As a therapeutic coach in the mental health world, a common cognitive distortion heard from clients is the belief that because they failed at something, they are a failure. This belief makes it even harder for clients to continue trying since effort seems pointless. One way to combat this type of thinking is to work with clients to teach them to have a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset.
A Growth mindset is the belief that your intelligence and skills can be developed. It is commonly taught to children in schools, and it emphasizes the process and effort put forth to reach goals, rather than emphasizing the outcome alone. For example, if you give the same difficult task to two children, one who has a fixed mindset and one who has a growth mindset, the children will most likely have very different responses. The child with a fixed mindset might make excuses or blame others for their inability to complete the task, as well as be less motivated to try a difficult task in the future. A child with a growth mindset might report that they enjoyed the challenge and are eager to learn something new in order to tackle harder tasks in the future.
Individuals with growth mindsets view setbacks as opportunities to learn and grow while working to achieve their goals. Understanding this concept is one tool that a therapeutic coach can use in order to foster a feeling of accomplishment and resilience in their clients. The first step toward encouraging a growth mindset is to teach the difference between growth and fixed mindset by providing examples. Therapeutic coaches can change the way they validate progress by commenting on the process and asking positive questions about next steps toward goals.
For example, I worked with a 17-year-old female struggling with social anxiety and substance use. As she made attempts to remain sober and interact with her peers, I would continuously praise the positive progress and ask reflecting questions about what she could continue to do to reach her goal of functioning happily in school. In addition, I modeled a growth mindset by reflecting not just on the hard work put in by the client, but on my role in the process as well. My role was to help keep the client accountable, but I came to learn that sometimes the most helpful role I could take on was that of a listener.
The more we discussed her behavior in terms of growth or fixed mindset, the more insight the client gained into when she would slip back into negative habits and most importantly, how to pull herself back. As time went on, the transition toward positive and adaptive behavior came more naturally and replaced the maladaptive habits. Overall, the ability to continuously say to yourself or your client that there is hope to grow and learn is infinitely powerful. The belief that you “can” instead of “can’t” has been shown to build resilience and sustained positive behaviors in clients.