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In this episode of the Warrior Mind Podcast I’m going to go over the making of a champion mindset and the key components.
The below is an excerpt an article by Carol Dweck at Standford University and can be found here:
What is a Champion Mindset?
In my work, I have identified two mindsets about ability that people may hold (Dweck, 1999; Dweck, 2006; Dweck & Leggett, 1988). Some hold a fixed mindset, in which they see abilities as fixed traits. In this view, talents are gifts—you either have them or you don’t.
Other people, in contrast, hold a growth mindset of ability. They believe that people can cultivate their abilities. In other words, they view talents as potentialities that can be developed through practice. It’s not that people holding this mindset deny differences among people. They don’t deny that some people may be better or faster than others at acquiring certain skills, but what they focus on is the idea that everyone can get better over time.
These mindsets and their lessons are highly applicable to the world of sports, but before we delve into that and before we delve more deeply into the psychology of the mindsets, let’s address some questions that are frequently asked about mindsets:
Do people hold the same mindsets with respect to different traits? Not necessarily. People can hold one mindset about intelligence and another about sports ability. Whichever mindset they hold about athletic ability will guide their choices and their motivation in sports.
Are people’s mindsets related to their level of ability in the area? No, at least not at first. People with all levels of ability can hold either mindset, but over time those with the growth mindset appear to gain an advantage (Aronson, Fried, & Good, 2002; Blackwell, Trzesniewski , & Dweck, 2006; Good, Aronson, & Inzlicht, 2003; Robins & Pals, 2002).
Are mindsets fixed or can they be changed? Mindsets are fairly stable beliefs, but they are beliefs, and beliefs can be changed. Later on, I will discuss interventions that altered students’ mindsets and had a real effect on their motivation and performance.
Champion Mindset and Goals
We have found in our research that people’s mindsets set up completely different motivations (see Molden & Dweck, 2006). The fixed mindset, in which you have only a certain amount of a valued talent or ability, leads people to want to look good at all times. You need to prove that you are talented and not do anything to contradict that impression, so people in a fixed midnset try to highlight their proficiencies and hide their deficiencies (see, e.g., Rhodewalt, 1994). In fact, we have found that they will often reject valuable learning opportunities if these opportunities hold the risk of unmasking their shortcomings (Dweck & Leggett, 1988; Hong, Chiu, Dweck, Lin, & Wan, 1999; Mueller & Dweck, 1998).
Doesn’t everyone have shortcomings? Isn’t that what learning is for—to overcome them? Of course. However, this mindset does not give people the leeway to expose and remedy their weaknesses because any weakness can indicate a permanent lack of ability.
In contrast, the growth mindset, in which you can develop your ability, leads people to want to do just that. It leads them to put a premium on learning. This difference is starkly demonstrated in a study I performed with Ying-yi Hong, C.Y. Chiu, Derek Lin, and Wendy Wan (1999). In this study, we recruited entering students at the University of Hong Kong, an elite university where everything—classes, textbooks, term papers, exams—is in English. But not all incoming students are proficient in English.
Surely they would be eager to improve their English skills. To find out, we told them that the Faculty was thinking of offering a remedial English course and asked them how likely they were to take it if it were offered. Students with a growth mindset about intelligence were eager for this course. It could help them master the very skills they needed. However, students with a fixed mindset were not enthusiastic. Because they did not want to expose their deficiency, they were willing to put their whole college career in jeopardy.
Enjoy this podcast on a champion mindset
Champion Mindset and Effort
As we have seen, people in the fixed mindset feel measured by setbacks and mistakes. They also feel measured by the very fact of exerting effort. They believe, like Billy Beane, that if you have true ability, you shouldn’t need a lot of effort (Blackwell, et al., 2005). Yet, there is no important endeavor in life—certainly not in the sports world—that can be accomplished and maintained without intense and sustained effort. However, in this mindset, it’s a sign that you are lacking talent or ability.
This is serious because many young athletes who have a great deal of early ability can coast along for some time, outshining their peers. They may even come to equate athletic ability with the ability to outperform others without engaging in much practice or training. At some point, however, natural ability may not be enough, and others may begin to pass them by. Whether they can now learn to put in that needed effort is critical to their future success. Many do not.
In contrast, people in the growth mindset understand that effort is the way that ability is brought to life and allowed to reach fruition. Far from indicating a lack of talent, they believe that even geniuses need great effort to fulfill their promise. People with a growth mindset not only believe in the power of effort, they hold effort as a value. Ian Thorpe, the illustrious Australian swimmer, feels that as long as he’s tried his best, he’s been victorious. “For myself, losing is not coming second. It’s getting out of the water and knowing you could have done better. For myself, I have won every race I’ve ever been in.”
Champion Mindset and Coping with Setbacks
It will come as no surprise that the mindsets lead to different ways of coping with difficulty. Because in the fixed mindset, setbacks are seen as indicating a lack of ability, this mindset often leaves people few good ways of reacting to setbacks. In one study (Blackwell, et al, 2005), we found that those with a fixed mindset were more likely to say that if they did poorly on a test—even if it were in a new course and one they liked a lot—they would study less in the future and would seriously consider cheating. This is how people cope when they think setbacks mean they lack permanent ability. In contrast, those students with a growth mindset said they would study more or study differently. They planned to take charge of the situation and work to overcome the setback.
When the going gets rough, people in the growth framework not only take charge of improving their skills, they take charge of their motivation as well (cf. Grant, 2004). Despite setbacks—or even because of them—they find ways to keep themselves committed and interested. Instead, students with a fixed framework lose interest as they lose confidence. As the difficulty mounts, their commitment and enjoyment go down. Since all important endeavors involve setbacks sooner or later (more likely, sooner and later), it is a serious liability to lose interest and enjoyment just when you need greater effort.
Putting it all together, this means that a fixed mindset leads people to value looking good over learning, to disdain and to fear effort, and to abandon effective strategies just when they need them most. A growth mindset, on the other hand, leads people to seek challenges and learning, to value effort, and to persist effectively in the face of obstacles.
Champion Mindset and Confidence
Isn’t motivation just a matter of confidence? To some extent, yes, but to me one of the most fascinating findings in all of my research is the fact that within the growth framework, with its focus on growth, it is far easier to sustain your confidence (see Blackwell, et al, 2005; Grant & Dweck, 2003; Mueller & Dweck, 1998; see also Jourden, Bandura, and Banfield, 1991; Martocchio, 1994; Wood & Bandura, 1989). In the fixed framework, with its focus on proving your ability, a poor performance casts doubt on your deep-seated ability and can undermine your confidence. Someone else’s good performance can undermine your confidence (“Maybe they have more talent than I do.”) (see Butler, 2000). Even needing effort and practice can undermine your confidence–so it’s a constant battle to stay confident in the face of inevitable challenge.
However, in the growth framework, making mistakes or even having clear deficits doesn’t mean you aren’t or won’t be good at something. It’s simply an occasion for learning. Moreover, you don’t need a wagon-load of confidence to embark on learning. You just need to believe in improvement over time.
Champion Mindset and The Idea of Potential
Many of the scouts in the sports world scouted for naturals, for people who looked like superstars, that is, were shaped like superstars and moved like superstars (Lewis, 2003). If they didn’t look the part, they weren’t recruited. Yet Ben Hogan, one of the greatest golfers of all time did not have the grace of a natural golfer. Muhammad Ali actually did not have the build of the natural boxer. He did not have a champion’s fists, reach, chest expansion, and heft. People gave him no chance against Sonny Liston, who seemed to have it all (Dennis & Atyeo, 2003). Mugsy Bogues at 5’3” or the little quarterback Doug Flutie—anyone could look at them and tell you they were not naturals and by that they would mean they did not have the potential to make it.
Within a fixed mindset, potential is easy to judge. You just look at the person’s gifts right now and project them into the future. Talented now equals talented in the future. Not talented now equals not talented in the future. Boy, that was easy!
Yet within a growth framework, potential is hard to judge. Sure “natural talent” buys you a lot, and if you’re accomplished now, you’ve got a leg up on others. But after that you cannot know where someone might end up with years of passion, discipline, and commitment—and good instruction.
Thus, this work, which takes mindsets directly into the world of sport, provides exciting support for the view that passion and excellence in sport are guided by people’s mindsets about their sports abilities.
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