David Strittmatter

Why mindset matters

Success is not an accident, success is a choice. – Stephen Curry


  • Mindset = established set of attitudes towards ourselves and the outer world
  • The right mindset is among many success factors, such as societal and economic starting point, intelligence, luck, etc., one of the most important ones
  • The ideal mindset, though, doesn’t exist. Each mindset has its pros and cons

Practical advice:

  • To change your mindset and the way you think about success, you need to challenge yourself and experience first-hand that you will improve
  • Try to model the people you look up to
  • Stop comparing yourself and get inspired instead

Dear friend,

This week, a member of my YouTube community asked me how important the right mindset is to become successful. That made me think a lot.

I reflected on my past and thought about the time when I drastically changed my personality. At the beginning of high school, I invested heavily in my personal development to become a totally different person. A premise for this change was the adoption of a new mindset: The way I thought about myself, the people surrounding me, and the general world had to radically change.

In today’s article, I will write about the meaning of different mindsets, why it’s important to actively shape one’s own mindset, and how we can do that.

Mindset – what does it mean?

The word mindset describes our ways of thinking, convictions, behavior patterns, and inner attitude. It’s our established set of attitudes towards ourselves and the outer world. For instance, our mindset determines how we deal with failures, such as a bad grade or insufficient feedback so that we aren’t promoted.

There’re plenty of psychological theories examining the differences in mindsets and the corresponding implications. Today, we will focus on the implicit theory of intelligence by Carol Dweck and colleagues. It refers to our fundamental underlying beliefs (mindset) whether or not our intelligence or abilities can change and hence whether we can be successful or not in any area of life.

Thereby, Dweck – a well-known researcher in the field of psychology and lecturer at Stanford University – differentiates between a (1) fixed and a (2) growth mindset and defines them as:

(1) In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb.

(2) In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching, and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.

It’s not that we have either a fixed or a growth mindset – we may fall on some spectrum between the two types of theories, and our views may change given different situations and training. Generally spoken, though, about 40% of the general population have a fixed mindset, 40% have a growth mindset, and 20% do not fit well into either category.

Fixed vs growth mindset

Now, how important is the right mindset to become successful? And what’s the ideal mindset?

In my view, the right mindset is among many success factors, such as societal and economic starting point, intelligence, luck, etc., one of the most important ones. Particularly with regard to “relative success”, i.e. comparing the achievements of a relatively similar group (e.g. people born in the same developing country with a similar economic and societal background), it’s the most crucial factor.

The ideal mindset, though, doesn’t exist. Each mindset has its pros and cons. Ideally, we’re aware of this fact and willing to adapt our mindset towards our aspirations. To be able to do that, we first have to know what we want to achieve in life and how we define success. That’s a whole different story though.

Nevertheless, having and living a growth mindset tends to be the better deal:

Research shows that people with a growth mindset generally have positive and stable self-esteem and do not question their intelligence in the face of failure. Instead, they remain remaining eager and curious. They believe that they can learn and grow personally and hence can change our world for the better.

Contrarily, a fixed mindset attributes failure to a lack of ability. With a fixed mindset, we believe that we’re either born with a talent and succeed or fail no matter how much effort we exert. Typical statements are: “It’s always been this way, it won’t change.” or “I don’t have the talent, I will never be able to X.”

A fixed mindset is not generally bad, though. For instance, a fixed mindset can greatly help you to take care of responsibilities, be accountable, and achieve consistency in something you’re good at.

Adopt a different mindset

In my youth, I always believed that success requires talent and luck, and that it comes overnight. In the last few years, this belief has completely changed. Today, I truly believe that success in most areas of our lives does not require great talent and much luck, but rather it requires consistency, effort, and willpower.

This mindset shift took years to unfold, and, today, I’m still continuously refining the way I think about myself and the outer world.

Imagine you’ve got a similar mindset I used to have and now want to work towards a growth mindset. What could you do to attain it?

Change how you think about success

A fixed mindset makes you think being successful means things come easy to you, whether it’s being a straight-A student or a world-class soccer player. But actually, the contrary is true: The best people in a certain discipline are the best people because they continuously challenge themselves and do the things that are difficult for them. They don’t stop where most people would do. That’s the reason why they are the best of the best and why it seems things come easy to them.

To change your mindset and the way you think about success, you need to challenge yourself and experience first-hand that you will improve. Think about a skill, a hobby, or a subject in your school you would love to improve. Instead of telling yourself that you’re at your limits think about how you could improve and execute.

Moreover, try to model the people you look up to. What did these people do to become the person they actually are. You will be greatly surprised by how much continuous effort they actually spent over the course of plenty of years.

Stop comparing yourself and get inspired instead

When you hear a friend talk about being passionate about a personal project, achieving a perfect grade, or being promoted at work, resist the urge to compare yourself and feel envious.

Everyone has a different starting point and nobody is the same. What’s better: Compare to the best self you could be and become inspired by the people surrounding you. You will never know how much effort someone exerted and how much luck actually was involved. Take their achievements as an inspiration and ask yourself what can you learn from them to become better?

Surround yourself with growth mindset people.

Do you know the saying that you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with?

What will greatly help you to change your mindset is to surround yourself with people who think this way. I know we cannot simply break relationships with the people we spend the most with. Nevertheless, you should always keep in mind that these people will greatly influence the way you think about yourself and the outer world.

Hence, when you move to another city, change your university, have a new employer, etc. – be very picky when choosing the people you want to spend most of your time with.

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