The Growth Mindset of Success

The 4-Step Process to Inspire Music Entrepreneurs to Optimal Achievement

Whether I am teaching conservatory music students, working with arts leaders or coaching individual clients, my project is the same: how can I help you to create authentic success and fulfillment in your professional, personal and creative lives?

The baseline for all of these people is a wealth of talent and intelligence. And according to the research of eminent psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University, your mindset on how you approach and utilize your talent and intelligence is a key factor in determining how successful you will be.

In her wonderfully readable book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dr. Dweck describes two mindsets–the growth mindset and the fixed mindset–and the effect on one’s ability to succeed:

Growth Mindset

The growth mindset stems from a belief that you can cultivate your talent and intelligence through hard work, experimentation and growth. Your talent and intelligence may be the starting point, but success comes as a result of effort, learning, and persistence. Those with a growth mindset are more resilient, work harder, embrace collaboration with others and as a result achieve greater success than those with a fixed mindset because they are motivated by the desire to grow and learn. Indeed, the growth mindset inspires risk-taking, experimentation, the willingness to stumble, and even “fail” and to persist in order to create success.

Fixed Mindset

Those with a fixed mindset believe that you are either born with talent and intelligence or you are not which means you cannot change how talented or smart you are. The consequence is that you do not want to rock the boat and hold onto your talent for dear life. Thus, you are afraid to take risks and make mistakes because then it means you really are not talented.

The fascinating conclusion of Dr. Dweck’s research is that those with a fixed mindset tend to peak early and are less “successful” than those with a growth mindset, because their fear of failure holds them back.

Musicians are a fertile population for the fixed mindset. From an early age, they are taught to go for perfection. They perform publicly where they are inevitably judged on the quality of their work. Indeed, they put their souls on display in a way that people with desk jobs do not. In fact, they judge themselves more harshly than any music critic or audience member would! And they operate in an incredibly competitive environment where many career opportunities are based on competitions and auditions and where the supply of excellent musicians exceeds the number of available traditional performance opportunities, thus exacerbating the perception that they need to be “perfect”.

Here’s why:

We live in an age where traditional structures are changing rapidly and traditional solutions no longer provide the answer. This requires flexibility and a commitment to life-long learning.

As Dr. Dweck explained in a recent interview, the growth mindset is essential for creating success in today’s world because “you cannot keep up with all the changes that are happening if you are not committed to growing.” You need a mindset that is curious and open to learning and believes that you can improve throughout your life. It’s about working hard and putting in the effort and practicing and achieving mastery as opposed to believing that you are talented and that talent will get you places.

When I introduce the concept of the growth mindset in my classes and professional development sessions, I hear a sigh of relief. Students and professional alike feel liberated from having to be so perfect since they feel that the growth mindset gives them permission to experiment and take risks, and continue on a life-long journey of artistic development.

How can music entrepreneurs learn how to manage their fixed mindset thoughts and approach life with a growth mindset?

Let’s take a look at a 4-step process.

1. Become Aware of Your Fixed Mindset Thoughts

The first step to change is awareness:

When am I thinking negative thoughts that trap me in the fixed mindset and what are those thoughts?

Musicians encounter the fixed mindset in the following situations:

  • Alone in the practice room
  • When your rehearsal is off and you don’t do as well as you want
  • In a rough lesson
  • Procrastinating to avoid doing something that feels hard
  • Talking to other people and feeling that judged
  • Talking to other people and feeling inadequate by comparison
  • On stage at a performance

And here is what the fixed mindset sounds like:

“He just came back from a world tour. And all I am is a student.”

“I am going to die at this performance because I just don’t have what it takes.”

“I’m just a loser.”

“I’ll never get there.”

“I’ve got to be better than everyone else in order to succeed.”

“If my ensemble members had been better, I would have sounded better and it’s their fault that we blew it in rehearsal.”

Notice all of the judgment and harsh comparison! The underlying thought is that you just don’t have enough talent to make it. And that thought creates a lot of stress, negativity and disincentive to try harder and feel that you are capable of learning.

Spend a week jotting down all of the fixed mindset thoughts that cross your mind, as well as the situations that trigger such thoughts.

With the awareness of your fixed mindset thoughts, you are now ready for step 2.

"The pianist's pencil" by Catface27 - Flickr/CC BY 2.0

“The pianist’s pencil” by Catface27 – Flickr/CC BY 2.0

2. Affirm Your Choice to Change

Once you become aware of the situations that trigger the fixed mindset and give rise to the voice of negativity, the next step is to affirm to yourself that you have the power to change.

One way to do this is to look for evidence that supports and negates your fixed mindset thought.

In my class, for example, we took examined the following thought:

“The other guy went on a world tour and all I am is a student. I’m just a loser.”

The inquiry is focused on exploring how true it is that you are a loser.

Start with evidence to support your perception of yourself as a loser:

  • I did not do a world tour.

Then, look for evidence that negates this perception:

  • I am at Yale learning to be a better musician.
  • I have a great teacher from whom I am learning many new things about being an artist.
  • I have performed in the past and I have a lot of performance opportunities coming up.
  • I enjoy challenging myself.
  • It does not matter what other people are doing because I am on my own path.

By doing this exercise, you realize that your fixed mindset thought is not true and that there are many other factors at play. This realization can inspire you to overcome the challenge and work hard towards creating successes. This is the growth mindset at work: rather than throw in the towel, you become committed to learning, figuring out a better way and persisting to create success.

Another exercise that helps to affirm the growth mindset is to document your successes and outline the process you used to create that success. Not only is the list a great reminder that you have in fact experienced success but it also shows that the success came about through hard work, focus, persistence, learning from mistakes and resilience.

It is a matter of perception so why not go with the most empowering interpretation?

3. Answer with a Growth Mindset Voice

Step 3 is to answer your fixed mindset thought with a growth mindset thought:

What can you say in response to the Fixed Mindset Voice?

One tool that my students enjoyed is the Flow Affirmation: the statement that comes from your actual experience of optimal performance or flow and encapsulates what you are like at your best.

Your flow affirmation reminds you that you have experienced the highs of optimal performance in the best and it can inspire you to be your best, especially in times when you need a boost.

Another technique is to substitute the negative voice with words of growth:

  • I’ve done it before and I can do it again.
  • I am committed to handling this situation.
  • What can I learn from this?
  • What will I do next time?

If you practice journaling about your mindset and what your process of success looks like, you will accumulate words and phrases that can help you to solidify your growth mindset voice.

Six Marimbas - Photo by Bram - Flickr/CC BY SA 2.0

Six Marimbas – Photo by Bram – Flickr/CC BY SA 2.0

4. Take a Growth Mindset Action

The fourth step in changing from a fixed to a growth mindset is to take an action that reaffirms your commitment to growth.

Our students came up with the following actions:

  • When I hit a snag, I can keep practicing and I will not quit.
  • I will change what I am doing so I can explore a new way of overcoming my challenge.
  • I can do something completely different to clear my mind and refocus myself.
  • I can practice the 4-step process on a daily basis to create a new habit.

The process of change takes practice. And the good news for musicians is that you all know the process of practicing for improvement! So use that same skill to practice replacing the voice of the Fixed Mindset with your Growth Mindset thought.