Fixing a Fixed Mindset: For Athletes and Coaches

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by RACHEL BINETTE

Fixing a Fixed Mindset: For Athletes and Coaches

“In the fixed mindset, when you fail, you’re a failure — in the growth mindset, when you fail, you’re learning.” -Dr. Carol Dweck
The growth mindset individual…believes that their basic abilities can be developed through effort.
As a coach, I see every WOD as an opportunity for my athletes. That opportunity may be physical, as in practicing skills they have not mastered or getting stronger or faster. That opportunity may also be mental, as either a test of sheer mental toughness or as part of the process of evaluating and improving an athlete’s mindset.

Mindset can be defined as a set of beliefs about oneself and others, and developing a positive mindset will make the difference between plateauing in fitness or reaching our potential. While there are many facets of mindset, in this article we will only discuss fixed and growth mindsets.

Dr. Carol Dweck, a social psychology researcher at Stanford University, discovered the growth and fixed mindsets through decades of research. She defines the fixed mindset individual as someone who believes that talent, intelligence, and other abilities are fixed traits: you either have them, or you don’t. The growth mindset individual, on the other hand, believes that their basic abilities can be developed through effort.

mindset-animation

It is possible for us to hold a fixed mindset about some things and a growth mindset about others. We can hold fixed mindsets about what our age, body composition, skills, intelligence, and even time (weeks/months/years) spent doing CrossFit mean for us when we do a WOD. And we can hold the same fixed mindsets about others.

We may fail reps and attempts along the way, but being challenged does not define us as bad athletes.
An athlete with a growth mindset, on the other hand, believes that they and others are a work in progress at all stages of their athletic journey. This mindset will make all the difference when we face the inevitable challenges and failures that come with CrossFit.

An athlete with a growth mindset is not afraid of failure. We could define failure as not PRing on a lift or coming in last on a WOD, but more frequently, we tend to define failure as struggling, especially with certain movements, like double unders and pull-ups. But struggling is not failure. We may fail reps and attempts along the way, but being challenged does not define us as bad athletes — it just means we are a work in progress.

It is easy to cherry-pick workouts based on avoiding skills that we struggle with. It is easy to miscount reps because we know we are falling behind. It is easy to talk ourselves into believing that there are reasons beyond effort that we haven’t improved. But because we do CrossFit, we have chosen a program that does not celebrate “easy” — we have chosen to accept and celebrate challenges.

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