Growth Mindset Vs. Performance Mindset

You have a very important choice to make today: will you have a growth mindset or performance mindset?


Choose to be growth-driven.

Here’s why performance-driven mindsets are bad:

A performance-driven person constantly evaluates themselves, their performance, and how they measure up to expectations. It results in persistent, sometimes crippling self-judgment and perfectionism. This is a common way people go about their lives, but it comes with the following problems:

  • Shame & guilt
  • Feelings of inadequacy
  • Pressure
  • Negativity bias
  • Judgmental mindset

A growth-driven person, though, looks for opportunities to move forward today from a perspective of contentment. For example, you’ll be happy with your life, and then decide that it could be even better if you practiced playing guitar. This would be instead of performance-based thinking like, “I am such a lousy slacker because I haven’t been practicing guitar enough; I should practice more.”

See the difference?

  • Performance-driven approaches are all about meeting a standard, which may or may not be fair.
  • Growth-driven approaches are all about living robustly in a non-judgmental way by moving forward when possible.

Which one sounds more fun? Which one is more appealing?

Regardless of how they currently live, most people will naturally prefer the growth-driven mindset. It’s less suffocating while being more effective at growing you as a person. The performance mindset tends to generate negative emotions that weaken us in the moments when we need to be at our strongest.

Always Work Into A Position Of Strength

Don’t wait for extraordinary opportunities. Seize common occasions and make them great. Weak men wait for opportunities; strong men make them.
~ Orison Swett Marden

Are your efforts to change usually while you’re at the top of the mountain or at the bottom looking up? Most people are going to be at the bottom of the mountain when they want to change or take action. How we approach the task in this moment is life-defining.

At the bottom of the mountain, people frequently feel bad or even berate themselves for not pursuing important goals; this crushes their feelings of self-worth and their confidence. Then, at this severely weakened point, they’ll try to make a dramatic turn with the music from Braveheart playing in the background. Nobody can blame them for wanting to turn the ship around, but they can’t use weakness as a foundation for growth—it doesn’t work well.

Trying to complete a feat of strength from a position of weakness is like trying to light a fire in your pool or “watering” a plant with hot lava. It’s like hitting yourself in the head repeatedly and saying, “you’re weak, you’re weak,” after failing to lift 150 lbs (instead of lifting a lighter weight to build your strength). I can come up with more similes upon request.

Unfortunately, it’s possible for us to make progress even after we’ve beaten ourselves down. It’s unfortunate because it’s one of the many “sometimes solutions” that trick us. We erroneously think if something works once, it will always work.

So it’s not that you can’t ever do things with performance-driven strategies, it’s the cost of doing work in this state of mind that hurts us. Even if we have temporary success from self-abuse, it decreases our willpower, demotivates us, and trains us to dislike the work in the long-term. It may scrape us by in the present, but it can harm our future.

Mini Habits Take You From Weak To Strong

Mini Habits are universally effective in the same way that tinder is universally effective for starting a fire. Small steps are easy wins just as tinder is easy to ignite. When you start winning, now any further steps are made from a stronger position. The key point is that mini habits are easily obtainable victories even when you’re weak. The best solution for the weak and downtrodden are some easy victories!

“I am a slow walker, but I never walk back.”
― Abraham Lincoln

Before I began the one push-up challenge, I was weak and disheartened. But that tiny spark from succeeding with my one push-up was enough to create another spark, and another. That day, the spark created a full, great workout. Over time, these sparks have become a blazing inferno of life progress (namely, I’m in great shape and getting stronger each day; I read and write consistently).

Lesson: In order to transition from a position of weakness to strength, you must make early wins easy. Fires don’t begin with massive logs, and neither does personal growth.

Growth Keeps You In The Present, the Performance Mindset Pulls You Into The Past

What’s the fundamental difference between the two mindsets we’ve been discussing?

Growth mindsets focus on…well… growth, and growth has nothing to do with the past. By definition, growing means increasing in size from this moment to the future, and this excludes the past.

Unless you’re briefly learning from a mistake, it’s healthy to exclude the past from your thinking. Even good memories can be a hindrance toward making new ones. This makes it an easy decision to leave your past behind, even the good parts.

Performance mindsets are logically rooted in the past because the past is our most reliable measuring stick. You’ll think about how many words you wrote yesterday; you’ll think about how much you’ve run in the past few weeks. Let’s explore the scenarios to see why it’s an overall bad idea to judge today’s performance against yesterday’s.

How Peering Into The Past Can Hurt You

If your past performance is fantastic: This is the best case scenario for looking at the past, but it comes with a serious flaw. When you look at your past successes, it can set a difficult bar to reach. We want winning to be easy!

Most commonly, people start their goals off strong when motivation is highest; their performance predictably decreases as motivation fades. If they’re looking back to the past, they only see regression! When your past performance is terrific, it can make today’s progress seem insufficient. But the truth is that all steps forward are valuable and positive.

Great past performance can become a ceiling, too. If you think you’ve done something great, it can turn into your idea of success, and we’re often motivated to reach success, not exceed it.

For the two reasons we covered—raising the bar to success and placing a ceiling on success—it’s better to look at the present as a unique opportunity to move forward (and celebrate all progress). A growth mindset is perfect for those with prior success, because there is no ceiling when you’re always looking and expecting to grow.

If your past performance is terrible: If you’ve not done well recently, you’re likely to expect that to continue. It’s not encouraging to dwell on your failure to live the way you want to live. Focusing on poor past performance damages us—partly from an expectation for the past to repeat and partly from discouragement at our recent lack of progress. Together, these can keep you in the past because these negative effects are strengthened the longer you repeat past behavior.

The good news: this negative cycle is vanquished when you choose to see the present moment as neutral, unstained by the sins of the past.

If your past performance is average: This suffers from the same problems as fantastic and terrible performance alike. Focusing on past behaviors can act as an anchor. Have you ever been talking to someone while reading something and accidentally read it out loud to them? Most have, and it’s because the brain “latches” onto it. In the same way, when you think about a behavior in the past, your brain subconsciously thinks about whatever standard you set then, and to exceed that standard by a huge amount would seem unnatural to it (so you may not try to).

The subconscious likes what is, not what could be, so anything outside of the norm is going to have a tough time competing. This is the reason why subliminal advertising exists and probably works. If your brain has subconsciously been told that Coke is the best soda or that it’s the most popular, you’ll probably prefer to drink it.

“The Bar” Vs. Progress

In order to evaluate performance, a bar is set, and anything below that bar is deemed unacceptable. Even those without a performance-based mindset will still have a bar—or a target they’re aiming for—but it will be placed differently and not mean the same thing.

  • Performance mindsets make “the bar” the primary goal, and it defines success or failure.
  • Growth mindsets use “the bar” as a tool to get started and make progress. The bar doesn’t define success or failure, because those with the growth mindset see any and all progress as success. How can doing 10 push-ups be a “failure?” It benefits the body!

We all have a choice to focus on “the bar” or on progress. Mini Habits teach us to focus on progress because the bar we set is almost a joke (1 push-up a day, reading 2 pages a day, etc). But when you set a big or even average goal, your focus automatically moves away from making progress in life and becomes an obsession with reaching this arbitrary target you’ve set for yourself.

Progress Bar

Caption: Too often, people focus on that red line. They place all of their hopes on reaching this specific, magical number of workouts, weight lost, countries visited, money made, etc. But the real value in life comes from progress, and progress happens well before we reach any kind of significant milestone. Progress happens the instant you begin on a worthwhile endeavor. The instant. Do you see how focusing on progress is a game-changer? Looking at this graphic, does it really make sense to focus on the red line? Visually, it’s immediately clear that the green portion is far more significant.

Not only can you make progress before hitting a big milestone, but focusing on progress helps you to exceed those milestones, because your satisfaction does not come from reaching a target and then resting on your laurels, it comes from a persistent drive to move forward instead of backward in your life. This is seen in the significant green portion that’s above the red line. 

Another problem with these targets is that they’re based on whims and trends, not science. They’re arbitrary quantitative goals, set by you or society: make $____ per year; weigh ___ lbs; lose ___ lbs by next month; have ___ friends.

It can be motivating to have a target—even a challenging one—but it’s inferior to being growth-driven. Have an unrelenting desire for progress (in any amount) over meeting some artificial standard you read or saw your friends meet. This is the mindset that enables you to take small steps. Otherwise, you’ll see them as too small because they’re nowhere near your red bar.

A desire for progress can last forever, but the desire to reach a goal dies either when you reach it or when it seems out of reach.

Choose growth and progress over performance and “I-must-hit-this-magical-number” targets.

photo by ClareSnow

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