Back to Fitness: The Growth Mindset


By John Andersen

There has been much talk in education these days about teaching kids to have a “growth” mindset vs. a “fixed” mindset.  These terms were first coined by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, who compiled decades of research on achievement and success in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. 

To quote Dr. Dweck: “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.

“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.”

You can see why teaching our children to have a growth mindset is so crucial to their success and survival in this ever-challenging world. People with fixed mindsets tend to avoid challenges, give up easily in the face of obstacles, often see effort as fruitless, ignore constructive criticism, and feel threatened by the success of others. Contrarily, people with growth mindsets embrace challenges, persist in the face of obstacles, see effort as the path to mastery, learn from others, and find lessons and inspiration in the success of others.

So how about our fitness and wellness? Do you have a growth mindset or a fixed mindset? I hear examples of fixed mindsets pertaining to people’s fitness all the time:

“I can’t lose weight.”

“I’m not a runner.”

“I have bad knees.”

“I don’t have time.”

“I just have bad genetics.”

Sound familiar? These are examples of fixed-mindset thinking, where someone’s assumed assessment of himself is the obstacle in the way of getting back to fitness. Let’s tackle these assumptions more specifically:

“I can’t lose weight.”

Fixed mindset: “I can’t lose weight. I’ve tried. It doesn’t work. Dieting doesn’t work.  Exercise doesn’t work.  It’s just my metabolism. This is who I am.”

Growth mindset: “Trying to lose weight is hard! I have failed or given up so many times.  But of course I can lose weight, I just need to do something different. Maybe I can ask someone who has been where I am. This won’t be easy, but if I work at it with a new vigor, I can totally do this.”

“I’m not a runner (insert – biker, swimmer, hiker, etc).”

Fixed mindset: “Running hurts. My body was never built for running. Every time I try, my knees/legs/everything hurts. Some people are built for running. I’m just not.”

Growth mindset: “Running right now is hard! I have failed so many times trying. My knees and legs always start hurting and it feels like I make zero progress. But I want to do it.  Maybe if I learned to improve my form and lose some weight, I could do this. I’ve seen people like me who are now running. If they can do it, I can do it. It’ll be a lot of work, but I’m making this a goal.”

“I have bad knees (insert – shoulders, ankles, back, etc).”

Fixed mindset: “I just have bad knees. When I try to exercise they hurt. I wasn’t made to exercise. Even my doctor told me to stop walking/running/etc. I’ll just wait until I get a knee replacement.”

Growth mindset: “My knees hurt. But the last time I had them checked out, my doctor didn’t really address all of my problems and options. Maybe I need to see a different doctor.  Losing weight will help, and I’ve heard of people having chronic knee pain that resolved by finding the right type of exercise and treatment. I’m going to really look into this.”

“I don’t have time.”

Fixed mindset: “I’m just too busy for exercise. I’ve got kids, a job, volunteer commitments. There simply is no room for exercise right now in my life.  I’m stressed out as it is.”

Growth mindset: “Finding time to exercise is hard! I’ve always got something else I can do.  But I need to make this a priority. I need to talk to my spouse tonight and come up with a schedule. I’ll have to start getting up early and trading Saturdays with him, but I can figure this out. There are other people busier than me who exercise plenty, and this will probably help my stress level!”

“I just have bad genetics.”

Fixed mindset: “My parents were overweight and have all sorts of health problems and I’m pretty much following in their footsteps. This is just who my family is. My metabolism is slow, so I just can’t lose weight. I’ve tried and failed.

Growth mindset: “My parents are overweight and not healthy, but starting today, I’m making sure I don’t end up that way. I can change my metabolism. I am the way I am today because of my diet and exercise choices. This isn’t going to be easy, but there are plenty of people way more out of shape than I am who have changed.”

So, what’s your mindset? How does it affect your fitness? Your work? Your family? The good news is you can change your mindset from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. This is a choice. It takes time, commitment, persistence, and patience. Why should any of us accept who we are today?  Everyone can and should get better, every day. The only limits we have are those we place on ourselves.

You want to lose 100 pounds? Do it! You want to run a marathon? Do it! You want to bike across Virginia? Do it! You want to run your first 5K? Do it!

Do not be afraid of failure. Look to others for inspiration. Anyone who has achieved something great has surely failed a few times along the way. They just didn’t give up. If you are far away from fitness and wellness, take control of your health and get back to fitness.  Start today. You’re worth it!


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