The faux-inspirational phrase ‘the only thing holding you back is YOU’ has always made me simultaneously internally cringe and, pretty shamefully, feel inspired. It’s a wonderful, invigorating thought that the only thing we need to change in order to achieve our dreams is our own attitudes, because then it means our destiny is something we can control. Scary, uncontrollable outside factors mean nothing – we can lead ourselves to the life we envisage with enough sheer willpower. However, it’s a pretty cringe-worthy, entitled statement because there are so many forces outside of our control that determine our standing in life. If you’re white and very middle class, you might be offered a leg-up on the career ladder because your dad knows so-and-so at *insert dream company here*. If you’re working class, you’ll be told by everyone around you that [x] dream is unachievable for ‘people like us’. Success feels too heavily determined by factors we cannot control to be anything that we can work towards. However, I’ve had some pretty big revelations recently which have made me realise the phrase ‘the only thing holding you back is YOU’ actually carries more weight and meaning than I’ve ever thought. Two things have occurred to me that have entirely changed my outlook on what ‘success’ means and how we can get there. Here’s why your mindset is holding you back from success:
The concept of the ‘fixed’ vs. ‘growth’ mindset & why your mindset is holding you back from success
I was having a lazy bath the other night whilst listening to episodes of the Happy Place podcast by Fearne Cotton and Elizabeth Day’s podcast, How to Fail, and I came across a theory coined by psychologist, Carol Dweck, on the concepts of two human mindsets: the ‘fixed’ mindset and the ‘growth’ mindset. Each of us has one of these mindsets, and depending on which you’re naturally lucky to have been blessed with, it can really make or break whether you’re determined for whatever your version of ‘success’ is. Quite literally: your mindset is holding you back from success.
Carol studies the motivations all humans possess, and through her years of research, she realised we fall into one of these two camps when it comes to our outlook on life. The way we naturally think is predestined to our genetics and personalities, but the good news is that with some conscious retraining of our thought processes and a development of our actions in life, we can switch to the mindset we wish to adopt to help us achieve our goals.
So, the ‘fixed’ mindset is something I believe I naturally tend to adopt when it comes to achieving what ‘success’ looks like for me in terms of work. The ‘fixed’ mindset believes that ‘intelligence is static‘. If you’re someone that gives up the second they try a new hobby and realise they’re not naturally ‘good’ at it, you’ll very much identify with this. Those with a ‘fixed’ mindset avoid challenges because they think intelligence is ‘innate’ and therefore if they’re not getting it right first time, the task just must not be for them. You give up easily when obstacles are in the way; you see putting effort into something you don’t believe you’re ‘good’ at a waste of time; you ignore useful negative feedback; you feel threatened by the success of others. Your mindset is holding you back from success.
Now, this isn’t because those with a ‘fixed’ mindset are lazy, incapable of being proud of other people or purposefully ignore constructive criticism, it’s because the ‘fixed’ nature of their outlook, which believes intelligence is ‘innate’, is severely hampering their self-belief and confidence. For example, I have a tendency when trying to pitch to magazines – something I lack confidence in – of giving up on a pitch the second I get a big fat ‘no, thank you’ from ONE publisher. I don’t continue to try; I don’t learn from feedback and move forward. Because I lack confidence anyway, I believe an unsuccessful pitch must be because ‘I’m not good enough’ and I severely tarnish my chances of succeeding in my journalism career. As a result, with a ‘fixed’ mindset, Carol’s research shows you ‘may plateau early and achieve less than [your] ‘potential’.
So, in this case, the cringe-inducing faux-inspirational Tumblr-worthy statement rings true: ‘the only thing holding you back is YOU’. You haven’t even given it a try to see if your skills and success can develop.
The ‘growth’ mindset, however, is a mindset that essentially just lets you off the hook a lot more, enabling you to develop your self-worth, self-belief and confidence in your abilities. If your natural outlook on life is one of the ‘growth’ mindset, you realise that intelligence can be developed over time, and none of us come out of the womb ‘destined’ for success. You have a desire to continue learning; you ’embrace challenges’ and ‘persist in the face of setbacks’; you see effort as part and parcel of working hard towards your personal definition of success; you don’t feel threatened by others’ achievements and instead you are inspired by the work others are doing. As a result of this, you persist in working hard towards your goals, acknowledge failure as a necessary, unavoidable step on the way to success, and you’ll actually reach really high levels of achievement precisely because of this.
I genuinely think that when it comes to most things in life, I have a naturally predisposed ‘fixed’ mindset. I don’t have confidence in myself; whilst I’m very proud of others, I’m quick to believe their successes sit as proof that I’m unable to achieve; 99.9% of me is willing to give up the second I realise I’m not getting the outcome I want first time around, because I use one-time failure to determine my so-called ‘ability’. But, the one thing that has luckily saved myself from slipping down a dark hole of fixed behaviour is the fact that my passions for the things I really love overwhelm that self-hatred. I don’t believe I’m going to succeed in the journalism world for a second, but I’ve wanted to be a journo since I was 9, so that passion overcomes the voices in my head telling me I can’t do it. I always get so nervous putting a blog post out there or posting over on Instagram ‘cos the voices in my head tell me I’m not all that great, but I do it ‘cos writing is fun and my love of style drives my passion for my platform.
Do you feel you’re like me: that your mindset is holding you back from success?
So, whilst the cringe-worthy ‘the only thing holding you back is YOU’ makes it sound like we all have to have a big epiphany where we suddenly utterly believe in ourselves forevermore, life doesn’t work like that. You can have a ‘fixed’ mindset but drawn on the drive of your passions to overrule the overwhelming urge to give up. You can quite literally fake it ’til you make it.
And if you’re reading this thinking it’s all well and good hoping altering your mindset can work for you, but you’ve seen no proof in the pudding, let me tell you what happened to me last week. I pitched a magazine story to one of my favourite publications, setting myself up for failure because I already expected nothing from it. They rejected the story because they already had enough pitches ‘about the pandemic’. Usually, I would give up, here – but I thought back to my lazy evening bath and how listening to Elizabeth Day and Fearne Cotton talk about the ‘growth’ mindset inspired me to see my pitch not as a failure, but just as ‘not the right fit’ for a number of reasons outside of myself for that particular publication, and I took the feedback on board, grew, developed the pitch for another of my favourite sites, Refinery29, and it’s now published on there!! It WORKED. I took a step out of my natural predisposed way of thinking, I re-evaluated, adopted a ‘growth’ mindset and I made my dream commission happen. Do I still feel like an imposter? Yes. Do I still lack confidence? Yes. BUT I put myself out of my comfort zone and I take pride in that and I will quite literally continue faking it ’til I make it.
If you believe you’re naturally predisposed to a ‘fixed’ mindset, here’s what you should do:
If you’re like me, and you feel you’re naturally predisposed to a ‘fixed’ mindset, you need to start seeing success as more than big, intangible life goals. Just as ‘success’ looks different to each person, as we all having differing goals in life, there are a myriad of successes to be found in the everyday. Got up, put on a nice outfit and made an effort today? Success. Cooked a nice meal from scratch instead of ordering a takeaway? Success. Took yourself on a nice walk or got through an exercise routine? Success. Got through a day of work at your day job (which might not be your ‘dream’ role right now but is your everyday reality)? Massive success. Treated yourself to a read of a book, a self-care evening, a pamper or a bubble bath? Success. Something made you smile today? Success. Had a good cry because you’re struggling? Success – you’re letting yourself FEEL.
Re-evaluate what success means to you and realise we’ve been brought up in a society that only prioritises intangible, impossibly complex life goals as successes, and instead start celebrating every single step of your journey – not just fleeting achievements. That’s why your mindset is holding you back from success. Knowing this will help you adopt that ‘growth’ mindset, because you’ll be appreciating every learning and lesson along the way.