A Minute with Coach Mel–A Growth Mindset and CrossFit

A Growth Mindset? Maybe that’s a term you haven’t heard before. In my other job, I work with teachers to help them find new ways to reach their learners. The Growth Mindset Theory is one of my favorite tools to use with both teachers and students. The theory, created by Carol Dweck, whom I highly recommend researching, explains how people approach daily life.

Two Mindsets

The basic idea is that there are two mindsets. A Growth Mindset and A Fixed Mindset. People with a fixed mindset tend to believe people are born with a certain amount of talent and can’t get better. They give up when they get frustrated, do not like challenges, and get down on themselves when they fail.

People with a growth mindset believe they can get better at anything they want to, with work. When they get frustrated, they keep going. They like challenges and learn from failure. Most people are a mix of both but probably lean one way or the other. Chances are, though, people with either mindset have specific areas of the other mindset. For example, maybe one person has a growth mindset about work but a fixed mindset about learning to play the piano.

Why A Growth Mindset?

A growth mindset is considered more beneficial, and in education, we work with administrators, teachers, and students on creating a culture of growth. Research has shown that people with a growth mindset enjoy activities, even when they are good at them, have improved self-insight and self-esteem, don’t feel stupid when learning, don’t stress about being perfect, are more motivated to learn, and make more gains than those with a fixed mindset.

Sounds pretty great, right? But how does this apply to CrossFit? Put simply, an athlete with a growth mindset is going to make more sustainable gains than an athlete with a fixed mindset. There are some specific elements of having a growth mindset that can demonstrate this process in action.

A Fixed Mindset and Failure

One of the main elements of growth mindset is re-defining failure. A person with a fixed mindset sees failure as a disaster and a reflection of themselves. A fixed mindset athlete is likely to be extremely competitive and take losses really hard. If he or she doesn’t “win” the workout, he or she has failed and IS a failure. Athletes with this perspective may be more likely to make bad decisions about how to do the workout, cheat in range of motion or rep counting, and even get burned out and quit CrossFit. This is because their performance defines their value, and any “failure” is seen as a reflection on them as a person. Losing hurts because it means they are a loser.

Re-defining Failure

Fortunately, adopting a growth mindset means redefining failure. A person with a growth mindset sees failures as opportunities for growth. This athlete knows to compare his or her performance only with his or her performance yesterday. An athlete with a growth mindset also puts failure in the proper perspective. Fail can be defined as First Attempts In Learning. Failures are a part of the learning process, not a reflection of a person’s value. Failure leads to growth, not to you being a failure as a human being.

Athletes with a growth mindset don’t want to quit CrossFit when they don’t “win” a workout. They don’t need to win by getting the highest score. They win by growing from the day before or win by failing and learning from the failures. Athletes with a growth mindset don’t need to cut off their push-ups or shave reps because that’s not how they count success. Also, they are less likely to burn out because their self-esteem doesn’t hinge on the outcome of each WOD. That’s a stressful way to live and usually isn’t sustainable.

Removing Fear

Redefining failure as a part of the growth process also removes the fear of failure. An athlete with a fixed mindset is often afraid to fail. This athlete may not challenge the weight, ever. He or she might not try a new skill for fear of failing or looking silly. The athlete with a growth mindset isn’t afraid to try something new because he or she understands that trying new things, failing at them, and trying again is how he or she grows and gets better.

Growth Mindset and Reflection

Another area that is crucial to growth mindset is reflection. People who have a strong growth mindset are always reflecting on their performance and thinking about what went right, what went wrong, and what can be done differently next time. They also seek out feedback and use that as a part of their reflection process. People with a fixed mindset are disengaged from events, or they only have an emotion about the event but don’t think about WHY they feel the way they do. They also don’t think about what could be done differently or apply those thoughts. They might just get angry or frustrated but not know what to do about it.

In CrossFit, an athlete with a growth mindset reflects on his or her performance each workout and gives him or herself credit for what went well. He or she also picks out some areas to work on and thinks about how he or she can get better. THEN, this athlete goes out and works on them. The growth mindset athlete will seek out another set of eyes and values a coaches’ input.

Going Through the Motions

Some fixed mindset athletes might not think much about their performance and just get the workout in.  These athletes might not think they can get any better, so they just do the same thing every workout, without thinking much about it. Other fixed mindset athletes might get upset with their performance, but the frustration just makes them sad or angry or want to quit. They aren’t able to analyze the performance and look for ways to improve.

CrossFit as a Journey

Overall, if you adopt a growth mindset when you walk in the CrossFit gym, you will find yourself more able to enjoy the journey of CrossFit. When things go wrong, you’ll see them not as obstacles, but as opportunities for growth. Your stress level will be low since your self-worth isn’t determined by your performance in the gym. You will be able to take joy in the small victories and see progress every class. This should lead to more growth, more fun in the gym, and a sustainable journey!

If you are interested in the theory or want links to the research, just email me at melissa@crossfitxtramile.com or catch me in the gym. Here’s to growing every day!