Do you ever think you are inherently good or bad at something? You then perform the task and reaffirm your original suspicions. Most of us fall into that trap daily. Unfortunately, the fixed mindset trap can create a cycle of non-improvement.
Dr. Carol Dweck, professor at Stanford, researched mindsets to see who overcame obstacles and succeeded on subsequent assessments. She found that individuals who had a fixed mindset, one where ability is tied to a person’s character traits or is innate, struggled to overcome obstacles and improve. However, individuals with a Growth Mindset, a mindset that emphasizes the ability to improve and learn from mistakes, performed better over the long haul. The growth mindset individuals did not internalize failure and learned from it.
I notice this phenomenon on a daily basis in my profession. I help students with standardized tests for professional licensure, and I encounter students daily who say, “I am not good at standardized tests.” The statement alone illustrates the problems with a fixed mindset. If someone thinks they are bad at something, then motivation to work on it is low. Not only that, continued failure only reinforces the poor self-image. The mindset hampers the ability to learn and improve.
Dr. Dweck’s research is the foundation for understanding some of the early differences in performance of young girls and boys. Dr. Boucher from Indiana investigated the stereotype that girls are poor at math. Her results, along with others, illustrated that when someone is told they are bad at something, they perform worse. The negative stereotype or limitation forces a fixed mindset on students.
The psychological research impacts how many of us play golf. We all see it on our weekend round. A playing partner will miss a putt and say something like “I always miss 3 foot putts” or “I am a bad putter.” Think about the hole at your local club that you hate. The thought of “my ball always go right on #3” has the subconscious effect of causing the ball to go right. All of those statements are fixed mindset statements. They tend to create a fundamental feeling about the person instead of focusing on the attempted task. Living in a fixed mindset will stifle long term improvement when our statements form a negative self-identity.
The good news is we can all migrate to the growth mindset. I am still a 16 handicap golfer, but I believe improvement is possible. Not only that, I know that improvement is a long road that will not happen overnight (or even in 1 season). Looking through the stats and analyzing the information demonstrates areas to work on. Forcing ourselves to believe in the possibility of improvement is the first step to success.
The second thing we must do is talk better to ourselves on the course. I worked hard last summer to focus on the positive. The errant tee shot is a new situation to find a solution. A few slices did not mean the next shot would slice. Craig Sigl, sports psychologist, says to put the last hole behind you and say, I have 9 holes left (or however many you have) to have fun. It is the idea that I will get that 3 footer next time.
Changing mindsets is one of the hardest changes to make, but it can also have a huge impact. I am resolving to keep getting better and focusing on the next shot. I encourage everyone to find a technique that works for you to stay positive on a beautiful day on the course.