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Cultivating a Growth Mindset: How Teens & Young Adults Can Turn Challenges Into Opportunities

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We all experience challenges and setbacks in life. Some are more significant than others but regardless, they aren't pleasant to experience.

When we experience a life challenge or setback, we come to a crossroad in life:

1. We can either let challenges and setbacks define us by not using it to learn and grow from.


2. We can take the challenge or setback and see what that life opportunity can teach us about ourselves.

We all have our own unique strengths and challenges. There are areas that are smooth and polished and some areas that are a little rough and bumpy and which could use a little buffering.

Challenges and setbacks have a tendency to identify blind spots that we may not have been aware of. The challenges, if we have a growth mindset, can be the tool to provide the buffering we need.

What is a Growth Mindset & How Can it Help Teens & Young Adults

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What is a growth mindset you say? I'm glad you asked. The term "growth mindset" was coined by Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck.

A growth mindset if a belief that one's abilities, talents, and capacities can be improved over time. Compared to a "fixed mindset" that asserts that a person's abilities, talents, and capacities are fixed traits and cannot be improved upon.

In teen therapy or young adult counseling, we come across teens and young adults who are regularly faced with new and first-time experiences. They are challenged with many, many opportunities for growth and development. These regular challenges come by way of:

  • Academics,

  • Athletics,

  • Extracurricular activities,

  • Socially,

  • Spiritually,

  • Physically,

  • Through employment,

  • Practicing independence from parents,

  • Romantic relationships, and more.

The teen and young adult years are unique in the frequency and number of new experiences in a relatively short period of time in one's life. While we experience these in our adult years and throughout life, teens and young adults are drinking from a fire hose of new experiences and opportunities for a growth mindset!

Litmus Test of Whether We Have a Growth Mindset or Fixed Mindset

You might look at the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset and automatically believe that you have a growth mindset. And you very well may have a growth mindset.

In many challenges and setbacks, we rise to the challenge and get back up on that horse and keep riding. Then, there are those challenges or setbacks that hit us at the core!

When we brush up against a challenge or setback that hits on one of our core vulnerabilities, this is where the rubber meets the road. A core vulnerability is something that our ego builds walls up around to protect.

A core vulnerability is often a deeply held, core belief, that our irrational, illogical, and lying emotional mind has convinced us is true. Our logical mind can see that it's irrational, illogical, and not true but often our emotional mind wins out.

We build walls up around this core, irrational belief because when it's tagged, it hurts. These core beliefs are often a result of experiences we had earlier in life and which tendrils reach up tries to keep us in a fixed mindset -- this is who you are and you can't change it.

For illustrative purposes, I will share with you two examples: One will be of a growth mindset and another a fixed mindset.

Examples of a Growth Mindset & Fixed Mindset

Below are two examples in my own life where I experienced growth mindset and an experience I had with someone I supervised who struggled with a fixed mindset.

Growth Mindset: "NOT YOU!"

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Early in my career as a teen therapist, young adult counselor, and family therapist, a position came open that I was interested in. At the time I was the Assistant Clinical Director over a private pay residential treatment center for teen girls and boys.

The position of Clinical Director became available. This would be a promotion, a pay raise, and I would be able to continue to provide therapy for the teens and families I worked with.

I had many of my co-workers in administration tell me I should apply for the job. It was so early on in my career; I had convinced myself that I wasn't "Clinical Director material".

But I challenged myself to talk with the Interim Executive Director of the RTC and see if he considered me a fit for the position.

The Interim Executive Director had an open-door policy so I walked in and asked if I could speak with him. He said sure so I closed the door and sat down.

I let the Interim Executive Director know that I was interested in the Clinical Director position and asked what he was looking for in a candidate. His response -- "NOT YOU!" and that ended the meeting. No sugar coating that one.

At a Crossroad

I walked out rejected utterly dejected. He told me in no uncertain terms that I did not have what it took to be a Clinical Director.

I had a choice to make: take the safer path and not try again so I don't experience that type of rejection again or take that setback and keep trying.

Shortly after, he hired a full time Executive Director. As I was filling in for the vacancy of the Clinical Director while we were hiring for a Clinical Director, the Executive Director wanted to meet individually with each team member.

While I was meeting with him, he asked me what my goals were. I told him I wanted the Clinical Director position, but the Interim Executive Director already rejected my request in no uncertain terms.

This Executive Director met with the Interim Executive Director and shortly after I was hired as the Clinical Director.

Both were right. I had strengths that I brought to the position. But I also had some uncomfortable lessons to learn based on core beliefs I held about myself at the time.

I went on to work in various other administrative positions ending my career in residential treatment as the Regional Executive Director overseeing 3 RTCs. Had I not embraced a growth mindset, I would not have been in positions to help teens, young adults, and families with a wider reach.

A growth mindset is a journey of lifelong acknowledgment of weaknesses and work to make those into strengths.

Fixed Mindset: Perfectionism as a Barrier to Growth

Perfectionism is a refusal to accept any standard short of perfect. This is a standard that a perfectionist sets for themselves but also for others around them. Perfectionists must be seen by others to be right, successful, and well . . . perfect.

The problem with perfectionism is that it's unattainable. While a perfectionist usually performs at high levels, they also create a great deal of unnecessary stress and anxiety in their lives. Perfectionism can also negatively impact the relationships they have with others.

Touching Upon a Core Negative Belief

I had worked with a particular co-worker for several years. I was promoted to a position and wanted this person to take the position I was leaving. There was some disagreement in positions above me about whether this person was a fit for the position or not.

I had known how hard that the candidate has worked and the positive changes they made in the program. I also understood that while this person will bring many strengths to the position, the position would also challenge them as they struggled with perfectionism.

Regardless, the person wanted the position and had earned the chance to fill the position.

I have seen this person challenged before and rise to the occasion. I watched and supported them through rough places and they did an excellent job at meeting the challenge. My hope was that they would do the same in this position.

The position entailed many, many balls to juggle and it requires some flexibility and prioritization on which ball is higher in importance than others. It would require that those on the lower priority list get by with "good enough" while those on the higher priority list need more time and focus to ensure high quality outcomes.

As the person's perfectionism was starting to create challenges for themselves and others, I had a conversation with this person about seeing a therapist to work on the perfectionism. after all, we are both therapists and in the therapy field. The response I got was, "What would they tell me that I don't already know?"

It was at this moment that I understood that the timing wasn't right and they were not willing to work on this particular challenge. In this particular challenge, their mindset was fixed.

This person did end up resigning months later. This particular individual had a deeply held, negative core belief which created a lot of self-doubt and need for external validation.

As they were struggling to be perfect in all areas, the facade of this person being "perfect" started to crumble. And as it did, it became intolerable for the individual and the stress to maintain perfection led to their resignation.

Growth Mindset in the Teen & Young Adult Years

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There may not be another time in a person's life where they are faced with more opportunities to exercise a growth mindset than during the teen and young adult years. Think about it, the teen and young adult years are a time where they are faced with a multitude of new challenges:

Teen Experiences for Opportunities for Growth Mindset

  • New subjects and information to learn during school

  • New levels of athletic performance to be challenged in

  • New instrument to learn in band

  • New opportunity to improve in choir

  • Getting their license

  • Getting their first job

  • Asking a person out on a date for the first time

  • Going on a date for the first time

  • Navigating complex social interactions and dynamics

Young Adult Experiences & Opportunities for Growth Mindset

  • Turning 18 and becoming an adult

  • Graduating high school

  • Attending college or a university

  • Experiencing the rigors or college or university academics largely on their own

  • Working while attending college and balancing work, college/university, social, spiritual, and personal life

  • Living away from home for the first time

  • Learning to become self-sufficient

  • First internship or practicum

  • Selecting a job after college or university

  • Starting their career and their first job in their career

Teens and young adults are constantly being provided an opportunity to practice a growth mindset. Throughout all these experiences and more as a teen or young adult, they will be faced with a decision:

1. In this challenge or setback, do I acknowledge areas I can grow in and do so?


2. In this challenge or setback, do I allow it to define who I am and limit my potential?

The answer is simple. But don't confuse simple with easy. Sometimes the challenges are minor growth opportunities and sometimes the challenges may involve seeing a teen therapist or young adult counselor.

6 Strategies in Developing a Growth Mindset

We all have experiences where we embrace a growth mindset and experiences where we struggle and use a fixed mindset. It is not an either/or kind of situation.

You can develop and strengthen a growth mindset. Below are a few suggestions in how to do so.

1. Embrace Imperfection

One of the largest barriers to a growth mindset is a mindset of perfectionism. Acknowledging our imperfections and practicing some personal grace and self-love will allow you room to practice a growth mindset.

2. Compete Against Yourself, Not Others

Often, we compare ourselves to others and the work they do. We may notice their success and growth and try to mirror their approach.

There is more than one way to succeed in the same endeavors. The way one person chooses to grow in success may be different than how you grow and succeed.

As we stop looking outward and seeking external validation and start looking inward and competing against our own personal best, this allows space for a growth mindset.

3. Define Your Sense of Purpose & Being

We all have a purpose in this life. The teen years and into the young adult years are a time where we start to define who we are and what our purpose in life is -- we cultivate our beingness.

As we define our purpose and who we are, we are able to use that as a strong foundation on which we can accept constructive feedback and criticism and use it to grow from. It gives a teen and young adult a direction to head and a path to start on.

The setbacks and challenges we experience are viewed from a perspective of what we can learn from them in our life purpose and sense of being.

4. The Direction We Are Headed is More Important Than the Speed

Some of the challenges and setbacks we experience in life that point out our areas of growth, don't require us to fix them immediately. If we can change our mindset away from how fast we can gain this strength, talent, or skill and instead be satisfied with knowing we are on the right path, this will open space for a growth mindset.

Some areas of weakness may be resolved fairly quickly. It may just be a change in approach that we were not aware of. Some on the other hand will take time.

5. Focus on the Journey, Not the Destination

This is closely tied to being satisfied with knowing we are on the right path and not focusing so much on how fast we get there. In our culture, we tend to be goal oriented and achievement oriented. We are taught to "Keep our Eye on the Prize".

That's not a bad thing at all. And, if we can shift our focus while keeping an eye on the prize and focus more on the journey in getting there, this will allow us to accept bumps in the road in our journey with more grace and acceptance.

6. Embrace Constructive Feedback -- Especially When You Think You're Right!

Those deeply held, irrational core beliefs, that pop up from time to time when we are faced with a growth mindset opportunity will do anything to convince you that you CAN'T and SHOULDN'T.

These irrational core beliefs are rooted deep in our psyche and have spent time building up protective walls. It's like a living, breathing creature. It wants to survive.

Its intent is not to harm. Quite the opposite. At some point in your life, you needed that type of protection. It just doesn't realize you no longer need it.

The teen years are years where we already know it all, right? I mean, we've all been there. This can continue in through the young adult years and into adulthood.

When you are given constructive feedback and you believe you are right, mull it over anyhow. Is there any sliver of truth to the feedback? Is there anything you can take from the feedback that would help you grow?

Notice your reaction to the feedback. When your reaction involves a high level of defensiveness, fast dismissal of the feedback, and/or uncomfortable emotions, this is a signal that you may need to rigorously explore the feedback.

Teen Counseling & Young Adult Therapy: Katy Teen & Family Counseling

There is hope and there are answers. At Katy Teen & Family Counseling, we have a combined 70+ years of experience in teen therapy, young adult counseling, and family therapy.

The deeply held, negative core beliefs can impact a teen or young adult's confidence in themselves and ability to be happy and successful. These negative core beliefs can also lead to anxiety, panic attacks, social anxiety, performance anxiety, depression, and other struggles.

Teen athletes and gifted and talented teens tend to experience greater stressors than other teens and y0ng adults.

If you are ready to start your therapy journey, all you need to do is follow these three simple steps:

  1. Contact Katy Teen & Family Counseling

  2. Talk with one of our teen therapists or young adult counselors

  3. Let us help you overcome obstacles to your happiness

Other Therapy and Counseling Services Offered at Katy Teen & Family Counseling

At Katy Teen & Family Counseling, we provide a variety of therapy approaches that are supported by research and shown to be effective. Some of the teen therapy and young adult counseling we offer are:

Board Certified Neurofeedback Therapy

Peak performance (optimal academic brain performance)

Peak performance (optimal athletic brain performance)

Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART)

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR Therapy)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Couples Therapy & Marriage Counseling

It can be stressful parenting a struggling teen or young adult. More than anything we want to be able to help them. Sometimes couples may disagree about how to do so. This can inadvertently create stress in a relationship.

And there may be times where the actions of you or your spouse or partner has damaged the trust in your relationship. You want to reestablish the trust in a relationship you have worked hard for over the years.

Relationships are complex and take work. It can be helpful to have an objective, third party who is also experienced in marriage counseling and couples therapy. At Katy Teen & Family Counseling, we also provide couples therapy and marriage counseling.

About the Author

Man with his arms folded, wearing a mint green polo shirt, glasses, smiling. He is a teen counselor houston, tx and a teen counselor katy, tx 77494. He is the best teen counselor in katy, tx 77494.

Jason Drake is a Licensed Clinical Worker and Owner & Lead Clinician at Katy Teen & Family Counseling.

He specializes in teen therapy, family counseling, and counseling young adults. He has provided therapy to teens and families since 2003.

Jason helps teens and young adults in the Katy, Tx and Houston area who struggle with ADHD/ADD, depression, anxiety, social anxiety, panic attacks, trauma, PTSD, and other challenges.

He also works with talented teen athletes and gifted students who experience unique challenges.

Jason uses CBT, EMDR, Neurofeedback, FFT, and Motivational Interviewing. If you would like to learn more, please call or email us.

Jason is also a regular contributor to various magazines and publications lending his expertise to various mental health related topics. You can check these articles out on our "Featured Articles" service page on our website.


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