Today, in the first part, I will discuss mindsets and how they influences self-discipline. In the second part, I recommend something to read and something to listen to.

I’ll show you:

  • How to evaluate your mindset,
  • Learn about fixed mindset and growth mindset,
  • Do exercises to change your mindset.

I. Mindset and self-discipline

When we say we lack self-discipline, we usually refer to a situation where we failed to do what was needed to reach our desired goals. Self-discipline is a complex concept, and it requires a deeper look to understand why we fail to achieve what we want, despite our desires.

One of the elements underlying self-discipline is mindset. What mindset do I have towards myself, the world I live in, and what is possible? Based on this mindset, I decide how to behave.

In most cases, you are not aware that behind everyday behaviors are beliefs. You often only notice that you haven’t been to the gym again, haven’t started that course, or haven’t made the desired change. Or, whenever things get too difficult, you lose interest, get sleepy, play games, suddenly have a thousand other important things to do, etc. And then you say: I lack self-discipline! In fact, there is a certain attitude towards the change you set for yourself, a mindset. The reason you may not notice this mindset is that it’s usually so old that it has become your standard way of functioning, like autopilot.

In the following, I suggest you do a self-examination exercise to see what mindset you have, how it manifests in your life, and how it influences your self-discipline. Why? Because, in principle, with the right mindset, self-discipline should naturally follow. It won’t be easy; it will still require effort, but at least it won’t be unattainable. With the right mindset, you can create the habits you need to reach your goals. With the right mindset, self-discipline is no longer a struggle but an assumed and accepted exercise.

What is your mindset?

Imagine you are 10 years old and you are faced with a challenge to solve puzzles. With each new puzzle you receive, the difficulty increases. The first ones go quite easily, but gradually, it gets harder. You’ve reached a puzzle that is already complicated and takes you out of your comfort zone. How do you react?

a) You feel your interest waning, and as it gets more difficult, the pleasure of playing disappears.

b) As the puzzles become more complicated, your interest grows, and you feel better. You enjoy this challenge. You want to be able to solve more difficult puzzles until they become easy for you.

Answer with Yes, I agree, or No, I disagree to these four questions.

  1. You are the way you are, and not much can be done to change that.
  2. Regardless of what kind of person you are, you can always change considerably.
  3. You can do things differently, but the essence of who you are will always be the same.
  4. You can always change significant parts of your personality.

If you answered “Yes” to questions 1 and 3 and a) in the first example, you have a fixed mindset. If you answered “Yes” to questions 2 and 4 and b) in the first example, you have a growth mindset.

You might have a mixed response, but you probably lean more towards one attitude than the other. It’s also possible to have a growth mindset for some tasks but a fixed mindset for others. For example, you may believe you can change in many ways but surely can’t dance/swim/ride a bike/do math, etc.

Growth mindset vs. fixed mindset

Below, I list beliefs, traits, and behaviors specific to each mindset. It’s not a complete description, obviously. There are nuances, and each person has their own personality profile, but broadly speaking, you will tend more towards one picture than the other.

Think of it this way: the beliefs and behaviors in the growth column are your assets, whether they are many or few. The beliefs and behaviors in the fixed mindset column are the points you need to work on; they are the ones that hinder you from reaching your goals and being satisfied. Identify your obstacles, and in the third part of the article, find ideas on how you could change your mindset. As always, try on your own, but if you don’t make progress, seek a psychotherapist. You can get where you want, and there are resources to make your journey less steep or winding. Don’t waste time.

Growth Mindset:

  • I have a set of skills of different levels, and they can be permanently changed.
  • I can acquire new skills by learning.
  • I am a person like everyone else.
  • What I have or receive in life is the result of my effort.
  • Failure can be a painful experience, but it does not define me. It’s a problem I face, solve, and learn from.
  • I take risks and make an effort.
  • I am concerned with how to constantly improve.
  • Important qualities are cultivated.
  • I think about how to overcome obstacles.
  • I rely on my ability to make an effort.
  • I like challenges.
  • I accurately estimate my abilities.
  • Not knowing or not being able to do something is seen as a challenge, not a barrier or shame.
  • I can always learn and change.
  • I thrive when faced with a challenge, when I am slightly outside my comfort zone, and I make an effort to learn.
  • I feel smart when I don’t understand something and learn something new.
  • I look for people who do better than me.
  • I rebuild my self-esteem by taking responsibility for what happened and fixing what I broke.
  • I was born with some qualities, but it takes effort to develop them.
  • If I try and fail, I try again, two or three times, as much as it takes.

Fixed Mindset:

  • I am special, maybe even superior to others.
  • Because I am special or better than others, I deserve certain things.
  • I have a fixed set of skills, and they must be constantly proven and confirmed.
  • I must be smart, have talent, be perfect in what I do and who I am.
  • Things must go perfectly for me the first time.
  • I don’t believe in effort but in predetermined qualities that are manifest and don’t require effort.
  • Failure is not an action; it’s an identity. I have not failed; I am a failure.
  • I am concerned about how I will be judged.
  • I am very sensitive to making mistakes, to being wrong.
  • I always have something to prove (at work, personally, in the way I dress, in the way I choose my car, house, etc.).
  • I label myself and others.
  • I give up quickly because labels/qualities/defects are unchangeable.
  • I fear challenges.
  • I rely on innate qualities, not effort.
  • I underestimate or overestimate my abilities majorly.
  • What I can’t do or don’t know is a deficiency, a lack, and cannot be changed. I must protect myself and ensure it’s not visible.
  • I thrive when I’m in my comfort zone, and things are accessible; if I don’t feel smart or talented enough, I lose interest.
  • I feel smart when I haven’t made any mistakes.
  • I look for people who are worse off than me so that my self-esteem doesn’t suffer.
  • I repair my self-esteem by finding culprits and excuses.
  • Some have talent, others strive.
  • If you try and fail, then you have no excuse; you are one with your failure. It’s too risky to try, so it’s better not to do anything.

How to change your mindset?

A fixed mindset hinders development and change. Try the exercises below and see if/how your behavior and mood change. Don’t expect miracles but make an effort. Even finding out just how resistant you might be to change is a big step forward. If you somehow reach the conclusion you are perfect you’ve lost the path for sure.

  1. Every child is born curious and eager to learn. Whenever you do something, and it becomes too difficult, and you start to feel bored, you feel sleepy, lose interest, etc., remember that the reaction is due to a fixed mindset. Consciously choose to view the situation as a challenge to be better, as an opportunity to get closer to what you desire. Notice how your mood changes and observe how resistant you are to change. For example, if you’re learning a foreign language or want to do more sports, but when it’s time to train or do your homework, you get sleepy, have other things to do, don’t understand why you set out to do this, etc. Now your mind is operating from a fixed mindset and is on autopilot. Choose consciously to see the situation as a challenge to be better, as an opportunity to get closer to what you want. Notice how your mood changes, and then observe your behavior. PS: You might come across solid negative beliefs, such as “I’m not good at foreign languages” or “I’m not the type to do sports.”
  2. It’s pleasant to feel good about ourselves, to be seen as perfect by our partner, friends, colleagues, etc. The temptation is great. The ego revels. But as long as no one challenges you, you don’t grow. Surround yourself with people who challenge you to be better and who tell the truth. Veneration is only for gods. We mortals work and make mistakes.
  3. Think of a situation in the past where you were evaluated and labeled. Maybe a test, a grade, a relationship where you were rejected, an interview you didn’t pass, or a dismissal. Feel all the emotions related to that event and write them down somewhere, along with the sensations in your body and the thoughts it generates, the labels about yourself. Then put yourself in a growth mindset, understanding that what happened does not define you as a person. You have the power to be what you want to be. Look at the situation again. Examine what your contribution to the situation was. Ask yourself what you learned from this experience and what you can use from it to evolve. Take everything good from that experience. How do you feel now? What emotions do you feel now? Compare the perspectives of the two mindsets.

II Resources

To Read:

  • “What Having a Growth Mindset Actually Means,” an article from Harvard Business Review by Ms. Dweck

To Watch:

  • “Teaching a growth mindset,” a 15-minute video in which Carol Dweck, a professor and researcher at Stanford University, explains how to have a growth mindset.