Develop your growth mindset: 7 ways to step out of your comfort zone

11 Apr ‘23
4 min
Lisanne van Marrewijk
Gecontroleerd door Psychologist Madelief Falkmann
illustratie van mannetje

Taking a job on the other side of the world? Taking your colleague to task over an annoying comment? Going to that new restaurant on your own? What comes naturally to some may feel like way out of your comfort zone to others. Whatever it means to you: stepping outside your familiar world and developing your growth mindset will enrich your career and life.


Psychologist Madelief Falkmann takes you into the world outside your comfort zone.


What is a growth mindset?


In her book Mindset, professor of Psychology at Stanford University Carol Dweck introduced the terms growth mindset and fixed mindset. “Dweck argues that the way you look at your own skills and talents largely determines how they develop,” Madelief explains.


People with a growth mindset find it useful and fun to develop themselves, so they develop and grow faster. “They are motivated to keep learning, get energy from difficult tasks and don’t give up easily when things get tough. They don’t see change as something scary but as a learning challenge.”


The opposite is seen in people with a fixed mindset. They prefer to focus on what they can already do, stay in their comfort zone, and as a result, more often stagnate in their development. They prefer to choose the safe path. “Many people have a fixed mindset because we are more or less taught to be stable and unchanging,” Madelief says.


Growth mindset vs fixed mindset


Someone with a growth mindset sees intelligence, skills and talents as something you can teach yourself or improve. They see problems as challenges and setbacks as learning moments. They believe in their own talents, think it’s fun and valuable to develop as a person, look at unfamiliar situations as a challenge, and seeing challenges as a chance to learn and discover.


Someone with a fixed mindset sees those same qualities as something fixed, something you are born with and cannot improve. They often take feedback as criticism and problems feel like setbacks. They doubt their own abilities and need validation a lot, they prefer to focus on the things they already know and are familiar with and like to stay within their comfort zone.

growth mindset vs. fixed mindset - OpenUp mental well-being for all

Or as Carol Dweck says: “Are you not smart enough to solve the problem, or have you just not solved it yet?”. It’s all in the power of believing you can improve.


This video from After Skool also nicely illustrates the differences between the two mindsets.


Why does one person step out of their comfort zone more easily than the other?


“One person is naturally more risk-averse than the other. So our personality partly determines whether we have a growth or a fixed mindset,” Madelief explains.


In addition, everyone is a mix of growth mindset and fixed mindset, Dweck tells The Atlantic. Dweck: “Even if you have a predominant growth mindset, there may be things that trigger you into a fixed mindset.”


But fortunately, you can develop that growth mindset in yourself. How? “Being aware that the growth and fixed mindsets exist can already be an eye opener,” says Madelief.


“But then putting yourself in an environment where learning, challenges and effort are central, rather than perfection, is the best way to develop your growth mindset, according to Dweck.”


In the TED Talk ‘The power of believing that you can improve’, the psychologist and professor of psychology talks about a school in Chicago where children are not given a failing grade, but a ‘not yet’. A way of telling children that there is a learning curve and they are on their way to learning something, but are not there yet.


A failing grade teaches you that you are not enough and cannot do it. A ‘not yet’ teaches you that improvement is possible.


Step into your growth zone


Want to develop your growth mindset? Then try the following.


1. Think of it as an experiment


By framing your challenge as an experiment, you are telling yourself that it is okay to make mistakes. Because the chances of something going wrong or failing are there, but how bad is that? It is only by making mistakes that you learn.


2. Interpret tension as a good sign


Do you feel some tension in your body when thinking about your challenge or obstacle? Then you are probably in an area where you can grow and develop.


Think about it: if you take on a project in which you feel no tension at all, you are probably already good at it. Nothing wrong with that, but you won’t learn a whole lot of new things either.


3. Prepare well


“Personally, I find it nerve-wracking when I have to give presentations in English,” says Madelief. “There are two things I can do in this situation. I can ask a colleague to take over. That way I’ll stay nice and safe in my comfort zone, but I won’t learn anything new either. Or I can choose to do it myself, despite how much I doubt my skills. By preparing well and practising a lot, I’ll get better in the process. So, that’s what I end up doing.”


Do things always go perfectly? “No, but they don’t have to. By striving for perfection, we’re making things unnecessarily difficult for ourselves. We’re stressing ourselves out. I approach these presentations as a learning experience (see point 1). When I’ve finished, I’ll think: How cool, I did something new. And next time, I’m sure I’ll do even better.”


4. 20 seconds of courage


“Sometimes all you need, is 20 seconds of insane courage,” says Matt Damon in the movie We Bought a Zoo. “And I promise you, something great will come of it.” Sometimes you’ve just got to bite the bullet, and when you finally do, amazing things happen.


“Have you been thinking of taking ice skating lessons for years but never found the nerve? Just sign up and go for it!” says Madelief. The first twenty seconds in a new class full of strangers is always going to be nerve-wracking, but you’ll soon discover that the other students can’t ice skate either and that you’re all in this learning experience together.


5. Do something different every day


Training your growth mindset doesn’t have to be anything big or immersive. It can also be done on a small scale, by adapting or teaching new routines and habits.


“By subtly adjusting daily rituals, you can practice stepping out of your comfort zone on a small scale,” says Madelief. “Cycle a different route to work, have a completely different breakfast or go to a different sports class than usual.”


6. Volunteer


Hanging out with new people from different backgrounds with fresh ideas and alternative ways of doing things, helps you to switch things up in your own life. It makes you less afraid of change. “As part of my volunteer work, I get to meet people outside of my usual bubble. People with different nationalities, interests, economic backgrounds, and levels of education. They offer me new perspectives. It’s invaluable! Volunteering is actually a pretty accessible way to step outside of your safe bubble.”


7. Focus on the experience, not the result


We have all let an opportunity pass us by because we were afraid we could not do it or had never done it before. But ask yourself: does it matter at all if you can do it?


The answer is no. As long as you enjoy something, you don’t have to be good at it. Because if you enjoy something, you will learn along the way exactly how things work.
As long as you focus on the experience and disregard the result, you not only enjoy it more, but you may also unconsciously find a new talent.


The benefits of a growth mindset


By focusing on improving yourself rather than protecting yourself, you don’t feel threatened by others. You are more likely to admire others, learn from their experiences and insights and be inspired by their successes.


In addition, you cope better with feedback and change because you don’t take it as criticism or setback but see it as an opportunity to learn.


You also love learning new things, which makes you persevere to achieve your goals. This helps you to be more creative to come up with the right solutions.


Finally, it brings freedom. A freedom that comes from not letting limiting thoughts and beliefs hold you back. You make room for new possibilities and opportunities while having the motivation and drive to make it happen, fail and make it happen again, writes Business magazine Forbes.


A little too much of a good thing?


According to Madelief, there is also a downside to the growth mindset. After all, you can also go overboard with it. “If you are constantly busy gaining new experiences, tackling challenges and developing yourself, you forget to reflect on previous experiences. That can cause restlessness and tension.”


“Therefore, allow yourself time to learn as well as reflect before moving on to the next challenge.” In other words: grow, but experiment in moderation.


Published on 28 February 2022 Last edited on 11 April 2023.

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