March 27, 2019

As nice as it would be to be good at everything, to succeed across the board, none of us are perfect. Failure is a cold, hard fact of life—and that’s OK! What matters more: How we learn and move forward from our failures.

Carol Dweck, Ph.D., a leading researcher in human motivation and author of the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, explores this very idea in her work. According to her, there are two types of mindsets: fixed and growth.

Failure is a cold, hard fact of life—and that’s OK!
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People who possess the “fixed” mindset tend to believe intelligence, talent, and potential are all static. In other words: If you’re not successful at something now, you’ll never be successful at it. For example: If you can’t stick to a budget now, you never will learn how to do it.

People with fixed mindsets tend to avoid things that seem challenging, give up more easily or choose to not try in the first place, ignore negative feedback, and feel threatened by others’ success.

Then, there are the “growth” mindset people. They believe the opposite: Whatever hand you’re dealt can be cultivated and nurtured to the next level. For example: If you fail the test, you can learn from it, work hard, and ace the next one.

These people tend to view challenges as opportunities to stretch themselves, are more persistent when faced with setbacks, believe their efforts will pay off, learn from the criticisms, and find themselves inspired when others do well.

These conscious and unconscious mindsets can have a significant impact on what we believe we’re capable of achieving and whether we’re ultimately successful. Which is why Dweck is so adamant that those of us with the “fixed” mindset particularly make this one simple language swap: Instead of telling yourself “never,” try saying “not yet.”

These conscious and unconscious mindsets can have a significant impact on what we believe we’re capable of achieving and whether we’re ultimately successful.
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In her 2014 TED Talk, she explains the power of “yet.”

"I heard about a high school in Chicago where students had to pass a certain number of courses to graduate, and if they didn’t pass a course, they got the grade ‘Not Yet.’ And I thought that was fantastic, because if you get a failing grade, you think, I’m nothing, I’m nowhere. But if you get the grade ‘Not Yet,’ you understand that you’re on a learning curve. It gives you a path into the future."

Let ‘Not Yet’ Be Your Turning Point

When you tell yourself “never,” you’re giving yourself a period. It’s over, done with. But when you swap in “not yet,” you magically transform that period into a comma. “Not yet, but I’ll get them next time.”

This is crucially important, as Dweck learned in her research.

Early in her career, she decided to see how a group of 10-year-olds dealt with challenges, so she gave them problems that were slightly too hard for them. “Some of them reacted in a shockingly positive way,” Dweck recalls in her TED Talk. “They said things like, ‘I love a challenge,’ or, ‘You know, I was hoping this would be informative.’ They understood that their abilities could be developed. They had what I call a growth mindset.

When you tell yourself “never,” you’re giving yourself a period. It’s over, done with. But when you swap in “not yet,” you magically transform that period into a comma.
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“But other students felt it was tragic, catastrophic,” she continues. “From their more fixed mindset perspective, their intelligence had been up for judgment and they failed. Instead of luxuriating in the power of yet, they were gripped in the tyranny of now.”

The good news: Even if you have a fixed mindset and engage in “I’ll never…” self-talk, you can slowly learn how to adopt more of a growth mindset and embrace the “yet” of it all.

How to Try On a Growth Mindset

Encouraging a “growth” mindset starts with noticing your self-talk. Are you always throwing around the word “never” when you seem to hit a wall? Try swapping in a “not yet” and keeping the door open for improvement.

Also: Instead of focusing on the end result—the success or failure—try praising your process. Focus on the effort you’ve put in, the strategies you’ve developed, your focus and perseverance, Dweck says. This will help you build more resilience, which in turn will help you better weather a failure if your goals aren’t achieved.

Dweck observed this phenomenon in yet another study.

Instead of focusing on the end result—the success or failure—try praising your process. Focus on the effort you’ve put in, the strategies you’ve developed, your focus and perseverance.
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“In one study, we taught (students) that every time they push out of their comfort zone to learn something new and difficult, the neurons in their brain can form new, stronger connections, and over time they can get smarter,” she says. “… students who were not taught this growth mindset continued to show declining grades over this difficult school transition, but those who were taught this lesson showed a sharp rebound in their grades. We have shown this now, this kind of improvement, with thousands and thousands of kids, especially struggling students.”

The whole concept is further proof that the words we use, the language we speak when talking to ourselves and others, is powerful.

So let this encourage us all to talk to ourselves in a way that sets us up for further success. It all starts with “yet.”


Read next: Your 4-Step Plan to Transform Negative Self-Talk Into Self-Kindness

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