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Growth mindset - where it all starts

What is it?

Growth mindset is a term and idea created by acclaimed Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck. Her work has been embraced across educational and sports coaching communities.

She saw that people hold ideas about their own potential, and identified two distinct perspectives that she described as either a fixed or growth mindset. Broadly speaking, a fixed mindset views ability as a fixed trait (e.g."he's just naturally good at golf") which you either have, or do not.

Conversely a growth mindset sees ability as something that can be developed ("He really must have worked hard on his game"). Her studies revealed 40% of individuals are growth, 40% are fixed and 20% waver between the two.

In sport, players who associate success with their "natural" or innate ability rather than say, hard work, tend to respond less well to failure, as bad results are interpreted as less resolvable, and taken more personally. In a game as blisteringly hard as golf, you can see the problem.

Relevance to golf

Which one are you? Obviously anyone taking lessons or practises believes, at some level, that they can get better. Otherwise why bother?

However a real growth mindset golfer has taken this core premise and, around it, fostered a collection of beliefs and behaviours that perpetually feed their game regardless of good or bad outcomes.

They have a massive advantage over their peers (and are incredibly easy to coach).

To illustrate, let's look at a defining and moment in golf which separates the really effective learners/improvers from the rest. The moments after...

An awful shot

The instinctive response might be to groan, recoil in horror, swear or tell yourself that you're s*** at this game. I get it, it sucks. However in that moment there was also a brief window of opportunity to learn something that could prevent the mistake from being repeated.

The growth mindset golfer becomes so wired to learn from failure they are more likely to have acquired supporting skills like self control, self-awareness, asking good questions, for example. All of which would make them less likely to be berating themselves and more able to self correct.

On a macro level, the right mindset would be more likely to use their time in between rounds more effectively as well.

Supporting beliefs

Over the years, I have observed a collection of beliefs which naturally sit on top of the foundation of a growth mindset, that are extremely valuable for golf.

It might seem an intangible subject, beliefs, but the behaviours that flow from them directly impact your golf score. Think of a belief like a piece of programming that filters possible actions. Take "putting is a perishable skill" for example. Implicit in this belief is the need to frequently check in on this part of the game, and not rest on your laurels even if it's going well.

A fixed mindset also might view beliefs as gospel, and hard or unnecessary to change. Again, I would challenge this. If the game of improvement is behaviour change, then it is smart to replace unhelpful beliefs with ones that trigger helpful behaviours.

In the sections that follow I have laid out those which I think best support improvement in golf.

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