What is it?
We hear the term “mindset” used a lot these days, but what does it actually mean? And how would cultivating a growth mindset help you as a performer? I’m going to answer these questions and help you to develop a mindset that will bring you closer to performing at your best and reaching your full potential.
So what does mindset mean?
A mindset is essentially a person's way of seeing the world and their place in it. It acts like a lens or frame, which directs an individual to a particular set of expectations or associations.
A lens is separate from us, in that we look through it to get a perspective on something. So naturally, by changing the lens, you change the perspective. If you can change your mindset, i.e. change the lens through which you see the world, you can change everything - how nervous you feel before a performance, how effective your practice is, or even how successful you feel after an audition.
“The mind is a flexible mirror, adjust it, to see a better world.” - Amit Ray
Evidence tells us that your mindset can have a significant impact on how your body experiences a situation. In a study of 100 hotel cleaners, Dr Alia Crum reported that 30% stated that they got no exercise at all in their daily lives. After recording their weight, blood pressure, body fat and job satisfaction, 50% of the hotel cleaners were given a presentation about the large amount of daily physical exercise they got in the course of their jobs. Three months later, all of the participants’ blood pressure, weight etc was measured again. The results indicated that those who had been given the presentation had lost significantly more weight, showed reduced body fat and even enjoyed their work more than those who had not seen the presentation.
So what does this tell us? It seems that what we do may not play as big a role in success as previously thought. Instead, what we believe we have done is much more important. Our mindsets can significantly impact us on both a physical and psychological level. And those mindsets can be altered. They are changeable, not fixed.
Consider how a change of mindset could alter a common ailment in our industry: feeling stressed. We are always bombarded with facts about how bad stress is for our health, but there is a growing body of research which suggests that by changing our mindset around stress and reappraising it as a ‘challenge’ that it can actually have a positive physical and psychological impact on us. In her book The Upside of Stress, Kelly McGonigal, PhD argues that a person’s view or mindset towards stress has a strong impact on how stress affects their minds and bodies.. People who viewed stress as a natural physiological response to overcome a challenge, rather than something that should induce fear and anxiety, were able to focus on what they could control and ultimately were able to manage stressful situations far more effectively. Stulberg and Magness, in their book Peak Performance, also highlight a 2010 study, which found that individuals who view stress as facilitative have a 43 percent lower chance of premature death than those who view it as destructive.
Is there a negative area of your life that you could benefit from a change of mindset?
What is a growth mindset?
Someone with a growth mindset believes that one’s intelligence or ability can be developed through effort, whereas someone with a fixed mindset believes that ability is innate and doesn’t change over time. A performer with a growth mindset believes that, with consistent and focused practice, they will be able to play that piece, perform that monologue, or dance that routine that they are currently unable to do. Someone with a fixed mindset is unlikely to even start, because they don’t believe they will ever have the skills necessary to succeed. Unsurprisingly, research has found that people with a growth mindset are much more likely to succeed than those with a fixed mindset.
“Love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort and keep on learning” - Dr Carol Dweck - Psychologist who first identified the growth mindset
Performers with a growth mindset are more resilient and deal with setbacks more quickly because they don’t associate their value as a person with their career success. An actor who doesn’t get the role she auditioned for sees the experience as an opportunity to learn and do better next time, rather than just another failure or reason why she will never make it.
As performers and creatives, we all understand that what we do is a deeply personal undertaking. As such, it is all too easy to perceive professional setbacks as a personal failure. But by separating ‘what we do’ (i.e. acting, singing or dancing) from ‘who we are’ (I am Cailin. I am kind and generous and sometimes… ok always... cry during rom coms), we give ourselves permission to try and fail without it affecting our intrinsic sense of worth as a person.
So what can you do to develop a growth mindset as a performer?
1) First, simply understand and accept that a growth mindset exists and that by changing your mindset, you can change your world. Understand and accept that you hold the power to your success.
2) Focus on ‘performance goals’ rather than ‘outcome goals’. An example of an ‘outcome’ goal might be ‘to be hired at my next audition’. The problem with outcome goals is that you aren’t in control. The panel might be looking for someone tall when you’re short, or someone with brown hair when you’re blonde. Outcome goals take away your power because it puts your definition of ‘success’ in the hands of others.
A ‘performance’ goal however might be to come out of the audition feeling that you have performed your best under the circumstances. With performance goals, YOU have the power to decide what ‘success’ looks like. This allows you to put concrete actions in place to facilitate that success. We can rarely control the outcome, but performance goals allow you to take control of the process.
3) Don’t view setbacks as failures. Instead see them as opportunities to learn and do better next time. The lessons of success are learned through failure. Dweck talks about the power of ‘yet’. If you don’t succeed at something, adopt the phrase ‘not yet’. With ‘not yet’ you have the power to change it.
4) Reward hard work over ‘talent’. Don’t just praise yourself when your current ability allows you to do something easily. Reward yourself for working hard to overcome challenges and reach your goals. By rewarding hard work over talent, you are building up your growth mindset.
Joshua Bell, one of the most successful classical musicians in the world, talks about an experience he had at his first violin competition at the age of 12 - the Stulberg International String Competition. In this interview he talks about how he messed up the opening so badly that he chose to stop and start again. It would be understandable for any performer in this situation to just ‘get through it’ and write off the performance as a huge failure. Bell however, states that because he made such a big mistake, he no longer felt the pressure to play absolutely perfectly. He was able to enter a flow state, where he was completely liberated and free to play with no pressure.
Bell’s experience shows us the power of a mindset to alter a situation. Rather than viewing his mistake through the lens of ‘I have screwed up and I am a failure’, Bell saw it as ‘I’m unlikely to win now, so I have the freedom to play with no restrictions.’ In changing our mindset we can give ourselves permission to fail, and ultimately learn from those failures in order to be better next time. Bell ended up coming third in that competition. The following year he went on to win it.
Try. Fail. Learn. Try again.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So Sail Away from the safe harbour. Explore. Dream. Discover.” - Mark Twain