements like the following, you might have more of a fixed mindset:
That last one, “I just can’t imagine having $10,000 in the bank”, is what one of the single moms I was coaching at that conference I mentioned earlier. We were talking about the budgeting and debt elimination process and she was sharing her current situation with me. This is common and always requires that we do a little bit of “mindset work” before we get started with the methods and tools.
I don’t need to belabor the point because it’s pretty self-evident that if there’s a change that needs to made in your life, particularly in the realm of your personal finance, then you’re going to have to jettison this “fixed” posture and embrace the (initial) uncomfortableness of adopting a growth mindset.
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So instead of the fixed mindset statement above, try these on for size:
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about “name it and claim it” or “manifesting” or any of that. I’ll leave my opinion about the "law of attraction" out of it for now. No, I’m talking about making some positive statements that open your mind to some avenues of real and legitimate activities that maybe you hadn’t heard of before.
We can never hope to impose effective change on any of the dissatisfied areas of our lives if we’re not open/willing to change. Sadly, I’ve tried to coach students that came to us with the mistaken notion that coaching or personal finance growth could be accomplished by taking a pill or downloading an app.
It doesn’t work that way and I make it a point to be honest about that up front. Personal development is difficult, but not nearly so difficult once you’ve decided to move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.
So, now that we’ve talked about what a growth mindset is and contrasted it against what it’s not, let’s talk a bit about the “how to”.
We’ve established that a growth mindset encompasses a healthy, passionate desire to achieve your goals. And it’s going to require your willingness to get uncomfortable for the sake of improvement, possibly even to the point of slaughtering some of your dearly held sacred cows. But if your “why” is strong, passionate and emotional enough, you’ll be willing to do it in pursuit of the reality of a MUCH more desirable future state.
In personal finance specifically, this growth process always starts with looking at what you want to accomplish (i.e. get out of paycheck to paycheck, pay off debt, reach millionaire status) and ask the following questions.
Now that we’ve gone through what a growth mindset is, what it isn’t and how to get one, let’s talk about how to benchmark your progress in developing one. It’s important to remember that we’re all moving in and out of these behaviors and none of us gets it right all the time. Welcome to humanity!
The point in sort of measuring your progress is to see how far you’ve come and identify areas that you may need improvement and/or help with.
Again here’s that infographic that outlines the benchmarks.
So, the benchmarks for you to consider are essentially questions about how your typically respond to the following questions:
As you can see in the infographic, your responses will likely fall on a continuum for each of these times. Again, you’ll likely not be “perfectly” in a growth mindset on all of these. Rather, doing an exercise like this will show you areas where you might need improvement.
So, which one(s) of these are the easiest for you? Which ones are the most challenging? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear.
As a personal example, for me it’s always been “criticism” and one of the ongoing activities that has helped me improve in my response to criticism has been the realm of content creation (i.e. this blog and my YouTube channel).
This blog and platform has helped me realize and come face to face with the strong opinions about personal finance AND they don’t always agree with mine. Being in a more public facing capacity has helped me deal with the reality that criticism only helps me to understand and clarify not only what I believe, but also why I believe it. As a result, I’m FAR less sensitive to points of view that are critical to mine. :)
So, we’ve talked about the fixed vs growth mindset, what it is, why it’s important and equally importantly, how to get it. We’ve talked about how a growth mindset is particularly important when it comes to accomplishing any kind of change in your personal financial situation.
Again, whichever of the following general circumstances applies to you, having a growth mindset is pivotal for you to change your circumstances as it facilitates the “mental terrain” for the personal development you’ll need to change your beliefs, attitudes and behaviors.
So, whether you’re:
Adopting a growth mindset is the absolute best way to begin your journey to improving your situation. It will make the entire process you’re required to go through, much more easy and infinitely more enjoyable.
If you’ve hung around this platform for even just two minutes, you’ll know that I’m all about taking action. So now that you’ve internalized the concept, what will you do next?
My suggestion would be to not delay, but instead to take immediate action in order to capitalize on the intellectual momentum you already have.
Do this next.
Decide which describes you best and download the corresponding free guide:
No matter where you are on your financial journey, business or personal, there may be some basic financial organization and debt-elimination tools that could help you get things in order and take your life and your business to the next level. I want to offer you another completely free resource that will help you map out your money with even more confidence.
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Maybe your number is bigger, maybe it’s smaller. Either way the principles are the same and I want you to have them.
I’ve created a simple, easy to follow “8 Steps To Erase Debt” guide that you can use as your foundation as you navigate the absolute annihilation of your debt forever.
Here are some additional options to help you accomplish your personal finance goals:
And finally, I want to encourage you and challenge you to get started in this process. You can do this by downloading this blogpost as your guide. The downloadable pdf contains all the printable forms and instructions you need to get this process started.
So, I’d LOVE to hear from you. The biggest compliment you can give me as your coach is to share your progress and your takeaways in the comments below.
I wish you nothing but great success in your personal finance endeavors and please let me know how I can help you accomplish your goals.
To your freedom,
Your Virtual Money Coach
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