"Growth Mindset" and the HSP
Have you been hearing people discuss the idea of having a “growth mindset?” And wondered what having a growth mindset even means? Or whether it’s something that could apply to your life?
In recent years, having a “growth mindset” has become more commonly encouraged and talked about, especially in spaces focused on productivity and self-improvement. The basic concept of having a growth mindset is having a mindset where one believes that their skills and abilities have the potential to improve and grow over time. This is often contrasted with having a “fixed mindset,” where one believes that their skills and abilities are fixed at their current level - and that there’s not much they can do to change or improve.
As an example, people may sometimes be categorized as being athletic or non-athletic. Someone who is considered less athletic, with a “fixed mindset,” might resign themselves to this label and not strive for any athletic achievements or goals.
However, someone who is considered less athletic but has a “growth mindset,” might push past this label and strive to improve their athletic capabilities, whether it comes naturally to them or not.
I believe our natural state of being is one of growth and thriving. You just have to look at nature to see examples for this.
A tree, given sufficient light, food and water - will continue to grow and thrive until something it needs is taken away. For example, it may become weak if there’s a drought and it doesn’t get enough water. Or it could die if it grows too close to a neighboring tree and ends up competing for essential nutrients.
Likewise, becoming healthier, happier and stronger versions of ourselves - is built into our very essence.
So why do some people adopt a fixed mindset - and seemingly get in their own way of being able to reach their full potential?
For some, a growth mindset approach to life comes naturally. “Of course, we can always improve! Can’t we?” However, for others, even if we believe this to be true - it’s not an intuitive way to think or approach life.
There are a number of reasons why a growth mindset might feel unnatural.
For one, it could have to do with the environment in which we were raised. If our parents or early caretakers had a growth mindset that they imposed upon us during our formative years, we might feel more comfortable pushing our limits and trying new things. For example, maybe they modeled and encouraged us to go above and beyond in the things we did - and allowed us to learn through our mistakes.
However, some of our parents and early caretakers perhaps didn’t (or weren’t able to) model a growth mindset approach for us. Maybe they weren’t raised with it either - or perhaps it was inaccessible.
Perhaps they had a self-limiting belief that consistently maintaining a growth mindset meant having to expend a lot of time or energy. Or maybe they thought they were too busy - and just needed to focus on surviving (e.g., “keep your head down and do what needs to be done”). It would make sense that they might get used to just doing the bare minimum and not striving for anything greater.
How we were raised has a tremendous impact on our ideas around having a growth mindset - including our beliefs around what “growth” even means.
For example, growth for us might be improving something that seems small or trivial to someone else. Maybe you were the first person in your family to go to college, so getting a degree was a difficult task and therefore a big accomplishment for you. But for people whose parents went to college, maybe going to college felt less intimidating - and sort of just expected. Therefore it did not feel like striving, but merely meeting expectations.
Another reason why a growth mindset might feel unnatural to some of us is because many of us often make choices based on how other people judge or perceive us. For example, if someone tells us that we are athletic and would be a successful soccer player, we are more likely to consider joining a soccer team. If we are told that we’re not very athletic, we might not try out for the soccer team, even if it seems like a lot of fun. This, of course, applies to a countless number of activities and traits.
Despite these examples, there are no particular conditions that need to be present in order to cultivate a growth mindset. Some would argue that there are conditions that could make it easier. For example, cultivating a growth mindset might be easier for someone who grew up having it modeled to them - or had greater access to time, money, encouragement, or other helpful resources.
However, there are also plenty of examples of people who seem to be given every opportunity in life, but still aren’t able to take advantage of them to develop a growth mindset.
So no matter your background or conditions, try not to let them hold you back! Growth is life. Without which we become stagnant, stuck and inflexible.
So, what about us highly sensitive people?
For a lot of HSPs, personal growth can sometimes feel out of reach. If we barely have enough energy and management skills to make it through the day, how can we strive for more?
This is often where we end up trapping ourselves in a fixed mindset.
We may tell ourselves, "I'm highly sensitive. I've always been highly sensitive. And I'll always be highly sensitive."
And, in a way, this is true. Highly sensitive people will always need to maintain an awareness around where they focus their energy on, in order to manage things like overwhelm and burnout.
However, does that mean we can't grow? Of course not.
Sometimes when we've found a label or community that fits us and our experiences, it can feel very empowering. We may feel understood, perhaps for the first time in our lives.
But the shadow side is that we may begin to give in to self-limiting beliefs. We may begin to use labels or identities as a way to hide, and not maximize our potential.
For example, we may start striving for less since we find the safety and security that labels can often provide - to be comforting.
So, it's important for those of us who need to manage our time and energy - to learn how to define what a growth mindset looks like for us (and not what anyone else says it should look like).
For example, a growth mindset might not always mean striving to be "better" at something - but instead just being more consistent with showing up for something.
By doing something consistently and to the best of our current ability, growth will come naturally with time and practice.
It is also important to maintain perspective and not be too hard on ourselves.
While it’s good to challenge ourselves to reach new heights, we must also take into consideration the conditions we are in - and the amount of time and energy we have to take on new challenges. Even setting seemingly “small” goals can be a sign of massive growth.
Remember, no matter who we are, what our lives look like, or what we're dealing with - we always have the potential to grow and improve, even if in the smallest of ways.