From 1980 to 1984, John McEnroe was the #1 tennis player in the world. He was also arrogant, entitled, and angry. For a lot of people, his outbreaks on the court were half the reason to watch.
He made his ball boy pay $20 to someone for more finely ground sawdust to get the sweat off his hands. He broke his racket all the time. He once even threw up on a Japanese lady who hosted him - after which she apologized to him.
John McEnroe was incredibly talented. But he also had what Carol Dweck calls a fixed mindset.
To a fixed mindset, problems are genetic, external, permanent, everyone else’s fault, and can’t be changed. As a result, people like McEnroe try to look smart, avoid difficult situations, and seek approval rather than risk anything to win big.
Contrast that with someone like Michael Jordan, who has a growth mindset. Jordan is known for his die-hard work ethic - and the first billionaire basketball player ever.
From Dweck’s book Mindset:
“When Jordan was cut from the varsity team, he was devastated. His mother says, “I told him to go back and discipline himself.” Boy, did he listen. He used to leave the house at six in the morning to go practice before school. He constantly worked on his weaknesses — his defensive game and his ball handling and shooting. The coach was taken aback by his willingness to work harder than anyone else. Once, after the team lost the last game of the season, Jordan went and practiced his shots for hours. He was preparing for the next year.”
A growth mindset means insisting that life happens for you, not to you. It’s about focusing on what you control, always. To a growth mindset, even the worst events serve a purpose, but it’s up to you to turn them into stepping stones to bigger things.
Having a growth mindset is something you can learn, but it’s a habit that takes time to build. One of, if not the best thing you can do to make this transition, is to change your language in little ways:
When you’re facing a challenge or an obstacle, call it a project, not a problem.
When you spill your coffee, don’t say you’re clumsy and blame your identity, focus on cleaning it up and say you’ll be more careful next time.
When you miss an opportunity, look for another way or where you’ll find the next one, rather than seeing that door as permanently closed.
When someone screws up, don’t generalize the failure and drag down the whole team, remember each mistake is specific.
Having a growth mindset is mostly about managing your relationship with failure. If you can turn that from negative to positive, you’ll not just lose more gracefully, you’ll be more focused on actually winning.
The difference between a fixed and a growth mindset is, first and foremost, a difference in perspective.
If you’re committed to better instead of bitter, what goes wrong is just a detour, a distraction, a temporary setback you can handle.
The only question is what you’ll try next. And we’re all waiting for your move.
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