In my former career, I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford University and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
Dweck’s research focuses on how a person’s mindset influences their achievements.
Although the purpose of this work was to help educators understand learning, Dweck’s notion of growth mindset has implications for almost any facet of life.
People who have a fixed mindset believe that their intelligence and abilities are fixed traits over which they don’t have much control or influence. Thus, they are not inclined to put forth the effort needed to further develop them.
People who have a growth mindset believe that their intelligence and abilities can be developed through consistent effort and hard work. This mindset inspires an optimistic view of learning and a willingness to persist through difficulties. People who achieve great success most likely have adopted a growth mindset.
Let’s apply mindset research to fitness. If you find yourself making assumptions (AKA excuses) about your physical capabilities, chances are you are stuck in a fixed mindset.
For example, I can’t do yoga class because I am not flexible enough. Once you become aware of the power of a growth mindset, you can begin to question whether you might be getting in your own way of reaching your fitness goals.
My friend Julie and I work out together once a week at a neighborhood park. Last week I challenged her to jump with both feet onto a park bench (think box jump). She stood before the bench, shook her head from side to side, and said she couldn’t do it. I knew she could and told her so. I knew, also, that she would need to put in time and effort, and work towards turning her negative belief into a positive belief.
We started with an easy mark, jumping onto the sidewalk curb. I instructed her just as I would for the bench jump, advising her to bend her knees and to pull her arms back, readying them to swing up to create lift. I told her to visualize herself making the jump and to imagine the feeling of lift and lightness.
Julie mastered the curb with ease and confidence. Next was a concrete step. After that, a wooden crate. Though each level was more challenging, she found that she could succeed through effort and persistence. This built her confidence and changed her mindset. Now equipped with a growth mindset, Julie was ready for the bench.
Julie stood before the bench. She bent her knees, readied her arms, and closed her eyes briefly, visualizing a successful jump. After two false starts, she swung her arms, jumped up, and made it onto the bench! Before I could say anything, she’d jumped again. She then jumped two more times. The jump was hers. She owned it
Julie could have held onto the belief that she was incapable of jumping onto that bench. She could have maintained her fixed mindset and given up. But she opened her mind to the possibility that with guidance, effort, and persistence, she’d be capable of the jump. Watching her transformation was fascinating for me and invigorating for Julie!
What self-limiting beliefs or habits might be preventing you from making a leap to better fitness?
Think of a fitness goal that you would really like to achieve but aren’t sure you capable of achieving (e.g., doing a pull-up, running a mile, hiking a local trail, mastering a challenging yoga pose).
List the reasons why you believe you cannot achieve this goal. Do your reasons reflect a fixed mindset?
Dweck states that her research “has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value.”
It’s never too late to adopt a growth mindset for your fitness goals. Here are some tips that can help:
Write an affirmation statement that reflects your belief that you can achieve your fitness goal (e.g., I will run a 5K, I can do a pull-up, I will do a bench jump, I can deadlift 135 lbs.). Whenever you experience doubt, return to your affirmation.
Identify milestones that honor your fitness level and create a realistic schedule for completing each milestone. Celebrate each small success.
Consistent effort is paramount to success. You’d be surprised at what you can accomplish when you invest the time and effort into reaching the goal you believe you can achieve.
Expect challenges along the way and face them head-on. According to Dweck, “The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.”
Visualization is a powerful technique for overcoming challenges. Regularly visualize yourself achieving your goal. As you do so, notice what you look like and how you feel. Keep these images and feelings with you along your journey to success.
Results take time, patience, and perseverance. Trust that by putting in the time and effort and persisting through challenges, success will be yours. Good luck!
What do you do to stay in shape? What do you think are the keys to great physical fitness after 50? Do you think you have a fixed or growth mindset? Are you patient with your progress while setting goals and waiting for success, or are you more impatient? What self-limiting beliefs are holding you back in life? Please join the conversation in the comments section.