“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” – Albert Einstein
“Great works are performed, not by strength, but by perseverance.” - Samuel Johnson
“Love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort and keep on learning.” – Carol Dweck
Let me start off by saying that I don’t believe that a growth mindset is an “all or nothing” state of operating in the world. Rather, I believe that most of us actually have “parts and pieces” of both a “fixed mindset” and a “growth mindset” simultaneously and that there’s a constant battle raging within us for which one holds the most territory. So, the real issue is always identifying our fixed mindset triggers and rooting out the last vestiges of them, so that we can march ever closer to the goals we’re trying to achieve by expanding and solidifying our growth mindset.
I’m going to go into more detail about the growth mindset vs fixed mindset and the differences between the two, but I wanted to first outline the 5 questions you can ask yourself in order to find some of your “blind spots” (i.e. where you can’t clearly see your own fixed mindset) and begin to work on them immediately.
So, the following questions are meant to serve as benchmarks that will enumerate where you are along the continuum between a fixed and growth mindset. And these are just simple questions about how you typically respond to the following:
I’ve also illustrated these in the following infographic in case you’re more of a visual learner like I am. :)
So, now that we’ve established some of the important nuances, let’s go into a little more definition of a growth mindset and contrast it against a fixed mindset while we’re at it. Then, we’ll unpack some of the typical responses to the above questions based on which mindset you may be operating out of.
I’ll also be including some specific “internal dialogue” examples that may help you clearly identify which responses you’re typically more prone to.
What is a growth mindset?
The growth mindset, a term coined by professor Carol Dweck, is really 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.
"To briefly sum up the findings: Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts). This is because they worry less about looking smart and they put more energy into learning. When entire companies embrace a growth mindset, their employees report feeling far more empowered and committed; they also receive far greater organizational support for collaboration and innovation. In contrast, people at primarily fixed-mindset companies report more of only one thing: cheating and deception among employees, presumably to gain an advantage in the talent race."
Additionally, 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.
I unpack the definition of a growth mindset in much more granular detail in this post: How To Master Your Money By Cultivating A Growth Mindset.
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” you may be trying to employ in achieving your financial goals..
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 question of “why” in any type of personal growth context as mere inconsequential “fluff”. But I can promise you that it’s not. In fact, I’ll go even further and say again that I believe it’s THE most important element. It’s actually the foundation of everything you want to achieve.
It’s my strong contention that, in the realm of personal finance (and generally in life), 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.
To take this “why” to yet another level, here’s a quote from the above article that talks about how, in order to develop our growth mindset, we need to constantly identify and jettison our “fixed mindset triggers, as Dweck calls them:
“...it’s still not easy to attain a growth mindset. One reason why is we all have our own fixed-mindset triggers. When we face challenges, receive criticism, or fare poorly compared with others, we can easily fall into insecurity or defensiveness, a response that inhibits growth. Our work environments, too, can be full of fixed-mindset triggers. A company that plays the talent game makes it harder for people to practice growth-mindset thinking and behavior, such as sharing information, collaborating, innovating, seeking feedback, or admitting errors.”
It’s from this perspective that we use these 5 questions in order to help you ascertain where you are along the fixed-to-growth mindset continuum.
The “how to” involves the habit of constantly jettisoning a “fixed mindset” wherever it is found and instead developing the habit of embracing the incredibly rewarding posture of the growth mindset.
And, as I mentioned earlier, I believe that there’s no real “all or nothing” in this process. Each one of us fights this battle between the fixed and growth mindset all the time.
My aim today is to dig into the 5 questions I outlined above to give you a sort of litmus test to determine where you are along that continuum and help you to move ever closer to a perpetual growth mindset and therefore toward the goals you really want to achieve.
Again, I unpack the definition of a growth mindset in much more granular detail in this post: How To Master Your Money By Cultivating A Growth Mindset.
So, let’s look at all 5 questions again and then dig into each one to perhaps help you to work through where some of your blind spots may reside.
Let’s now jump into each one individually and unpack.
Fixed Mindset Example: “I’m not going to even try until I’m sure I can do it right. After all, I don’t want to look incompetent.”
Growth Mindset Example: “I know I’m not going to do it right the first time, but I’m okay with starting messy. I know if I keep trying, I’ll get better over time.”
Let me say this up front, perfectionism is dysfunctional. Perfectionism says, “unless I can do this perfectly, I’m not going to do it at all.” And that’s overwhelming evidence of a fixed mindset. I want to help you root that out so you can win with your money.
In my years as a financial coach, I’ve witnessed tons of perfectionism in my students. And, it usually rears its head around the two often complex subjects of financial organization and budgeting.
You see, these two subjects are normally at the root of whatever pressing financial issue we’re trying to address and solve in our students’ financial lives. Organizing their finances and getting them into a written budget can often be a daunting psychological and emotional task, especially if they’ve never been good with money, are behind on bills, have creditors calling, etc.
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There’s a lot of psychological pressure to, “just get it done” and it normally doesn’t work that way, especially if they’re super disorganized (which they usually are).
This pressure really activates their perfectionism in that they feel like they have to “get it all right” the very first time and there’s no room for error. And, the brutal reality is that the financial organization and budgeting exercises are truly an ongoing, “fail forward” process that require a growth mindset in order to make any sort of progress.
So, if you have a tendency toward dysfunctional perfectionism, the best way to cure that is to decide that you’re going to start and that it’s not going to be perfect. As an alternative example, in the writing world, it’s called writing your “crappy first draft”. In other words, you almost have to force yourself to “just do it” and then rewrite (and rewrite and rewrite), knowing that the first pass will never be perfect.
Fixed Mindset Example: “I’m not sure how much I’m willing to put into this. I mean, what if it doesn’t work out?”
Growth Mindset Example: “I’m not sure when this effort will pay off, but I’ve seen others follow this pathway and I’m willing to put in as much effort as is necessary to reach my goal.”
Any worthwhile goal is going to take effort. AND, there will be setbacks along the way. That’s just the reality of life under the sun.
The real question behind this potential pitfall is that all-important question we asked earlier, “what’s your strong, passionate emotional“why””. Why do you want this? How badly do you want it?
It’s likely in most cases that, if you see effort toward accomplishing your goals as futility, then your “why” is likely not strong enough in the first place.
For example, MOST of our students view budgeting as a total bummer in the beginning. Depending on their level of disorganization and financial hardship, the mere addressing of their financial situation can be overwhelming. So, budgeting is just another arrow in the heart, so to speak.
BUT, when we dig a little deeper and start talking about their “why”, their goals, when we help them to start visualizing what success will look like and breaking things into bite-sized, no-overwhelm pieces, the way they perceive effort also begins to change.
So in short, if you view effort exerted toward your goals as futility, back up and ask yourself, “what is my strong, passionate, emotional “why” in wanting to pursue and achieve this goal?”
Fixed Mindset Example: “Well, it looks like this just isn’t going to work out. This problem appears to be insurmountable.”
Growth Mindset Example: “I know that challenges are part of the journey toward achieving my goals. Have others faced this particular challenge? What did they do? Can I do something similar and get past this?”
This is very much related to point number 2, how you see effort exerted toward achieving your goals. Again if you “why” is strong enough, obstacles won’t be such a big deal to you and you’ll even learn to both anticipate and prepare for them.
Conversely, if your “why” isn’t super strong, you’ll be tempted to throw in the towel at the first sign of difficulty. And like I said earlier, any goal that’s worthy of being accomplished is going to arrive at your doorstep with more than its fair share of obstacles.
So the fixed mindset here again, may be a flashing neon sign telling you that you need to go back and reexamine just how dedicated you are to this particular goal. If it’s worthy off your efforts and the obstacles you’ll have to overcome, you’ll be much more inclined to all but ignore obstacles and challenges.
Fixed Mindset Example: “Man, people really seem to be coming down on me for pursuing this. Maybe I’m a bad person for trying this. People’s opinions seem to be super negative toward me right now.”
Growth Mindset Example: “I totally realize that everybody’s got an opinion. I just need to ask myself right now, “is this criticism based in truth and helpful for my improvement, or is it just ‘trolling’?”. If it’s just trolling, I’m going to ignore it. If it can make me better, I’ll take the criticism and grow.”
I’m totally guilty of being “thin skinned” in many areas of my life, especially when I was younger. Fortunately, I believe this is something that naturally improves with age. Part of the improvement may just be more experience with criticism. Part of it may also be that you just care less what people think about you as you get older and establish yourself more in your “own skin”.
But I also think that your response to criticism goes back to the point we keep coming back to, your strong, passionate, emotional “why” around the goal(s) you’re trying to achieve.
If your “why” is strong enough, your tolerance of criticism, even the most trolling of criticism can be very high.
I think of my days in the network marketing (MLM) industry as an example. I got into that industry because I had just met my (then future) wife and knew that I was going to need to prepare my finances for more of a marriage posture.
I was “on fire” to better my financial situation and was therefore almost impervious to the often harsh reactions and criticisms of people who are exposed to a network marketing “pitch”.
I ultimately left that industry after about 5 years of never really achieving (financial) success in it. But one thing I can say that I did learn was how to selectively internalize criticism. Because network marketing has such a negative reputation in our culture, it was the perfect training for me to develop my “response to criticism” muscle.
Fixed Mindset Example: “Wow, she totally built a successful online business! I’d love to do it too, but it seems like the space is so overcrowded now. I doubt I could ever be as successful as she has been.”
Growth Mindset Example: “It’s really cool that she’s built a successful online business. It shows me that it’s totally possible. I need to ask her more about how she did it and see what I can replicate in her success.”
This one can be really tough for a lot of us, especially if someone has succeeded in something that you REALLY want. With a fixed mindset it’s easy to say to yourself, “well, they did it so it must be “played out”. In other words, the fixed mindset sees that person’s success as part of a “zero sum game” or the idea that there’s only so much to go around and they got most if not all of it.
If we’re looking to replicate someone’s success but are in doubt as to its probability, this fixed mindset can evoke what’s called “imposter syndrome”. Imposter syndrome is the mental state where, you know you have the ability to play a certain role or achieve certain results, but you feel stymied by the question, “well, who am I to do this/teach this?”
Do you look at other people’s success as a threat or do you see it as evidence that your own success may just be possible as well?
This question of the success of others can tempt us toward comparison, which can be toxic if not kept inside certain parameters.
So again, depending on your dedication to the end goal, I believe you can totally change this posture. It’s just going to take a little humility, a little patience with yourself and a lot of hard work.
So, now that we’ve talked about the 5 questions to help you identify where you are in developing your growth mindset, let’s talk a bit about the “how to” as it relates to all things in your personal financial life. And again, we’ll be going back to some of the “why” here.
We’ve established that a growth mindset encompasses a healthy, passionate desire to achieve goals. And that 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.
So, in this post, we’ve established 1) what a growth mindset is versus a fixed mindset, 2) how you’re always somewhere along the continuum of the two and 3) 5 questions you can ask yourself to help you determine just where you are in the process of developing or refining your own growth mindset.
And again, the benchmarks for you to consider are essentially questions about how your typically respond to the following questions:
We’ve also established that, in order for you to truly embrace a growth mindset, you actually have to have the desire to be “growing”. Growth naturally requires goal setting and so we’ve also talked exhaustively about the importance of a “strong, passionate, emotional “why”” in goal attainment AND in developing this growth mindset.
By giving specific examples of how each of these mindsets would respond to all 5 questions, we’ve aimed at arming you with the tools you need to identify 1) where you are along the growth vs fixed continuum so that 2) you have the ability to move further in your desired direction.
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:
Now that you have that as a basic framework for budgeting, the next step is to get as granular as possible with the rest of your financial life. 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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Here are some additional options to help you accomplish your personal finance goals:
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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