How and Why to Develop a Growth Mindset (As an Older Adult)


If you’re familiar with my content, you may have come across my broken record message about neuroplasticity:


You can create new neural pathways in your brain until the day you die.


And just like any other muscle in your body, when it comes to your brain, you use it or lose it.


your brain was designed for lifelong learning and growth
Maintain your brain, just like you would any other muscle in your body


According to neuropsychologist at the Washington, DC Veterans Administration Medical Center, Dr. Celeste Campbell:


“From the time the brain begins to develop in utero until the day we die, the connections among the cells in our brains reorganize in response to our changing needs. This dynamic process allows us to learn from and adapt to different experiences.”


What does neuroplasticity have to do with developing a growth mindset in adults?  


Having a growth mindset helps you maintain your brain plasticity by challenging yourself, stimulating your brain and expanding your learning experiences. 


Adopting a growth mindset goes beyond protecting your cognitive decline, though. It’s a way to capture fulfillment and live a robust lifestyle that’s purposeful and meaningful to you.


So, to give you a specific way to boost the “growth” category of the 5 Rings of Retirement, I’ve put together four ways for you to develop a growth mindset.


the five rings of retirement - growth, community, health, giving back, and finance


But first, let’s briefly define what a growth mindset is and why it’s so vital, especially as you age.


What is a growth mindset?

Simply put, a growth mindset is when you believe your skills can be developed (at any age). 


If you have a growth mindset, you’ll probably agree with statements like:


  • Even if I’m not born with that talent, skill or intelligence, I can work hard and learn how to develop it.
  • I haven’t mastered this yet. I need to work harder or try a new approach.


As opposed to a fixed mindset, which is when you believe you’re either born with or without a skill, talent or intelligence level. 


People with a fixed mindset tend to agree with statements like:


  • I was/wasn’t born with that talent.
  • That skill just comes naturally to her/him.
  • I’m not good at this. I shouldn’t bother trying anymore and should just move on to something else.


fixed vs growth mindset differences
Do you have a fixed or growth mindset? Source: Brain Pickings


Dr. Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, established most of the work on this topic of developing a growth mindset.


mindset the psychology of success
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Dr. Carol Dweck. Source: Amazon


According to Dr. Dweck:


“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work – brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”


In many ways, her work has been applied to students achieving success in the classroom. 


For instance, in one study of 373 7th and 8th graders, students with a growth mindset show a steady improvement in math across two years, whereas students with a fixed mindset reveal a slight decline in average grades across the same time span.


growth mindset vs fixed mindset impact on math grades
Having a growth mindset positively impacts students’ grades. Source: Lumen Learning 


What’s more, another study found that a growth mindset in adults reliably predicts achievement across a national sample of students. The study also found there to be a direct correlation between having a low income and endorsing a fixed mindset.


growth mindset vs fixed mindset impact on income
Students from the lowest-income families were twice as likely to endorse a fixed mindset as students from top-income families and schools. Source: PNAS


While adopting a growth mindset has been widely used to encourage students to achieve in a learning environment, the concept provides equally powerful benefits when you apply it to the life and goals of older adults.


After all, you can develop neuroplasticity and develop your brain at any age. 


Why is adopting a growth mindset so critical as you age?

Not only is adopting a growth mindset hugely important for satisfying your cravings of learning, growing and being stimulated, but it’s also a big deal when it comes to your overall health.


In fact, a 2018 study out of the University of Toronto, researchers found that:


“The more people believed that abilities are changeable, the more they perceived benefits of health behaviors, which in turn increased their intentions.”


In other words, adopting a growth mindset leads to taking preventative health measures.


On top of that, when you adopt a growth mindset, you literally light up your brain in ways that don’t happen when you have a fixed mindset. 


A study out of Columbia University found that with a growth mindset, your brain engages deeply in electrical activity and is on fire as you process errors and learn to correct them. 


brain scan fixed vs growth mindset
A growth mindset and fixed mindset show completely different levels of brain activity. Source: NCBI


Which is a stark difference from the brain activity in a fixed mindset, where you run from errors and setbacks.


So, a growth mindset also leads to increased learning experiences and brain activity.


And what happens if you combine the benefits of both lifelong learning and adopting a growth mindset?


It does wonders for your overall health, longevity and life satisfaction. 


More specifically, you:


  • Actively take preventative measures in protecting your health
  • Increase your life span
  • Boost your neuroplasticity, develop new brain connections, and improve your memory
  • Protect against cognitive decline
  • Feel physically, emotionally, and mentally stronger
  • Are more fulfilled and overcome any boredom in retirement
  • Can develop deeper relationships
  • Can change and grow relationships


Now that you’re (hopefully) convinced adopting a growth mindset is hugely important, especially as you age, here’s how to develop a growth mindset for successful aging in 4 ways.


4 Ways to Develop a Growth Mindset for Successful Aging

#1. Seek challenges

The first way to develop a growth mindset is to actively embrace challenges. If you can actively hunt for challenges and learn to look forward to setbacks and pitfalls, even better.


Basically, rather than seeing challenges as bad things to fear, view them as huge learning opportunities that allow you to grow.


Put in terms of your brain activity: 


  • When you run away from challenges, close to nothing happens in your brain
  • When you take on challenges, your brain is on fire and actively engaged


fixed vs growth mindset images
Your brain is fired up with synapses when in a growth mindset. Source: You Cubed


It goes without saying that the latter is better for your overall stimulation and cognitive health, right? 


Plus, seeking challenges is a way to train yourself to build resilience, one of the key ingredients for success and creative achievement.


In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol writes:


“In a poll of 143 creativity researchers, there was wide agreement about the number one ingredient in creative achievement. And it was exactly the kind of perseverance and resilience produced by the growth mindset.”


So, if you want to stimulation in your life (and brain), seek challenges and view them as learning opportunities.


#2. Focus on enjoying the process

Another powerful way to nurture a growth mindset is to focus on the process, rather than the destination.


For instance, if you have a goal of writing a book, focus on enjoying the many stages that go into creating and publishing your book, rather than the finished product itself, like:


  • Ideating
  • Brainstorming
  • Researching
  • Outlining
  • Drafting
  • Writing
  • Staging
  • Editing
  • Formatting
  • Creating
  • Designing
  • Reviewing
  • Sharing
  • Iterating
  • Publishing


What this does is it shifts your mind from focusing on the end result to focusing on progress, which means the learning, improving and growing. 


In other words, you set yourself up to look forward to the next step to tackle (and then the subsequent step, etc.) rather than only the big prize at the end (which is something we talk about more in our guide to goal setting in retirement).


By doing this, you stretch out your goal into several mini-goals, and not only do you have a next challenge to look forward to, but this also keeps you present and focused on appreciating the now.


To adopt a growth mindset, focus on making progress and enjoying the process.
To adopt a growth mindset, focus on making progress and enjoying the process.


And being present and focused on the now comes with its own set of serious benefits.


A glaring one is you’re not wasting away the days between now and your end goal wishing it were the future (the future will be here before you know it, and then that overly anticipated event will be gone in a flash).


Plus, by focusing on progress, you’re engaged in the learning process. This lets you grow as a person and actually enjoy the process of creating, or being involved with, something meaningful.


In sum, adopt a growth mindset by learning how to enjoy the process, which opens up the door to savoring the present, plus, learning, improving and growing.


#3. Accept feedback

The third way to adopt a growth mindset is to accept feedback and helpful criticism. Better yet, take it to another level and proactively ask for feedback or help.


Why does embracing feedback work so well?


When you’re all ears for someone else’s advice, you’re literally opening yourself up to learning something new, whether it’s a new skill or perspective.


On the contrary, when you close yourself off to feedback, help or criticism, you shut the door on learning experiences and remain stuck in a fixed mindset.


A classic example of this in action is in the classroom setting, where students are afraid to ask for help at the risk of sounding stupid or feeling inferior in front of their peers. Sadly, this fosters a habit of keeping your mouth closed and, hence, not learning or growing.


In fact, in Dr. Dweck’s famous TED Talk, she shares:


“In one study, students who failed claimed they would probably cheat the next time instead of studying more if they failed a test. In another study, after a failure, students looked for someone who did worse than they did so they could feel really good about themselves.” 


carol dweck ted talk
Students claimed they would cheat rather than fail again, or find students who did worse, to feel better about themselves. Source: YouTube


Basically, without any feedback, nothing is developed. 


Or worse, rejecting feedback encourages the bad habit of being a know-it-all.


Which, by the way, if you’re all-knowing and always right, then clearly you have nothing to learn or change.


And that, of course, puts you right into a fixed mindset, where both your experiences and you don’t grow. (Not to mention, you’re not the most pleasant person to be around.)


Basically, seeking feedback and being open to constructive criticism is a powerful way to open your mind to deeper growth experiences. Oh, and this applies to relationships, too.


#4. Practice mindfulness

Finally, a fourth powerful way to develop a growth mindset is to flex your self-awareness muscles and get into the habit of practicing mindfulness. 


Not only are there physical and mental benefits to being more mindful (i.e. one clinical study showed that increased mindfulness in cancer patients leads to declines in mood disturbance and stress and even helps improve your memory), but it also helps you tune into your growth experiences.


By being self-aware, you give yourself the much-needed space to acknowledge and recognizing whether you’re even in a fixed or growth mindset.


After all, it’s near impossible to be 100% in either camp.  


According to (naturally) Carol Dweck, it’s important to acknowledge that:


  1. We’re all a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets
  2. We will probably always be, and 
  3. If we want to move closer to a growth mindset in our thoughts and practices, we need to stay in touch with our fixed mindset thoughts and deeds.


To practice mindfulness, try some of these ten activities.


The main takeaway is to become more cognizant of what’s going on in your head and surroundings. Once you have the self-awareness in place, you can take immediate action in the right direction (toward a growth mindset and fulfilling activities, of course). 


Adopt a healthy, robust and fulfilling life by developing a growth mindset

Age isn’t a factor when it comes to developing your brain in a way that gives you life satisfaction. Which means, you can adopt a growth mindset at any age. 


In a nutshell:


  • A growth mindset is believing your skills and talents can be developed, whereas a fixed mindset is thinking they’re stagnant and can’t be changed.
  • Adopting a growth mindset is hugely important for older adults because it improves your overall health, longevity and life satisfaction.
  • To adopt a growth mindset, actively take on challenges, basque in the learning process, welcome feedback and regularly practice self-awareness.


Here’s to growing your mindset and bright future.


As always, I’m rooting for you.



To learn more about the aging brain, check out our comprehensive guide. Inside, you’ll find information on how to protect your brain health, exercises to keep your mind sharp, and tips for staying mentally active as you age.