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A Spiritual Growth Mindset

Brigitte C. Madrian Dean of BYU Marriott School of Business
October 04, 2022 11:15 AM

""As we adopt a spiritual growth mindset, our prayers will become less and less about asking God to grant to us our desires and more and more about knowing what God desires for us and of us and who He wants us to become.""
A Spiritual Growth Mindset

Two years ago, our beloved prophet President Russell M. Nelson opened the October 2020 general conference with the observation that “our spirits long to progress.” [1] Now that you’ve had a few weeks to settle into the fall semester, I would like to talk about the importance of adopting a mindset that will help you to grow both academically and spiritually, not just now while you are in school, but throughout the rest of your lives.

I was fortunate to grow up in a household that had a piano from the time I was young and I learned to play from a series of wonderful teachers as did each of my four siblings. My mother was not as lucky. She grew up in Dresden, Germany, during World War II and her family did not have money for either a piano or piano lessons. After she was married and all five of her children were in school, my mother decided to start taking piano lessons. She practiced every day. None of us children wanted Mom to play the piano better than we did, so her example prodded us to practice more diligently as well. My mother’s courage to take up something new as an adult was a powerful example to me of lifelong learning and something that I decided I wanted to emulate when I became a parent.

Although I loved playing the piano, as a child I also had a secret desire to play the violin, but I never had the chance. So, taking a cue from my mother, when my own two children were young, I signed us all up for violin lessons. I was an assiduous learner. Like my mother, I practiced every day or, in my case, every night after the kids went to bed. And I practiced with great enthusiasm. I wanted to learn to play the violin, I believed that I could, and I welcomed the ever-more challenging music that my teacher gave me to learn. I was the only adult who signed up to perform in the end-of-the-year recital, one of the scariest things I have ever done, but it motivated me to really practice. A couple of years later, after we moved to a different state, finding a violin teacher in our new locale never quite happened, but I was always grateful for the two years that I spent learning to play the violin with my daughters.

Another thing that I didn’t learn as a child was how to ice skate. I loved watching the figure skaters competing in the Winter Olympics and wished that I too could gracefully glide across the ice. So, in addition to violin lessons, I also enrolled in ice skating lessons along with my two young daughters. My children quickly learned to skate forward and backward, to spin, even to jump. Meanwhile, after several winters of taking lessons, I never made it much beyond going forward in circles. My progress was stymied by two things: first, a fear of falling, which led me to be very, very cautious and second, a belief that I had little innate athletic ability, which limited my own expectations for what I could learn to do.

These two anecdotes illustrate what Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck describes as a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. “Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset.” [2] In contrast, individuals who believe their qualities or characteristics are unchangeable demonstrate a fixed mindset. [3]

A mindset is defined as “an established set of attitudes,” “the outlook, philosophy, or values of a person;” a “frame of mind, attitude, [or] disposition.” [4] When I signed up for violin lessons, I did so with a growth mindset. I wanted to learn and believed that I could. When I inevitably made a mistake, I slowed down, figured out why, and then practiced again, and again, and again, until I eventually got it right. Individuals with a growth mindset “embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, see effort as the path to mastery, learn from criticism, and find lessons and inspiration in the success of others.” [5]

When I enrolled in skating lessons, I did so with a fixed mindset. In my mind, failure by falling would further cement my belief that I lacked athletic ability. I did not understand or accept the truth that falling was an important part of the process of learning to skate. Ironically, my fear of failure meant that I never fell, but it also meant that I never learned to skate well. My fears hindered my ability to put in the work and take the risks that would allow me to progress. Individuals with a fixed mindset “avoid challenges, give up easily, see effort as fruitless. . ., ignore useful negative feedback, and feel threatened by the success of others.” [6]

Decades of research has shown that those with a growth mindset “tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset . . . because they worry less about looking smart [or capable] and they put more energy into learning.” [7]

With two daughters in college, several thousand students enrolled in the programs that I oversee at BYU Marriott, and a church service assignment in a young married student ward, I see daily the challenges that you face in your academic studies and in your lives more generally. I also see how students like you approach those challenges. Which situations in your life do you approach with a growth mindset and which situations do you approach with a fixed mindset—and how does the difference in your mindset affect the outcomes that follow?

A growth mindset is about embracing the process of learning, improving, and becoming better. There is another mindset that is even more significant and powerful than a growth mindset, one that will fundamentally impact every aspect of your life if you will embrace it: a spiritual growth mindset. When we have a spiritual growth mindset, our growth is directed toward the very specific end of becoming perfect like our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, so that we can obtain exaltation and eternal life and live with Them—and our families—forever. When we adopt a spiritual growth mindset, we do more than simply acquire or develop new skills; our very characters are changed as we become new creatures in Christ. [8]

Individuals with a spiritual growth mindset exercise faith in Jesus Christ and believe that they can become like Him; they desire to change and develop Christlike attributes in their own lives; they have broken hearts and contrite spirits and cherish the gift of repentance; [9] [10] they invite the Holy Ghost to change their minds, their hearts, their dispositions, and their motivations; [11] they seek the strengthening and redeeming power of the Savior’s Atonement, recognizing that it is only through His grace that we can be made perfect; [12] and they continue in patience with the understanding that perfection is not something we will attain in this life. [13]

The process through which we grow spiritually is repentance. In the April 2019 General Conference, President Nelson gave a talk titled, “We Can Do Better and Be Better.” He said:

“ When Jesus asks you and me to repent, He is inviting us to change our mind, our knowledge, our spirit—even the way we breathe. He is asking us to change the way we love, think, serve, spend our time, treat our [spouses], teach our children, and even care for our bodies. . . .

When we choose to repent, we choose to change! We allow the Savior to transform us into the best version of ourselves. We choose to grow spiritually and receive joy—the joy of redemption in Him. When we choose to repent, we choose to become more like Jesus Christ!

Nothing is more liberating, more ennobling, or more crucial to our individual progression than is a regular, daily focus on repentance.” [14]

President Nelson is describing the joy that comes from embracing a spiritual growth mindset, from being anchored by our faith in Jesus Christ, desiring to change, choosing to repent, and then becoming more like Him. When we adopt a spiritual growth mindset, we seek out and take advantage of opportunities for spiritual growth, and we invite and allow the Savior to “transform us into the best versions of ourselves” [15] as we give our will to Him.

As you think about developing Christlike attributes in your own life, do you have a spiritual growth mindset? Do you welcome opportunities to grow spiritually, to learn from your mistakes and to repent? Or do you minimize your mistakes, blame others when things go wrong and turn down invitations to serve in the Lord’s kingdom?

The scriptures contain many inspiring accounts of men and women who exemplify a spiritual growth mindset and who are personally transformed through the grace of the Savior’s Atonement as a result.

When called to deliver the Israelites from the bondage of the Egyptians, the great prophet Moses initially wavers. He responds with skepticism to the Lord’s invitation to “bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt,” [16] saying, “Who am I, that I should go unto Pharoah, and . . . bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” [17] In that moment, Moses is exhibiting a fixed mindset: this thing you are asking of me is too hard, Pharaoh will never listen to me, it is not worth the effort.

The Lord tries to reassure Moses that he will not have to do this alone: “I will be with thee . . . [and] smite Egypt with all my wonders . . . and after that [Pharoah] will let you go.” [18] But even with the pledge of divine assistance, Moses protests: “O my Lord, I am not eloquent . . . [but] slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.” [19]

The Lord reassures him again: “I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.” [20] Moses is still not convinced. The Lord tells Moses that his brother Aaron can serve as a spokesman and finally, with that promise, Moses is able to put his fear aside and embrace the spiritual growth mindset that allows him to be transformed into the great prophet that the Lord needed and wanted him to be, to fulfill his foreordained mission to deliver the Israelites out of bondage. We see in Moses a man of great faith who continues in patience, returning to plead for his people time and again, performing miracle after miracle to a mostly unimpressed Pharaoh and then leading the Israelites through the wilderness for 40 years. The Moses who parted the Red Sea and received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai is not the Moses who initially questioned whether he could “bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt.” [21] This is the transformational power of a spiritual growth mindset.

Another example of a spiritual growth mindset comes from Esther, who was orphaned as a child and subsequently raised by her cousin Mordecai. When the king tires of his wife and decides to depose her, Esther is taken to the king’s court in what appears to be the Biblical precursor to the modern TV show “The Bachelor.” It is not clear that Esther had much volition in this, and other people with her background and in her position would have easily fallen into feeling like victims of their circumstances. But Esther gains favor with the king, and unaware that she is a Jew, he chooses her as his new queen.

Sometime later, the king allows his counselor Haman to orchestrate an order to have all the Jews in the kingdom killed. Upon receiving this news, Mordecai implores Esther to intervene and plead with the king to spare her people, the Jews. But Esther is caught up in the compelling reasons why this is a thing that she cannot do: the king has the power the put to death anyone who comes to see him unbidden, and she has not been called to come to the king in the last month. [22] Esther views the situation with a fixed mindset: the problem is insurmountable, and she is powerless to do anything about it.

But Mordecai persists, calling on Esther to repent and put her faith before her fears. He encourages her to adopt a spiritual growth mindset with this counsel: Think not . . . that thou shalt escape in the king’s house, more than all the Jews. For if thou . . . holdest thy peace at this time, then shall . . . enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; . . . and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this? [23]

Mordecai’s words help Esther focus on God’s hand in her life and appreciate that her position as queen is much more than happenstance. With a change in mindset, Esther embraces the opportunity to help save her people. Significantly, she realizes that she can only do this with the help of the Lord and invites the Jews to fast with her for three days before she goes in to see the king. Esther is blessed with both courage and wisdom and miracles unfold in the life of Esther and her people: the king issues a decree to preserve the Jews, Haman is hanged, Esther is given Haman’s possessions and Mordecai is appointed as the king’s right-hand man. This is the transformational power of a spiritual growth mindset.

The sons of Lehi provide an interesting and ongoing contrast that illustrates the effects of having a fixed versus a spiritual growth mindset. In their journey from Jerusalem to the New World, Lehi and his family face many challenges. Laman and Lemuel meet these challenges firmly entrenched in a fixed mindset; Nephi, on the other hand, approaches these challenges with a spiritual growth mindset, believing that with the help of the Lord, anything is possible.

When the Lord commands Nephi and his brothers to return to Jerusalem and obtain the brass plates of Laban, Laman and Lemuel “murmur, saying it is a hard thing.” [24] On the other hand, Nephi boldly declares, “I will go and do the things the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” [25] After two failed attempts to retrieve the plates, Laman and Lemuel lament, “How is it possible that the Lord will deliver Laban into our hands?” [26] Undaunted, Nephi replies: “Let us go up; the Lord is able to deliver us, even as our fathers, and to destroy Laban, even as the Egyptians.” [27]

When Nephi breaks his bow, and the bows of his brothers lose their springs, Laman and Lemuel respond in a familiar fashion; they “murmur exceedingly,” [28] “[harden] their hearts,” [29] and “[complain] against the Lord their God.” [30] Nephi acts with a spiritual growth mindset, “[making] out of wood a bow, and out of a straight stick, an arrow,” [31] and then asking his father, Lehi, to “inquire of the Lord” [32] about where he should go to obtain food.

Eventually, Nephi is commanded to build a ship. By this time, Laman and Lemuel have perfected their fixed mindset. They taunt Nephi, calling him a fool for thinking that he can build a ship and “cross these great waters.” [33] They accuse him of lacking judgment and tell him point-blank that “thou canst not accomplish so great a work.” [34]

Despite the enormity of the task and his lack of previous shipbuilding experience, Nephi is undeterred: “If God had commanded me to do all things I could do them. . . .And now, if the Lord has such great power, how is it that he cannot instruct me, that I should build a ship?” [35] And he does. Nephi builds a ship that carries his family across the mighty ocean and to the New World. This is the transformational power of a spiritual growth mindset.

A spiritual growth mindset is about focusing less on who we are and more on who we can become. The Apostle Peter is interesting in this regard. He was called to be an apostle and told by Jesus: “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church. . .and I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” [36] And yet, Peter’s weaknesses are well documented. When the Savior walked across the water of the storm-tossed sea and toward the boat on which his disciples sailed, Peter initially embodied a spiritual growth mindset and walked on the water toward Jesus. [37] But as he allowed the fears of a fixed mindset to take over, Peter began to sink. Later, on the eve of the Savior’s crucifixion, Peter’s fears again carry the day, and he denies knowing Jesus not once, not twice, but three times. But these failures did not disqualify Peter from the path of discipleship because Peter was willing to repent and had a desire to change.

After the Savior’s Resurrection, when several of the disciples had returned to fishing, Jesus appears in their midst and pulls Peter aside, saying, “Simon Peter . . . son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?” [38] (referring to the fish that Peter has caught). Peter replies, “Yea Lord, thou knowest that I love thee.” [39] Jesus then extends the invitation to Peter to “feed my sheep.” [40] Jesus is reminding Peter of his former call to leave behind his livelihood and to serve, now not just as an apostle but as the head of Christ’s Church.

A short time later, following the Savior’s ascension into Heaven, the disciples were gathered to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost. We read in Acts 2 of the remarkable experience they had when the Holy Ghost was poured out on them that day. But Peter does not just experience the power of the Holy Ghost, he receives it, allowing it to transform both his mind and his heart. Embracing a spiritual growth mindset and armed with the power of the Holy Ghost, Peter is then able to lean into his role as a leader, preaching the gospel to the gentiles and eventually dying as a martyr in Rome. This is the transformational power of a spiritual growth mindset.

In a recent general conference, Elder Ciro Schmeil of the Seventy recounted a lunch with President Nelson in which the prophet told him: “Elder Schmeil, you are called for what you can become.” [41] Harold B. Lee said something similar to President Dallin H. Oaks about his appointment as president of Brigham Young University in 1971: “We are not calling President Oaks because of what he is, for others have done more and have greater stature and accomplishments. We are calling him because of what he will become.” [42]

Like Moses, and Esther, and Nephi, like Peter, and Elder Schmeil, and President Oaks, when we have a spiritual growth mindset, we put ourselves in a position for the Lord to call us to do His work not because of who we are but because of who we will become.

As we adopt a spiritual growth mindset, our prayers will become less and less about asking God to grant to us our desires and more and more about knowing what God desires for us and of us and who He wants us to become.

In his May 2022 Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults, President Nelson said to you as his audience:
“Because there is a grand plan of salvation authored by Heavenly Father, does it not stand to reason that you also have a divine destiny?

Make no mistake about it: Your potential is divine. With your diligent seeking, God will give you glimpses of who you may become.”

So who are you? First and foremost, you are a child of God, a child of the covenant, and a disciple of Jesus Christ. As you embrace these truths, our Heavenly Father will help you reach your ultimate goal of living eternally in His holy presence. 15

It is through a spiritual growth mindset that we begin to see our eternal identity as children of God who can become like Him. It is through a spiritual growth mindset that the Holy Ghost changes our minds, our hearts, our dispositions, and our motivations so that our deepest desire is to develop Christlike attributes in our own lives. It is through a spiritual growth mindset that we establish a pattern of daily repentance and seek the strengthening and redeeming power of the Savior’s Atonement in our lives. It is through a spiritual growth mindset that we continue in patience for the day when we will be perfected in Christ. It is through a spiritual growth mindset that we progress toward realizing our divine potential.

Four years ago, I left a dream job and a beautiful home in a city I loved and moved 2,500 miles across the country to take a job at BYU. I determined to be all in on this change in my life because, in the words of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “[I] did not come this far only to come this far.” [43] For me, this included a very intentional decision to adopt a spiritual growth mindset.

The move itself was an act of faith, one accompanied by a deep-seated desire to become a Christlike leader. I have prayed daily since that time that the Holy Ghost will guide me in my decisions at BYU and that the Lord will bless me with the many spiritual gifts I need to do His will in my job. I have immersed myself in the scriptures and made temple worship a higher priority in my life. I have sought feedback on how I am doing and through that process, I have come to better appreciate the important gospel principles of repentance and forgiveness.

Through all these efforts, I can feel the Lord shaping me into the person He needs me to become. It is a slow and sometimes painful process, and there is a long way yet to go. But nothing in the 30 years of my professional life before coming to BYU compares to the transformational experience I have had since deciding to embrace a spiritual growth mindset and turn my life over to Jesus Christ.

I testify to you that Jesus Christ is our Savior, the Redeemer of the World, and that through the grace of His Atonement, we can be perfected in Him. I testify of the great love that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have for each one of you, and of Their great desire that you will each return to live with Them one day. I testify of the joy that comes from daily repentance and of the transformational power that comes from embracing a spiritual growth mindset.

I invite you to adopt a spiritual growth mindset in your own life and to fully embrace the process of learning, improving and becoming more like our Savior, Jesus Christ. As you do so, you will be transformed into the best version of yourself and you will be ready to serve in the Lord’s kingdom, not because of who you are, but because of who you will become. In the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.

[1] Russell M. Nelson, “Moving Forward” (2020), .
[2] Carol C. Dweck, “What Having a ‘Growth Mindset’ Really Means” (2016), Harvard Business Review, .
[3] Carol C. Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (2016), Ballantine Books, New York, NY.
[4] "mindset, n." OED Online, Oxford University Press, September 2022, Accessed September 19 , 2022.
[5] OECD, “Sky’s the Limit: Growth Mindset, Schools and Students in PISA” (2021), .
[6] OECD, “Sky’s the Limit.”
[7] Dweck, “What Having a ‘Growth Mindset’ Really Means.”
[8] 2 Corinthians 5:17 .
[9] 3 Nephi 9:20 .
[10] .
[11] Mosiah 5:2 .
[12] Moroni 10:32 .
[13] Doctrine and Covenants 67:13 .
[14] Russell M. Nelson, “We Can Do Better and Be Better” (2019), .
[15] Nelson, “We Can Do Better and Be Better.”
[16] Exodus 3:10 .
[17] Exodus 3:11 .
[18] Exodus 3:12, 20 .
[19] Exodus 4:10 .
[20] Exodus 4:12 .
[21] Exodus 3:11 .
[22] Esther 4:11 .
[23] Esther 4:13-14 .
[24] 1 Nephi 3:5 .
[25] 1 Nephi 3:7 .
[26] 1 Nephi 3:31 .
[27] 1 Nephi 4:3.
[28] 1 Nephi 16:20 .
[29] 1 Nephi 16:22 .
[30] 1 Nephi 16:22 .
[31] 1 Nephi 16:23 .
[32] 1 Nephi 16:24 .
[33] 1 Nephi 17:17 .
[34] 1 Nephi 17:19 .
[35] 1 Nephi 17:50-51 .
[36] Matthew 16:18-19 .
[37] Matthew 14:29 .
[38] John 21:15 .
[39] John 21:15 .
[40] John 21:17 .
[41] Ciro Schmeil, “Faith to Act and Become” (2020), .
[42] Richard E. Turley Jr., In the Hands of the Lord: The Life of Dallin H. Oaks (2021), Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, UT.
[43] Jeffrey R. Holland, “A Perfect Brightness of Hope” (2020), .

About the Speaker

Brigitte C. Madrian

Brigitte C. Madrian

Brigitte C. Madrian is the Dean and Marriott Distinguished Professor in the Brigham Young University Marriott School of Business. She is also a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research and past director of the NBER Household Finance working group.

Dr. Madrian’s current research focuses on behavioral economics and household finance, with a particular focus on household saving and investment behavior. Her work in this area has impacted the design of employer-sponsored savings plans in the U.S. and has influenced pension reform legislation both in the U.S. and abroad. She is a three-time recipient of the TIAA Paul A. Samuelson Award for Scholarly Research on Lifelong Financial Security.

Sister Madrian has served as Young Women’s President, Relief Society and Primary teacher and especially enjoys playing the piano for Primary. She and Brother Madrian are currently serving in a BYU married student ward where he is the Bishop.

Sister Madrian was born and raised in Provo, Utah. She is married to David Madrian and they have two daughters.
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