Mindset differentiates great athletes from those who crumble under pressure. It can be the deciding factor between clients who continue to pursue their goals and those who give up when they encounter obstacles or setbacks. Learning about this concept and how to shift the mindset of your clients can make a huge difference in your training efficacy, client retention, and clients’ ability to achieve their goals.
- Identify the characteristics of a growth mindset and a fixed mindset.
- List the findings of athletes with a growth mindset.
- Describe strategies trainers can use to help clients develop a growth mindset.
It is well-known that mindset has a huge influence in sports performance. Sports psychologists work with athletes to help determine mental barriers to optimal performance and create strategies to overcome them. While the athletes have the skills and abilities to perform at elite levels, it is often their mind that keeps them from being able to do so. Your clients are no different. They have goals. They want to reduce body fat, increase muscle mass, or improve their athletic capabilities. Some progress quickly, even in the face of obstacles. Others make little progress, and some simply give up. What separates those who persist and those who don’t? Could mindset be the key?
Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset
The concept of a growth mindset has been popularized by Carol Dweck (2006), Ph.D., who is one of the world’s leading researchers in motivation and helping people succeed. In her book, Mindset: The new psychology of success, she defines growth mindset as one that “is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts” (p. 7). People who have developed a growth mindset are often more successful in sports, career, relationships, and learning. They believe that through practice they can improve their skills and performance. Thus, those with a growth mindset focus on the process of improving and working towards their goals, rather than merely the results. “Failure” is seen as an isolated event; it is an opportunity to learn and then refine their plan and training.
Others adopt a fixed mindset. They believe “that your qualities are carved in stone” (Dweck, 2006, p. 6). Thus, you either have it--whatever “it” is--or you don’t. According to their beliefs, no amount of effort changes that. Clients who have this mindset see failure as a character flaw. Setbacks shut them down and often make them question whether or not they should give up.
Developing a Growth Mindset
In order to best help your clients with their goals, mindset cannot be neglected as part of the program. Even the best-designed plan is likely to fail if your client has a fixed mindset. By identifying the mindset findings from sports research that help high-level athletes perform at their best and applying them to our clients, we can help reinforce a growth mindset and help those with a fixed mindset shift their perspective. According to the research compiled by Dweck, athletes with a growth mindset:
- “found success in doing their best, in learning and improving,”
- “found setbacks motivating” and
- “took charge of the processes that bring success—and that maintain it” (p. 98, p. 99, p. 101).
Let’s look at how to apply these principles to our clients.
Change the Focus of Training
Finding #1: Athletes with a growth mindset “found success in doing their best, in learning and improving” (Dweck, 2006, p. 98).
Successful athletes do not primarily focus on winning or the results of their training. They enjoy the process of improving as much as winning.
When you meet with your clients to discuss their goals, what is the emphasis? Do you focus on whether or not they have met their goal? Do you focus on the improvements they have made and the steps they are taking towards their goal?
When we focus more on the outcome, our clients will too. They will view themselves as winners or losers depending on how they performed. They will see the outcome as the factor that is most important in their training. Instead, center their attention on the process of training and the long-term benefits of what they are learning and how they are developing. Help your client develop the mindset of a champion by celebrating their learning and growth along the way. Overtime, clients will be more likely to concentrate on the process of training as well.
Reframe the Word “Failure”
Finding #2: Athletes with a growth mindset “found setbacks motivating” (Dweck, 2006, p. 99).
Athletes with a fixed mindset feel like setbacks become a label and thus avoid them at all cost. In fact, instead of taking responsibility for their mistakes and working harder to improve, they blame their errors on other people or circumstances: Someone distracted them; the wind changed direction; their teammate wasn’t where he/she should have been.
Athletes with a growth mindset embrace setbacks as a learning opportunity and a wake-up call to step up their game. Michael Jordan, one of the greatest athletes of all times, attributes his success to failing. He said, “I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."
How do you talk with your clients about setbacks or “failures”? Do you focus on what they did wrong? Do you look for the opportunity for your client to learn from the setback and refine their program or strategies?
When people feel like they have failed, their self-efficacy (the belief that they can do something) and motivation usually decrease. This increases the likelihood that they will give up on their goals. As their coach, you can prevent this. Have each training session or each week be an experiment that the two of you embark on to help them move closer to their goals. At the end of the session/week, review the progress that was made and any obstacles that stood in the way. Then, collaborate to determine the experiment for the next session/week. By encouraging your clients to view their plan as an experiment, setbacks will no longer be demotivating but will provide your client with an exciting opportunity to learn and grow.
Take the Reins of Success
Finding #3: Athletes with a growth mindset “took charge of the processes that bring success—and that maintain it” (Dweck, 2006, p. 101).
Champions do not leave success up to fate. They identify what needs to happen to succeed and they do it! They know that they cannot control every aspect of their lives, but they look at what they can control and take action.
Do you talk to your client about the steps that are necessary to succeed? Do you identify action plans in areas of their lives in which they have control and formulate coping strategies for areas in which they cannot control?
First, identify with your clients how they can modify their environment to support their goals. Then, create action steps. These steps should challenge their current skills or abilities but should not be so challenging that they are unlikely to succeed. Finally, identify coping strategies that will assist them when they are in environments that trigger their old behaviors. Success builds success, so each time your client is able to follow through with the plan, their self-efficacy increases. When possible, make the challenges fun, which will also increase your clients’ motivation.
The three findings from sports research demonstrate that champions think very differently from other athletes. How they think about success, failure, and taking action to succeed is equally important as their physical training. Regardless of the skills that the body possess, the mind can render those skills null and void or can enhance them. As a trainer, you can help mold the mindset of your clients through your approach in defining success, overcoming obstacles, and creating challenges with your client. You have the ability to help each client develop a growth mindset, which will not only enhance their results from training, but will help improve every area of learning and growth in their lives.
Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.