Change and fitness go hand in hand. If you’ve set a goal for yourself, then it signals your desire to physically and/or mentally shift from where you are now to some desired state in the future. When we first embark on that journey, the idea of changing creates an initial spark of motivation. We know where we want to go, and we’re ready and willing to take the first steps to get there.
While those first moments are inspiring, the process of change isn’t a single moment, but many, many moments that we consistently string together. Getting there isn’t about hoping that your initial burst of inspiration will last forever. Because as the novelty of workouts wears off and the act of exercising feels like less of a significant accomplishment, that burst of inspiration will inevitably fade. At that point, it becomes all too easy to let setbacks and a busy schedule breed excuses. When you pair that situation with the wrong frame of mind, you can end up right back where you started — except now with the feeling that the change you sought was never possible in the first place.
If that chain of events feels all too familiar, take comfort in knowing that you’re not the only person to ever find themselves stuck in that situation. The good news is that there’s a way out of that loop of excitement-excuse-abandonment that can come with chasing after elusive change. Believe it or not, the most important part of breaking free from that cycle starts with believing that you can get out of it by changing your mind — literally.
The mental side of fitness is key to driving physical results, and you can spend a ton of time learning the ins and outs of what it takes to get your head in the game. But at a high level, shifting from struggle to success starts with understanding the differences between two mindsets: a fixed mindset, and a growth mindset. Their names alone can probably tell you which one is more conducive to creating change, but it pays to truly take the time to understand each in more detail. That can help you recognize the ways a fixed mindset might be holding you back and start to internalize how to embody a growth mindset.
At the highest level, you can think of the difference between a fixed and a growth mindset as the difference between nature versus nurture. With a fixed mindset, who you are and what you’re capable of is innate, permanent, and immutable. That means if you’ve failed yesterday, then you’ll fail today, and in every tomorrow to come. When you’re convinced your ability is predetermined, it’s all too easy to give up when there isn’t a short, straight line between you and your goal.
Worse, anything you do accomplish may not feel like something you’ve earned — and seeing someone else thrive can only remind you that you aren’t good enough by comparison. And since a fixed mindset tricks us into thinking that the reason you fail is because of some inextricable part of who you are, it can wreak havoc on your self-image when things don’t go your way.
A growth mindset embraces the idea that you have the power to improve yourself through persistent effort and a positive attitude. With a growth mindset, there’s never a finish line: just a constant desire to improve, because you know that success is within your grasp. You aren’t defined by your capabilities, but the work you put in to get there, and your ability to keep putting in that work to change again and again.
The clearest example of the distinction between a fixed and a growth mindset is how they relate to failure. With a fixed mindset, failure is something to fear and avoid. If you don’t succeed, it just means that you aren’t good enough and never will be — so why run the risk of finding out?
With a growth mindset, you see failure as an opportunity to test your limits and learn how to transcend them. If you do fail, it’s a chance to learn what doesn’t work so you can dust yourself off and try to do better next time. And if you don’t fail, then you’re already capable of even more than you once assumed. With a growth mindset, putting yourself in situations where you could conceivably fail isn’t a worst-case scenario — it’s a win-win.
While creating short-term change is theoretically possible with a fixed mindset, it’s much harder to build and maintain the momentum that leads to longer-term improvements. While it’s important to start taking the first steps towards your goals from wherever you are rather than waiting for the perfect moment, observing your current mindset and taking stock of what you may need to do to change it is an important early step.
The most obvious way to figure out whether you have a fixed or a growth mindset is to ask yourself a simple question: “Am I really ready, willing, and able to change?” If your answer is an enthusiastic yes, you’re headed in the right direction towards a growth mindset — so long as you’re vigilant about carrying this mindset with you through the difficulties ahead.
If you don’t totally believe you’re capable of change and growth, there may still be lingering elements of a fixed mindset. That’s totally ok, and there’s no reason to waste any energy beating yourself up over it. It’s not a character flaw on your part, because nobody would consciously adopt a frame of mind that says that they’re always going to fail. Celebrate the fact that recognizing your fixed mindset is a huge step in the right direction. It sounds a bit meta, but transitioning into a growth mindset starts with understanding and accepting that your fixed mindset isn’t as fixed as you think.
Breaking down a fixed mindset is a process of both looking back on your past from a new perspective and staying on guard in the moment. First, spend some time looking back more objectively on the failures or disappointments that may have reinforced your belief that you’re incapable of change. It could be a past effort to achieve a fitness goal that didn’t quite work out, but any time where things didn’t work out the way you wanted will work fine. Are there any alternative explanations besides “I’m not good enough”? Is there anything you could do differently if you find yourself in that situation again? Just because you can’t change the past doesn’t mean you can’t learn from it and start to see the possibilities beyond your limiting beliefs. Likewise, see if there are moments of success where you can give yourself more credit for your efforts, and see what lessons you can pull from those situations.
Just like achieving a fitness goal, shifting your mindset isn’t a one-time event, but an ongoing process. That’s why it’s important to pause and check in with your self-talk over the course of the day. When you make a mistake, do you have a habit of telling yourself you “always” screw up or “never” can do something right? Do you avoid certain challenges because you’re afraid you won’t master them on the first try? Are you making certain “I am” statements that suggest who you are now is who you’re going to be forever?
We spend so much time listening to our internal monologue that it’s hard to notice when we say things to ourselves that would come off as harsh or cruel if someone else said them to you out loud. It can be hard to catch yourself in the midst of a busy day, but adopting a meditation practice is an excellent way to create space to observe your thoughts from greater distance. The extra bit of relaxation it can provide sure doesn’t hurt, either.
These mindsets aren’t a totally binary thing. Some days will give you more reasons to adopt a growth mindset than others. But if you stop, reflect, and listen, you’ll find yourself more ready to take on the challenges that create change over time.
With that in mind, here are a handful of quotes that exemplify what you might hear from someone with a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. In the former case, try to ax these types of phrases from your vocabulary, and do what you can to challenge them when they do come up.
On the other hand, feel free to make these growth mindset quotes a part of your mantra. They may not feel true the first time you say them, but faking it until you make it will push you towards the actions that will help these words ring true.
1. “I can’t handle that challenge. What if I fail?”
2. “I’m not good at this, and that’s just who I am.”
3. “Of course I failed, I’m not smart/talented/etc. enough.”
4. “If I can’t achieve this right away, then it’s never going to happen for me.”
5. “How come they have what I want and I don’t?”
6. "Why should I even bother?"
1. “Challenges are a chance to see what I can do.”
2. “Who I am and what I’m capable of can change for the better.”
3. “Well that didn’t work. No big deal. What can I do differently next time?”
4. “If I keep showing up and trying my best, good things will happen.”
5. “If they can do it, so can I. What can I learn from them?”
6. "There’s no limit to how much I can improve."
If you make the conscious choice to change your mind for the better, there’s no telling how far you can go on your fitness journey. So the next time you see an obstacle in your path, don’t turn back. With a growth mindset, it’ll be a whole lot easier to overcome than you once thought.
Whether you’re working toward a fitness goal for the first time or are pushing yourself to put past setbacks behind you, Future coaches know what it takes to get your body and mind moving in the right direction. In addition to creating customized exercise plans that lay out your path for growth, your Future coach will help you adopt the right frame of mind and cut “can’t” out of your vocabulary. No matter where you are or where you want to go, they’re always there to help you learn from failure and recognize your success. There’s no more powerful tool for creating change than a personal training program that fits onto your phone and into your schedule, all guided by someone who gets why your goals matter to you.
Ready to grow? Save a big chunk of change while creating change with a special deal on your first month of personal training with Future.