One simple word could be the difference between success and stagnation.
According to famed Stanford psychologist and motivation expert Carol Dweck, adjusting the language you use to describe your abilities can help shift your fixed mindset into a growth mindset — that is, going from believing your abilities, intelligence and talents are limited and permanent to understanding that those qualities can be developed and grown.
In a video for the Brainwaves YouTube channel, Dweck says:
“What we find in our research is some students come to believe their intelligence is just fixed, and gets judged by people. These students don’t want to take on challenges — ‘What if I don’t look smart?’ They don’t persist well in the face of difficulty because effort and setbacks make them feel dumb. But other students have a growth mindset. They understand that their abilities can be developed through their hard work, their good strategies, good instruction. They don’t think everyone’s the same but they understand they can get smarter over time.”
So while realistically acknowledging your deficiencies is healthy, you also have to understand you can improve on and overcome them in order to be motivated for success and obstacle-busting, according to Dweck.
An easy way to do that immediately is by incorporating the word “yet” when thinking or talking about what you can’t do but want to do. Dweck advises in the video:
“We’ve found that putting in certain phrases like ‘not yet’ or ‘yet’ can really boost students’ motivation. So if a student says, “I’m not a math person — yet,” “I can’t do this — yet.” And it means that with your guidance they will continue on their learning trajectory and get there eventually. It puts their fixed mindset statement into a growth mindset context of learning over time.”
There’s also some extra motivation to be found in deciding that you will go on to learn or become what you want — you’ll become a smarter person overall because of your efforts. Says Dweck:
“We teach students that every time they take on hard tasks and stick to them, the neurons in their brain form newer, stronger connections. And over time, they can actually grow their intellectual ability.”
So, the next time you don’t think you can do something that you’d like to do, remember that you can’t do it yet.