When I was a teenager, everything sucked. School sucked, boys sucked, my parents sucked (love you, mom!)... you name it, it sucked. The only respite I had from my hormonal angst was playing the piano. Belting aloud tunes by Michelle Branch, Phil Collins, and Vanessa Carlton quieted my swirling emotions.

So the days I almost quit piano were a huge deal.

The thing was, learning new songs was hard. I’d sit down with a tune in my head and pretty quickly figure out its basic chord structure but by the 20-minute-mark, I’d become furious at my inability to get it perfect right away. So I’d slam shut the piano and stalk off with a moody attitude, seeking solace in some cheesy romance adventure novel.

I’d honestly want to give up.

The next day, however, I’d return to the piano to repeat the cycle of practice, frustration, and so on… until eventually, I’d get the song right. More than right: I’d be able to play it just like it sounded on the radio or CD (#winning). And then I could play that song anytime I needed to feel good about myself. Being proficient at a musical instrument is like having dopamine on tap.

But more than the ability to make music, the biggest and most transferable gift of learning piano was that it taught me the power of “yet”, shifting my internal narrative from “I can’t play this song!” to “I can’t play this song yet.”

This, my friends, is the essence of the growth mindset. It’s knowing with certainty that whatever your goal or ambition is, it’s just a three-letter word (and a consistent, daily investment of time) away… YET.

Hi! We’re Brainscape

We’re the brains, minds, and hearts behind the world’s smartest study app, which uses spaced repetition and other important cognitive science learning strategies to help students of all ages and subjects learn at least TWICE as efficiently as traditional study methods.

What do we know about personal development and nurturing a growth mindset?

Well, learning is the literal embodiment of the growth mindset, as you could see in my story about mastering the piano. And since Brainscape is a web and mobile app that’s all about learning, we’ve made it a priority to understand how people with a fixed mindset differ from those with a growth mindset (and how to seduce them over to the greener side).

People with a fixed mindset become swiftly frustrated by the learning curve, while those with a growth mindset accept the strain of the upward climb, embrace the struggle, and are patient with themselves when they make mistakes, which leads to faster learning.

Through our research on this topic, we’ve come to learn a whole lot about the importance of a growth mindset and just how valuable this tool is for your learning journey.

Our goal with this guide is to help you deeply understand what a growth mindset is and what it might look like given your unique circumstances, whether you’re in school, at college, working, parenting, or just “humaning” in any capacity. We’ll then hand to you FOUR key, actionable steps to cultivating a growth mindset, even if your perspective has, until now, been set in stone.

So now that you know who we are and why we know a thing or two about nurturing your personal development, let’s dive right into what it means to have a growth mindset…

[For the hot “tea” on effective goal-setting, which goes hand-in-hand with cultivating a growth mindset, be sure to read: ‘How to keep your New Year’s (or anytime) resolutions.’]

What does it mean to have a “growth mindset”?

Growth mindset GIF

“I suck at math!” → “I’m not good at math yet.

“My business idea is a big, fat failure” → “My business idea hasn’t succeeded yet.

“I’ll never be able to afford to travel” → “I can’t afford to travel yet.”

“I’m a horrible dancer” → “I haven’t learned how to dance yet.”

“I’m terrible with names” → “I haven’t learned your name yet.”

“We just can’t seem to get our relationship to run smoothly” → “Our relationship doesn’t run smoothly yet.

“He can’t pay attention for more than two seconds!” → “He hasn’t learned how to focus yet.”

By adding “yet” to the above defeatist statements, we transform all the cul-de-sacs in our lives into unending pathways towards growth. It purges from our tongues words like “never” and “can’t” and replaces them with language that is rich with possibility and imagination:

“I’m not good at math yet”. Read: I care about getting good at math so that I have more career options in science and engineering.

“My business idea hasn’t succeeded yet”. Read: I’ve had some setbacks, but I’m learning from them and using them as opportunities to build a bullet-proof business concept.

“I can’t afford to travel yet.” Read: “I’m working hard and saving a little bit every month so that I can afford a trip somewhere exciting.”

I haven’t learned how to dance yet.” Read: I’m taking classes so that my fiancé and I can rip the roof off with our first wedding dance!

“I haven’t learned your name yet.” Read: I’m interested. Your name is important to me.

And so on.

Do you see how a growth mindset takes potential roadblocks and rips the lid off of your life’s possibilities? Isn’t that exciting? More than this, it urges you down pathways that might appear scarily steep at first but you follow them anyway because you know that, with time, you’ll eventually get to the summit.

The growth mindset I developed as a teenager not only fed me the determination to keep practicing piano but it pushed me to learn more complicated songs. Complex fingerwork or chord progressions? Didn’t matter. I knew I would eventually get them right.

[Psssst! Wanna add "be funnier" to your list of personal development goals? Check out our guide 'How to be funny: 7 ways to improve your sense of humor' and collection of Jokes flashcards to begin right away.]

A growth mindset is a transferable skill

Best of all, a growth mindset is transferable.

Mine began with music but, over the years and ever since, it has percolated into many other endeavors, from completing my master’s degree and writing a book to running a half marathon. All of these long-haul ambitions were the product of knowing that with the right habits and enough practice, I would eventually summit that damn mountain.

It’s in this knowing—this certainty and trust—that the true and bountiful magic of having a growth mindset spills forth, and here’s what it looks like:

  1. Knowing that intelligence and abilities can be developed and improved.
  2. Believing that failure is an opportunity to learn and grow.
  3. Having a positive attitude and being open to feedback and criticism.
  4. Seeing effort as a path to success.
  5. Being open to new ideas and approaches.
  6. Viewing challenges as opportunities for growth.
  7. Taking risks and embracing mistakes as part of the learning process.
  8. Being resilient and persistent in the face of difficulty.
  9. Being motivated by a desire to learn and improve.

Imagine how your personal, academic, professional, financial, and social life would be transformed if your life was guided by these principles?

Now, let’s really crystalize your understanding of what it means to have a growth mindset by taking the scenic route through its many wondrous benefits…

[Pssst! Are you a Brainscape user? If so, you can use Brainscape’s Personal Development flashcards to work on your mindset and growth while studying your regular classes. Simply set the ‘Smart Study’ feature to include a small percentage of these flashcards and every 3-4 flashcards of your regular subject, you’ll get a little reminder to work on yourself. To learn more, read ‘How to level up your personal growth with Brainscape’ or watch this video…]

What are the benefits of having a growth mindset?

Person standing in front of sunrise

Just think about all the things you’d try, do, and eventually accomplish if you weren’t deterred by early resistance, pain, and suffering…

  • You’d finally get up early to exercise 3-4 times per week, which would drastically improve your health, adding years to your lifespan;
  • You’d finally commit to an hour of language learning per day, eventually becoming conversationally fluent, opening manifold doors to culture, friendship, and travel;
  • You’d finally invest in that business idea of yours, innovating solutions to challenges, and building out a product or service that is rock solid;
  • You’d finally take the leap and tell that person how you feel, which would prove to yourself that you’re the type of person who places integrity and honesty above fear and ego.

I could go on for pages, listing examples of accomplishments, goals, and ambitions that are just waiting to be realized if you would but embrace a growth mindset. Instead, I’ll give you the bulleted list of improvements you’ll notice almost immediately of adopting this new mindset:

  • Increased resilience to adversity,
  • Improved persistence in the face of opposition,
  • Increased intrinsic motivation and drive to do the damn thing,
  • More learning, thanks to your improved motivation and persistence
  • Greater creativity because failure no longer controls your decisions
  • Improved performance
  • Greater risk tolerance
  • More ambitious goal setting
  • Improved social relationships because you can handle feedback

Overall, people with a growth mindset are just more likely to pursue their goals, develop their skills and abilities, and lead a successful and fulfilling life.

What’s not to love about that?

How to train your mindset: growth mindset vs. fixed mindset

Growth versus fixed mindset

And now the million dollar question. How can you transform a fixed mindset into a growth mindset?

If you have in the past believed that failure is a sign of personal inadequacy and that your intelligence and abilities are fixed traits that cannot be changed, how can you bring about the paradigm shift you need to escape your own fear?

Here are 4 things you can do differently that’ll have huge impacts now and for the rest of your life…

1. Seek out and embrace feedback

People with a fixed mindset tend to revolt against feedback because they view it as criticism and yet, feedback is both how we learn from other people and receive their care. (If they didn’t care, why would they invest the time to course-correct us?)

So your first step to training a growth-oriented mindset is to seek out and embrace feedback. Don’t confuse this with external validation. You’re not hunting for compliments here: you’re looking for honest advice with the sole aim of improving your output, whatever that is… performance, creativity, efficiency, skill, etc.

“I don’t want to ask for feedback because everytime I do, I just get criticized.”

Yes, criticism stings. But feedback is not the same as criticism. Criticism chastises us for what we did wrong, while feedback is concerned with what we can do differently to ensure success. The one generates shame, the other action.

When you do feel criticized, remember this: what other people say—and how they say it—has nothing to do with you. Worrying, getting upset, and biting back achieves absolutely nothing. You cannot control how your boss, mentor, or parent delivers their feedback BUT what you can control is how you respond to that information.

You can let criticism be the end of your path… or you can hop over that viper that’s sunning itself on your path and continue forward.

2. Take on a (micro) challenge a day

The second step to cultivating a growth mindset is to do more things that lie outside your zone of comfortability and familiarity.

It could be as small as ordering a dish/cuisine you’ve never tried before or as big as flinging yourself off an airplane (with a parachute, of course). Or it could be a spectrum of “hard things”, challenges, and risks in between…

  • Going for your first-ever 5 k run;
  • Taking on a client or project that’s bigger than anything you’ve ever done before;
  • Starting your morning with a freezing cold shower;
  • Booking an ocean kayaking excursion for you and your friends;
  • Agreeing to go on a Bumble / Tinder date; or
  • Taking the leap and deciding to study abroad.

If it feels a little scary, uncomfortable, or risky because you’ve never done it before; it’s physically or emotionally uncomfortable; or you’re not 100% sure of the outcome, DO IT ANYWAY.


Because challenging yourself teaches you that you can do things—hard things—even if you feel trepidation. Moreover, it teaches you that incredible growth lies on the other side of those experiences.

Do them as often as you can—once a week, maybe once a day. If you constantly challenge yourself with tasks that lie outside of your comfort zone, soon you'll know that there's only one thing blocking you from achieving your aspirations: the decision to DO.

Try this: write down a list of 20 or 30 things that make you a little nervous and uncomfortable because they’re new; that push you ever-so-slightly out of your comfort zone. Now that you have your list, get cracking and build your resilience!

[Also, read ‘How to build your kids’ resilience (without traumatizing them)’. Yes, it’s written for parents but kids are humans too so the tricks and principles covered in this guide will also apply to big people!]

3. Reframe failure as growth

It is said that there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. Well, I’d like to add a third: learning curves.

There literally isn’t a single piece of knowledge or skill you can acquire in this life that doesn’t require us to traverse some sort of learning curve.

When the brain receives new information or attempts a new skill, new neural pathways are created, which become deeper and deeper the more we’re exposed to that information or skill (it’s why spaced repetition is such an effective learning tactic).

We start by sucking. And then we get better. There is no instantaneous acquisition of new knowledge and skills. You are not Nero and this is not The Matrix.

Nero from the 'Matrix' I know kung-fu

And YET people with a fixed mindset become horribly deterred when they encounter resistance on the path towards their goals. Any setback, difficulty, or challenge becomes viewed as the universe acting against them and so, well, they might as well quit right? Who are they to argue with the universe?


Personal and physical growth can only happen when we are compelled to struggle through adversity:

  • We build muscles, speed, stamina, and endurance through the sweat, strain, and pain of exercising.
  • We acquire new knowledge through the cognitive burn of trying to understand unfamiliar information or having to perform unfamiliar routines, again and again, until they become comfortable.
  • We become emotionally resilient and socially smarter through the conflicts, disappointments, and rejections we experience at the hands of others.

Do you see what I’m saying?

You CANNOT grow as a person—and thereby lead a richer, more fulfilling life—if you avoid any and all risk, don’t valiantly try even when it burns, and start over when you fail.

Failure is a good thing. It means you have MORE information than ever about what works and what doesn’t work. Use that information to grow. Don’t throw away that opportunity.

4. Celebrate your efforts and small wins

Ace Ventura dancing in pink tutu

The final key to nurturing a growth mindset is to take time to celebrate not just your major victories but also your small ones; and not just your small victories but also your efforts.

When we strive for a goal, we tend to focus only on being the first to cross the finish line of the marathon and not on the amount of effort, training, and exemplary performance it took to allow us to compete in, and run an actual marathon in the first place.

You may not finish first, second, or even three-hundredth, but you finished. Or, if you passed out cold at the 20-mile mark, you still ran 20 miles, which is 19 miles more than the average person could do in one go.

Stop, take a breath, smile inwardly, and mentally high-five yourself for waking up early, making that scary phone call, taking care of some important business, or completing a 3-mile run, etc. The goal of this is to tap into the dopamine you get when you accomplish something that feels hard and to then leverage it to attack the next thing.

If you take just a few seconds to celebrate—inwardly—your day’s small victories and the efforts you made to move forward, you’ll keep your fire burning for so much longer than if you allow those self-defeating negative thoughts to rain down on your parade.

You just haven’t started YET

Excited person sitting at work desk

I’m fully aware that saying these things is exponentially easier than it is doing them; and that the work required to make them happen takes much longer than simply reading these words and changing overnight. But the fact that you’ve read this far is proof that you have the genuine willingness to change and to embrace a growth mindset. That’s a huge deal.

Now, I want you to try something with me…

Think of something you really want but that your inner saboteur has been relentlessly crushing. Or even just something weighing on you that you really need to get done but you’ve been procrastinating over, like studying for an exam, starting a major project, or having a hard conversation.

What is your “can’t” or “won’t” statement? What is the roadblock on your path?

I can’t do this; I’m not ready; I won’t succeed…

Now add the word “yet”.

A growth mindset is the belief that intelligence and abilities can be developed and improved through effort, experience, and education. All humans have the capacity for it, otherwise, we’d still be swinging from the trees. You just need to trust in the process: that with a little action everyday—a little discomfort, a little suffering—you’ll crush your goals.

And whatever they are, they’re a three-letter word away.