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How to Develop a Growth Mindset for Addiction Recovery

When it comes to addiction recovery, your attitude can make a huge difference. Most people enter treatment at a low point in their lives. From there, it’s very hard to see how it’s possible to stay sober long term. It’s also normal to have fears about the process, especially fear of failure and fear of change in general. One way to overcome this resistance is to develop a growth mindset.

Research shows that people with a growth-oriented mindset enjoy many benefits, including greater tenacity, greater resilience, more engagement, and less fear of failure, all of which are excellent traits for addiction recovery. The following are some tips to help you become more growth-oriented.

Growth vs. Fixed Mindsets

First, it’s important to know the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. If you have a fixed mindset, then you believe, perhaps unconsciously, that your talents and abilities are pretty much fixed from birth. People with fixed mindsets believe that there are some things you are good at and some things you’re bad at. While there may be a bit of wiggle room here and there, whatever you are now is pretty much what you’re always going to be. The fixed mindset in this context is perhaps best exemplified by the expression “once an addict, always an addict.”

The growth mindset is the opposite of a fixed mindset. It is the belief that whatever our abilities are right this moment, with persistent effort, we can become capable or even excellent at pretty much anything. The truth is somewhere in the middle. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses and our own particular personality traits, but we also tend to vastly underestimate our own ability to grow and change. In other words, most of us could benefit from having a more growth-oriented mindset.

Remember Past Growth

Perhaps the most important aspect of adopting a growth mindset is knowing that growth is possible. This can feel like pulling yourself up by the bootstraps because if you believed that growth was possible, you would already have a growth mindset. However, if you are skeptical about your own ability to grow and change, try the following exercise: imagine yourself as a baby. You can’t walk, you can’t talk, you can’t read, you can’t ride a bike, you can’t even hold your head up or focus your eyes. At some point between then and now, you learned to do all of those things.

The problem is that you don’t remember most of it. You may vaguely remember learning to ride a bike or learning to read but chances are that you’ve forgotten at least 90 percent of the drudgery and failed attempts that went into learning those skills. Despite all of that, those skills eventually became so easy that you probably take them for granted now.

They didn’t come easy though; you had to practice some of them daily for months or years just to become competent. Imagine if you put the same level of effort into other important things in your life, especially addiction recovery. When you frame it that way, it might seem like more work, but it also makes success seem more possible.

Focus on Process and Improvement

When you work toward a goal with a fixed mindset, there’s always a sort of disconnect because you feel like you’re trying to turn lead into gold. You’re an “addict” now and you’re trying to turn yourself into a “sober person.” As a result, you’re always comparing yourself to the person you want to be, which is always discouraging.

Instead, focus on the process. Create a plan for meaningful change and stick to it, tweaking the plan as needed. Most of the time this will just feel like showing up and checking boxes: Did I go to a meeting today? Yes. Did I exercise today? Yes. Did I write in my journal? Yes. There will be days when this feels pointless and days when it feels like you’re going backward, but if you create a solid plan and follow it consistently, the long-term trend will be positive.

Watch Out for Fixed-Mindset Thinking

Our thoughts have a huge effect on how we see ourselves and our abilities. There are certain kinds of thoughts that signal and reinforce a fixed mindset. Thoughts like “I’m no good at this kind of thing,” or “I’ll never get better at this” demonstrate a fixed mindset. These kinds of thoughts are unhelpful and they’re objectively inaccurate. For example, say you’re trying to start exercising as part of your recovery plan.

If you exercise every day for two weeks and it just doesn’t seem to be going well, you may start thinking, “I’m just not an active person.” Examine this thought a little more closely. Sure, some people have a lot of athletic talent, but most of us aren’t trying to be famous athletes.

Do you think it’s possible to exercise regularly for a month, six months, or a year and see no improvement at all in terms of your mood, your fitness, your health, and so on? Of course not. We all have different capacities but putting in persistent efforts will result in positive changes.

Treat Mistakes as Information

One of the biggest handicaps of having a fixed mindset is that it makes you afraid to fail. You start to see every challenge as an assessment of your value as a person and you feel like if you don’t respond perfectly, then you have failed as a person. However, people with a growth mindset approach every challenge as an opportunity to learn and grow stronger.

It’s not a big deal if they don’t perform perfectly the first time or even if they fail miserably, because they learn from the experience, knowing they can do better next time. The key is understanding that mistakes and failures are sources of information, not judgment. In fact, mistakes are the fastest way to learn. Even when things seem to go pretty well, it’s good to ask for feedback.

By asking for feedback, you’re affirming that you can improve your performance and do better next time. There are no shortcuts to developing a growth mindset. We often develop our mindsets at a young age, based on what we’re told by our parents, teachers, coaches, and other adults. Ironically, well-meaning adults can often sabotage kids by saying that they’re smart or talented.

The kids then develop a fixed idea about themselves and avoid challenges, lest they endanger their smart and talented designation. The key to developing a more growth-oriented mindset is reminding yourself that growth is possible and even inevitable. You can then focus on the process and see challenges as opportunities to learn and grow.

At Enlightened Solutions, we know that the right attitude can make all the difference in recovery and in life. We see recovery from addiction as an opportunity to discover purpose, passion, and possibilities. In other words, treatment and recovery from addiction offer some of the best growth opportunities around. To learn more about our approach to treatment, call us today at (833) 801-5483.

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