Growth mindset in and out of the gym

Learn about why it matters to focus on what you can control.

Ellie Brewer

How we talk to ourselves as we go through life really matters. An identical situation could be experienced by two people, but how they perceive what happens can be drastically different. In this blog, we’ll cover a few psychology terms that categorize how people look at the world, and then I’ll share some of my experience surrounding the importance of having a growth mindset as a college hockey player with you. 


Now I know what I thought when I first heard this term: “Locust? Like my inner bug of control?” Luckily the internal locus of control has nothing to do with locusts. Having an internal locus of control means that you focus only on the things you can control. For example, you can’t control what other people do, but you can control how you react and how you feel. People who have an internal locus of control take responsibility for their lives and actions and focus on the changes they can make, instead of focusing on external circumstances and the actions of other people. This is very similar to another term you may have heard: the growth mindset. The idea behind this term is that life is all about learning and being better today than you were yesterday. 


So, if an internal locus of control emphasizes focusing on what you can control, it makes sense that an external locus of control means focusing on things you can’t control. These can be things like what other people think, events that happen outside of your sphere of influence, and the actions of others. This can often show up as blaming the world around you or having thoughts like “why did this happen to me?” This is the opposite of the growth mindset, and is called a fixed mindset. If we are constantly blaming the world around us for our situation, we have taken all control out of our hands and are not working to get ourselves to where we want to be. By not taking action, we have become stuck in a situation we are not happy in. 


To connect both of these views, a person with an internal locus of control believes they make things happen. They are practicing a growth mindset. A person with an external locus of control believes things happen to them. They are stuck in a fixed mindset. This may seem like a small difference, but it has such a deep impact on how we perceive and react to events. 

This idea is applicable to your life in so many ways, especially in your strength training and nutrition journey. If you take responsibility for your actions (growth mindset), you are likely to have more confidence in yourself and your ability to follow through on promises you make to yourself. For example, let’s say you are trying to lose weight. Someone with a growth mindset would focus on things they can control, like choosing to eat whole foods 80% of the time. Someone with a fixed mindset might put all the responsibility for their weight loss on their coach or significant other, without stepping up and taking responsibility for their actions. Who do you think will be more successful in their weight loss journey? 

The great thing is that you can change your mindset by becoming aware of your thoughts and inner dialogue. Let’s take a closer look at a common situation that can provide a major challenge for people trying to lose weight. Let’s say you get invited out to a birthday dinner for someone in your close family while you are trying to lose weight. You have a few drinks to celebrate and order a dinner with lots of your favorite fried foods. The next day you wake up and realize how much you ate and drank the night before. Here you have two options: 

  1. Blame your family member for inviting you in the first place. They should have known that you were trying to lose weight and picked a restaurant with healthier options that wouldn’t have tempted you to eat so much.


  1. Acknowledge that you made the choice to order the food and drinks. You could have chosen not to, but you embraced the 80/20 rule and decided to enjoy time with family and friends. You decide to not beat yourself up about your choice, and focus on eating whole foods and drinking water today. You trust that you have the ability to stick to the habits you are trying to build, and focus on being consistent without worrying about the bumps along the way. 

You might feel yourself identifying with one option or the other, or recognizing parts of both options that resonate with you. Our mindset might change based on the situation, but I want to challenge you to start identifying your thoughts as you are presented with different situations throughout your day. Are you focusing mostly on how the world and other people are affecting you or are you focusing on how you react and what you can control? 


Alright, here’s where we’ll talk about different ways you can use this information and I’ll share some experiences from my time in collegiate athletics. 

  1. Embracing criticism: It was a constant challenge to receive feedback from my coach and not take it personally, especially when I made a mistake and lost playing time because of it. I tried to center myself and remind myself of things I could focus on. Most of the time my coach would give me something to work on or tell me why I wasn’t getting playing time, so during practice the next week I would focus on improving that skill instead of sulking and getting jealous of my teammates. And let me tell you, that was tough. It’s easy to talk about it after the fact, but while it was happening it felt like my whole world was crumbling and it took a lot (I mean, a lot) of practice to develop this mindset. I chose to embrace a growth mindset and actively put in work to be better than I was the day before, and I saw my playing time increase because of it. 

  2. Trying something new: The only way you can get better at something is to challenge yourself and do things you haven’t done before. It doesn’t have to be big and flashy, but it does have to be consistent. I can relate this to learning a new move for hockey. When I first start learning the move, it looks nothing like the professional I borrowed it from, and I look pretty silly doing it. But if I take the first five minutes of every practice to work on the move, within a few weeks I will have it down. If you focus on building one new habit or skill for five minutes every day, I guarantee you will look back after a few months and see the progress you have made. But if you never try (or stay in a fixed mindset of “I can’t do this”) you won’t make any changes at all.  

  3. Seeking out failure: This statement seems a little backwards. Why would I want to seek out failure? I don’t want to fail, I want to succeed. The key here is that you have to fail before you can succeed, and usually you have to fail quite a bit. As a society we view failure as such a negative concept, but I believe that narrative holds us back. This past year in hockey, I switched from playing center, a position I had played for the last three years, to playing wing, which I hadn’t played since high school. I knew it was going to be a tough transition the first few games, but I did my best to embrace it and follow my coach’s advice. This resulted in a lot of teaching moments that helped me get better and learn the new position. Each time my coach said something about something I did on the ice, I acknowledged what he said and tried to do it better my next shift. If I hadn’t gone out there and messed up, and then taken responsibility for my actions, I wouldn’t have gotten feedback from my coach, and I wouldn’t have played much. 

To wrap up all of the information I just threw your way, here are three pieces of “homework” for you to do to aid in your journey toward having a growth mindset:

  • Throughout the next 24 hours, take notice of the thoughts in your head. Are you blaming situations on other people and external circumstances, or are you taking responsibility for what you can control?

  • Think of a small habit you can start building today, and commit to doing it. Whether that’s packing your lunch the night before or carrying a water bottle with you to remind you to hydrate, commit to that one small habit and work on it for the next two weeks. 

  • Give yourself a pat on the back. You are doing a great job at this whole life thing, and if no one has told you that today, give yourself that acknowledgement and praise. I’m proud of you. 

Go out and make this day a great one! If you have any questions about all this info or want to share your habit with me, catch me at Rise, where you can set up a free consultation with our team of coaches.

Coach Ellie