One of the most important concepts I teach my clients is the difference between the fixed mindset and the growth mindset.
It’s a bit like nature vs nurture.
People with a fixed mindset believe that you have fixed qualities. Your intelligence, character, and personality are what they are, because that’s how you were born. They’re unchangeable. People with a growth mindset believe that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your own efforts. Everyone can grow and change through application and experience. Which one would you instinctively say resonates more with you?
Unfortunately, our education system trains us to adopt a fixed mindset.
Most people from a very young age are taught to believe that they have a certain ingrained level of ability in doing things—i.e – “you are smart, you are dumb, you are average”— Education and success are conditioned by phrases such as, “You got a 95% on the math test, good job, you’re really smart at math.” So, if you get a 65% on a test, you are dumb. You can’t do it. Learning and improvement become very static, and kids become very brittle, and you mature with this sort of understanding of your abilities.
This is how the majority of us approach dieting and health in general. We either “can” or “can’t” do it. There’s no in-between, there’s no emphasis placed on the process of learning how. You’re either skinny or fat, healthy or not, determined or lazy. When it comes to dieting and weight loss, a fixed mindset can be harmful in ways you’ve never thought about. With a fixed mindset, you aren’t supposed to need to apply effort. Success is about being better than others; effort is for those who can’t make it on talent. The result? You live behind excuses.
Effort robs you of all your excuses. “Of course Peggy is fit and trim, she doesn’t have to work! I could lose the weight if I didn’t have a full time job.” Do you say things or think like this? With a fixed mindset, you are not a work in progress, you are a finished product. And finished products have to protect themselves. With a growth mindset, effort is the key to success. In a growth mindset, you think things like, “I know I’ll master my diet eventually because I’m committing to putting in the effort, day after day. I know that if I focus on the process over the outcome. If I focus on making healthy choices instead of losing weight. I will lose weight and I will have the body I’ve always wanted.”
You’ll lead a proactive way of life in which you’re fundamentally moved from the inside out, constantly striving to make choices that follow through with your intentions. You will make mistakes, and you will look to those mistakes as learning opportunities to unpack what went wrong and what you can take from it to prepare for next time. The fixed mindset believes any kind of adversity or failure is devastating. You want to hide every time you ‘mess up’ on your diet because you don’t want to be judged or labeled as a failure.
For example: “I was overwhelmed at my friend’s birthday party and gave in to the pasta and wine and cookies. I suck. I can’t do this.”
The growth mindset believes adversity and failure are worth investing in because that’s how you’ll learn and improve for a similar situation. For example: “Yeah, I had one bad night and had some pizza, but six out of seven days this week I was awesome, and you know what? I feel totally cool about giving myself off one night per week because shooting for perfect is stupid and unrealistic.” With a growth mindset, you become curious about why you messed up and want to learn from it so you can do better next time and not make the same mistake twice.
For example: “Now that I think of it, I can see what went wrong. I went to the party absolutely starving. Next time I’m entering into a trigger situation, I’ll be sure to eat a big healthy lunch and have a mid-afternoon snack so that my appetite is satisfied, and I’ll enter into the situation feeling in control. I’ll be cool with the idea of enjoying myself, which won’t make me so eager to cram it all down, which often happens when I shoot for perfect and end up slightly diverging from the plan. That’s when things get really out of control, and that doesn’t need to happen if I prepare for it.”
With a fixed mindset, everything has to be perfect. You fix your identity to the false idol of perfection. “I have to be 100% perfect on this diet. Not only do my food choices have to be spotless, but I have to work out for an hour every morning. This is go time.” How many of us do this? We fantasize about how perfect we’ll be, how this time is different. When that initial wave of motivation dies out a few weeks later, what happens then? Are you starting to see how important this is? When it comes to dieting and weight loss, how revelatory?
Here are some more examples:
In a fixed mindset, you attempt a restrictive and unrealistic diet because you want to lose 10 pounds in a week without thinking of what happens after that.
In a growth mindset, you want to change your life. You want to master your diet and improve your lifestyle. You want to become more than what and who you are now because you know you can.
In a fixed mindset, it’s all about the outcome. If you didn’t lose 10 pounds in a week, it was all a waste of time and you’re a failure and this didn’t work, so nothing will.
In a growth mindset, it’s all about the process. Yes, if you master your diet, you’ll lose weight, you’ll be leaner, and you’ll be healthier than you’ve ever been. But that’s not even what matters. What matters are the choices you make every day, the progress you’re making, and how fully you’re investing in becoming a better version of yourself.
When I start working with a new client, they’re always eager for me to give them their new diet plan immediately. Before getting into the weeds regarding your nutrition, you’ve got to understand the big picture. You have to understand your mindset. The view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. Your mindset determines the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value.
If you don’t actively approach the dieting experience from a new perspective, it’s more than likely you’d regress back into old thinking patterns—which will promote old habits—as soon as I give you the new set of dieting principles. Even if you think you have a fixed mindset, that mindset itself is not fixed. You can change your mindset in the same way you change your way of life: by practicing. Remember, success isn’t some external thing outside of you, but something deep inside, something to which you have infinite access and from which you have the power to create the outside. Opinions expressed here by Contributors are their own.