Why Mastering a Growth Mindset is Key to Becoming an Expert in Your Field

We must realize that the path to becoming an expert at something requires dedicated, incremental growth and is key to understanding the power of having a growth mindset.
08/22/2016 02:44 pm ET Updated Aug 23, 2017

As young children, most of us have been told at some point how great we are at something. Superlatives aren't rare when we are growing up. Our parents and teachers were just trying to help, right? I'm sure you we're the best little doodler that ever graced that 1st grade classroom, or that you had all the talent ever needed to become the state champion in papier-mâché, but regardless of what you were good at growing up, these statements begin to reinforce a belief many of us hold, which is that you have a certain level of ingrained ability in "things you are good at" (math, science, art, or for some of us, recess). When your parents or teachers tell you that you are good at this, or great at that, it can build up a belief in your mind that you have a certain level of predetermined potential. Now don't think I'm saying positive reinforcement is a bad thing (it most definitely is not) but the result of these affirmations can affect us in ways that can screw with us in others. For example, this causes us to think of ourselves as naturally smart in one area, but when we fail at something else we might consider ourselves bad at it, or worse - dumb. This kind of thinking is referred to as a fixed mindset, and it isn't always the case, but it's more common than not. We are quite fragile when we live in a fixed mindset that is based around the idea that we are good at "A" but bad at "B"; but what if we are bad at "B" because we simply have not invested the right amount of time to get better at "B"?

We must realize that the path to becoming an expert at something requires dedicated, incremental growth and is key to understanding the power of having a growth mindset. This requires you to focus on what your goal is, practice at it incessantly, seek out feedback on how you're doing, formulate a plan to get to the next level, and repeat over, and over, and over again. The reality is that we only become experts at what we dedicate ourselves to over long periods of time. Because something comes easy to someone does not mean it didn't require dedication and practice; it usually means that their passion for the subject is so high and so intense that practicing to get better at it becomes a subconscious act. The student takes any opportunity he can to improve, any chance he gets.

Think of the budding musician who dreams of making it big. She may spend hours each day practicing without even knowing it. She sings in the shower, on her way to and from work, and then spends another three to four hours that evening practicing even more. Does she think of this as practice? Maybe. But I doubt it. I guarantee she is so passionate about her dreams that it doesn't feel like practice at all. We have all experienced moments in life when we are so overcome with passion that we can't think of anything else we would rather do than spend our time doing what we love. These moments are akin to falling in love with someone, and even though the feeling can be fleeting over time, when it hits us we must do something about it.

No matter what anyone tells you, there isn't a single person on this planet that is born an expert. No one advances to the Olympics without an incredible amount of practice and dedication, and no one becomes an expert in business without spending thousands and thousands of hours in constant, dedicated practice, improving little by little every single day. I am often reminded of the classic film Karate Kid where Mr. Miyagi makes Daniel spend countless hours doing chores he found pointless and menial. He tells him to "paint the fence" and then he directs him to "sand the floor" and of course the line everyone knows too well: "wax on, wax off." Daniel would later learn that these menial tasks were actually building a strong foundation that would serve him later on, enabling him to win when it mattered most. Small, incremental progress built a solid foundation. Little by little, we all become better at what we focus on over long periods of time.

When was the last time you learned something new? For many of us, this could be years, or even decades, since we acquired a new skill or habit. What are you currently passionate about? What steps are you taking to become an expert? Is there any subject you consider yourself to be an expert in currently? If so, how long did it take you to truly get to that point? Becoming something great is a lifelong commitment, and living in a growth mindset in all that you do, both in business and in your personal life, will enable you to get there.

"Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you." - Steve Jobs

Essentially we're all born with the same amount of ability when we were born into this world; as infants we can eat, cry, and dirty a diaper just about as good as any other baby. Now how is that for a level playing field? So what makes us different as we get older? What makes you different? You've either discovered the passion to learn and grow, or you haven't. But if you've chosen the latter, it's never too late to switch directions.