How to Develop the Growth Mindset: 4 Steps for Music Entrepreneurs To Achieve Success

My class has started and I am thrilled to have another wonderful group of budding music entrepreneurs! This year, I have framed my entrepreneurship course under the umbrella of change:

How can you change over the course of this semester and learn the mindset, skills and tools to enable you to create your career success?
One important element of success is the growth mindset:

the belief that talent and intelligence are the starting point but that success comes as a result of hard work, experimentation, learning, and persistence and growth. Those with a growth mindset tend to be resilient, work harder, embrace collaboration with others and thus achieve greater success than those with a fixed mindset because they are motivated by the desire to grow and learn.

Musicians are a fertile population for the fixed mindsetthe belief that you have a limited amount of talent and that mistakes and failure mean that you are not talented, with the consequence that you do not rock the boat, take risks or make mistakes.

Musicians are taught to go for perfection in their playing. They perform publicly where they are inevitably judged on the quality of their work. Indeed, they put their souls on display in a way that people with desk jobs do not. In fact, they judge themselves more harshly than any music critic or audience member would! And they operate in an incredibly competitive environment where the supply of excellent musicians exceeds the number of available traditional performance opportunities, thus exacerbating the perception that they need to be “perfect”.

Interestingly, the research of Dr. Carol Dweck at Stanford University shows that those with a fixed mindset tend to peak early and do not achieve the same success as those with the growth mindset because their fear of failure holds them back. That’s why in my class this semester,  we are focusing on how our musicians can feel more comfortable with and adopt this mindset of success.

How can music entrepreneurs change from the fixed mindset to the growth mindset?

Let’s take a look at a 4-step process.

1. Become Aware of Your Fixed Mindset Thoughts

The first step to change is awareness:

When am I thinking negative thoughts that trap me in the fixed mindset and what are those thoughts?

Our students encountered the fixed mindset in the following situations:

  • Alone in the practice room
  • When your rehearsal is off and you don’t do as well as you want
  • In a rough lesson
  • In my room procrastinating
  • Talking to other people and feeling that they are judging me
  • Talking to other people and feeling inadequate when I compare myself to them
  • On stage at a performance

And here is what the fixed mindset sounds like:

“He just came back from a world tour. And all I am is a student.”

“I am going to die at this performance because I just don’t have what it takes.”

“I’m just a loser.”

“I’ll never get there.”

“I’ve got to be better than everyone else in order to succeed.”

“If my ensemble members had been better, I would have sounded better and it’s their fault that we blew it in rehearsal.”

Notice all of the judgment and harsh comparison! The underlying thought is that you just don’t have enough talent to make it. And that thought creates a lot of stress, negativity and disincentive to try harder and feel that you are capable of learning.

2. Affirm Your Choice to Change

Once you become aware of the situations that trigger the fixed mindset and give rise to the voice of negativity, the next step is to convince yourself that you have the power to change.

One way to do this is to look for evidence that supports and negates your fixed mindset thought.

In class, we took examined the following thought:

“The other guy went on a world tour and all I am is a student. I’m just a loser.”

The inquiry is focused on exploring how true it is that you are a loser.

Start with evidence to support your perception of yourself as a loser:

  • I did not do a world tour.

Then, look for evidence that negates this perception:

  • I am at Yale learning to be a better musician.
  • I have a great teacher from whom I am learning many new things about being an artist.
  • I have performed in the past and I have a lot of performance opportunities coming up.
  • I enjoy challenging myself.
  • It does not matter what other people are doing because I am on my own path.

By doing this exercise, our students felt a lot better because they saw that their initial fixed mindset thought was not true.  In fact, they were determined to overcome the challenge and work hard towards creating their successes. This is the growth mindset at work: rather than throw in the towel, our students are committed to learning, figuring out a better way and persisting to create their success.

Another exercise that helps to affirm the growth mindset is to document your successes and outline the process you used to create that success. Not only is the list a great reminder that you have in fact experienced success but it also shows that the success came about through hard work, focus, persistence, learning from mistakes and resilience.

It is a matter of perception so why not go with the most empowering interpretation?

3. Answer with a Growth Mindset Voice

Step 3 is to answer your fixed mindset thought with a growth mindset thought:

What can you say in response to the Fixed Mindset Voice?

One tool that my students enjoyed is the Flow Affirmation: the statement that comes from your actual experience of optimal performance or flow and encapsulates what you are like at your best.

Your flow affirmation reminds you that you have experienced the highs of optimal performance in the best and it can inspire you to be your best, especially in times when you need a boost.

Another technique is to substitute the negative voice with words of growth:

  • I’ve done it before and I can do it again.
  • I am committed to handling this situation.
  • What can I learn from this?
  • What will I do next time?

If you practice journaling about your mindset and what your process of success looks like, you will accumulate words and phrases that can help you to solidify your growth mindset voice.

4. Take a Growth Mindset Action

The fourth step in changing from a fixed to a growth mindset is to take an action that reaffirms your commitment to growth.

Our students came up with the following actions:

  • When I hit a snag, I can keep practicing and I will not quit.
  • I will change what I am doing so I can explore a new way of overcoming my challenge.
  • I can do something completely different to clear my mind and refocus myself.
  • I can practice the 4-step process on a daily basis to create a new habit.

The process of change takes practice. And the good news for musicians is that you all know the process of practicing for improvement! So use that same skill to practice replacing the voice of the Fixed Mindset with your Growth Mindset thought.

We will continue to check in on how our students are progressing over the course of the semester so stay tuned!

*Photo Credit: flickr/joiseyshowaa