How to Crush Limiting Beliefs & Unlocking A Growth Mindset

Enzan Azari
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June 6, 2024

As a young professional navigating the labyrinth of personal and professional development, failure often stands as both a feared adversary and an untapped ally. It's the crossroads where many journeys meet an impasse, but also where the seeds of growth are sown. My desire with this entry is to embark on an exploration of failure's role in cultivating the growth mindset—a journey that transcends what may seem intuitive to uncover the transformative power of resilience and adaptability (and access boundless potential).

What Exactly is a Growth Mindset?

At the heart of the growth mindset lies a fundamental belief in the malleability of human abilities and the power of effort and perseverance. That which ultimately culminates into a human being is not necessarily a collection of innate talents, but meticulously crafted habits rooted in a growth-oriented proclivity. 

One of my favorite psychologists, Carol Dweck from Stanford, pioneered an entire body of research that illuminates this concept, revealing how individuals with a growth mindset view challenges and setbacks as growth opportunities as opposed to supporting evidence for their limiting beliefs. Her work has helped me restructure the ways I looked at my potential, including how I educate my students and serve my coaching clients in an effective manner which allows them to demand excellence from themselves.

According to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, individuals with a growth mindset are more likely to seek out challenges and persist in the face of setbacks, leading to higher levels of achievement and well-being over time. 

(In layman's terms, if you don’t give up, you are more likely to become successful. Especially on an expanded time-horizon.)

(source for those curious: Dweck, C. S., & Leggett, E. L. (1988). A social-cognitive approach to motivation and personality. Psychological Review, 95(2), 256–273.)

Recognizing Failure as Feedback, Not Finality

In the growth mindset paradigm, failure is not an endpoint but an essential stepping stone on the path to mastery. Failure and mastery are intrinsically linked, yet for some reason we all want to sever the tie between them. This obviously doesn’t work because each setback offers invaluable feedback and areas for improvement that are necessary for success. By reframing failure as a natural and inevitable part of the learning process, individuals can overcome the fear of failure and embrace it as a growth opportunity.

Dweck and her colleagues also found that students who were taught a growth mindset experienced greater academic achievement and resilience in the face of failure compared to those who were not.

(source: Blackwell, L. S., Trzesniewski, K. H., & Dweck, C. S. (2007). Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: A longitudinal study and an intervention. Child Development, 78(1), 246–263.)

Cultivating a Growth Mindset through Language

Two men in silhouette, facing each other against a black background.
Infuse that belief into the words you utter and over time the language will leverage itself into your behaviors and eventually your habits.

Our language reveals our fixations and mental frame, so a tweak in language can reshape our fixations and in turn our behaviors. 

Central to the growth mindset is the concept of "yet"—the acknowledgment that one's abilities are not fixed but can be developed over time with effort and practice. By incorporating the language of growth into their self-talk and feedback, a mindset of continuous improvement and resilience can be cultivated.

Stat: According to a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, individuals who used growth mindset language (e.g., "I haven't mastered this skill yet") were more likely to persevere in the face of setbacks and demonstrate higher levels of performance compared to those who used fixed mindset language.

(source: Mueller, C. M., & Dweck, C. S. (1998). Praise for intelligence can undermine children's motivation and performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75(1), 33–52.)

And it doesn’t really take a scientific approach to make this principle apparent. The world is filled with obstacles and challenges that will stand in your path, so the only thing you really have is your genuine belief in yourself.

If you stand as an obstacle to yourself, then what chance do you have to create the life you want?

Infuse that belief into the words you utter and over time the language will leverage itself into your behaviors and eventually your habits.

This is what separates those who embody a growth mindset versus those who insist on their abilities being fixed. A congruence between their beliefs, words, & actions.

Fostering Grit and Resilience

Grit—the combination of passion and perseverance—is a key component of the growth mindset. Rather than viewing failure as a sign of inadequacy (which is most of our default responses), gritty individuals see it as a natural and inevitable part of the journey toward success.

Many people I know actually experience a sense of excitement when they encounter difficutly because they know most people are not willing to subject themselves to difficult tasks in the pursuit of growth. And that makes whatever they are chasing after that much more valuable.

By cultivating grit and resilience through engaging in gradually increasing levels of difficulty, individuals can navigate the challenges of life with courage and determination.

Research conducted by psychologist Angela Duckworth and her colleagues found that grit was a better predictor of success than talent or intelligence alone across a wide range of domains, including education, sports, and the workplace.

(source: Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1087–1101.)

And this rings true even when I reference client sessions, old business partners, or popular media. There is no shortage of people lamenting that the smartest people aren’t always the most successful. 

In fact, the most successful people are typically the ones who weren’t smart enough to doubt themselves. 

Or maybe they weren’t stupid enough to doubt themselves (I’m still figuring out which is true).

Overcoming the Fear of Failure

A man standing in the middle of a dark road at night, looking ahead with a sense of determination.
The fear of failure begins and ends with you.

Despite its potential for growth, failure remains a source of dread and avoidance for many (if not most) people. However, by reframing failure as a natural and necessary part of the learning process, individuals can overcome the fear of failure and embrace it as a catalyst for self-discovery.

The beautiful thing about failure is that most of the pain and difficulty of failure is front-loaded. Meaning the first time you experience failure is usually the most difficult and with each subsequent failure will lead you closer to freedom from its grip.

But here’s a vital caveat to be aware of. The failure you engage with needs to be linked to a goal you find meaningful and necessary, accepted voluntarily, and sequenced in gradually increasing order of difficulty that ventures closely outside of your comfort zone each time.

This criterion will result in evidence that you are a courageous person in the face of fear and a newfound sense of awareness will be accessible to you when you experience failure because you’ll be able to say…

I’ve been here before.

Which is a skill most people are either unwilling or unable to access.

This is also reflected in a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, where the fear of failure was shown to be one of the most common sources of stress among adults, with 47% of respondents reporting feeling stressed about the possibility of failing at work.

(source: American Psychological Association. (2019). Stress in AmericaTM: Stress and current events.

Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2019/stress-america-current-events.pdf)

Embracing Failure as a Path to Growth

Failure is not a sign of weakness but a testament to one's willingness to step outside their comfort zone and navigate reality.

Experts have failed more than others have even made an attempt.

By embracing failure as an opportunity to learn and develop, anyone can cultivate a growth mindset rooted in resilience, adaptability, and boundless potential. So, the next time you encounter failure on your journey toward success, remember: it is not the end of the road but the beginning of a new adventure—one filled with an endless collection of opportunities and experiences to guide you to where you’re meant to be.

Written By
Enzan Azari
Who Is Enzan Azari? Simply put, a performance coach for high performers interested in reclaiming their emotions and attention in a world designed to exploit them. With slices of success in education, employment, and entrepreneurship, Enzan is an educator at heart and an entrepreneur in spirit with current ambitions to become a licensed psychotherapist.