Top 3 ways to kick off the Growth Mindset revolution

This blog was first published in the members section of the ILP Institute for Learning Professionals Australiasia website.

Our mindset is what makes us optimistic or pessimistic. It shapes our attitude and it is the ultimate factor which determines our success or failure. The theories we have about our own intelligence have a significant impact on our motivation, effort, and approach to challenges. If we believe we can get smarter, we understand that determination makes us stronger. We therefore put in extra time and effort which leads to higher achievements. If on the other hand, we constantly try to prove ourselves and are sensitive to being wrong or making mistakes, our confidence gets destroyed, we feel anxious and are vulnerable to setbacks or criticism. Over 30 years ago, Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck created the terms fixed mindset and growth mindset to describe the underlying beliefs people have about learning and intelligence.

In a fixed mindset, you believe that your basic qualities, like your intelligence or talent, are carved in stone. Because you believe that talent alone creates success, you can’t simply accept to be deficient in these most basic characteristics, which creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over, and to showcase your intelligence or talent instead of further developing it. Your entire focus is on performance, and proving your ability.

A growth mindset, on the other hand, creates a passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval. If you have a growth mindset, you believe that the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. You believe that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts and practice, and that your talents and abilities can be improved and developed. You thrive on challenge and see failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a stepping stone for growth and for stretching your existing abilities. In fact, you don’t see yourself as failing - you see yourself as learning. Your focus is on the process you follow, and IMproving your ability.

Let’s compare the two mindsets side by side, along with some examples.

Fixed Mindset   Growth Mindset  
(Intelligence is static) (Intelligence can be developed)
  Examples Examples
You believe that achieving what you set out to do is about your ability and how smart you are. The effort you put in won’t make any difference. Hard work + effort = lack of ability You believe that you can grow your brain’s abilities to achieve what you set out to do through hard work and effort to learn new things. Hard work + effort = achievement
Proving If I make a mistake, it proves that I am dumb. Improving If I make a mistake, I know that I need to put in more effort to improve my skills.
Avoiding challenges It wasn’t my fault
I’m too busy
Embracing challenges I was wrong
I need to work harder
Seeing effort as fruitless Why change Seeing effort as the path to mastery A better way
Feeling threatened by the success of others I am not as bad as… Finds lessons and inspiration in the success of others I am good and I can get better.

 

People with fixed mindsets may plateau early and achieve less than their full potential – in other words, they stop. People with growth mindsets reach ever higher levels of achievements and have a greater sense of free will, or in other words, they start again, and again, and again. People with this mindset don’t believe that anyone can be anything, for example that anyone with proper motivation or education can become Einstein or Beethoven. But they do believe that a person’s true potential will be revealed after years of passion, work, training and learning.

 

So, what is the best way to get started with your mindset revolution? Let’s go through a couple of ways to develop a growth mindset:

Acknowledge your fixed mindset in action

Unfortunately, fixed mindset tendencies in ourselves don’t come with a label attached to them. But they do reveal themselves when we are about to quit trying, or avoid something that we know is good for us. These are the moments that we suddenly feel bored, tired, anxious, uncomfortable or even hungry, and want to stop trying or taking the necessary action.

These feelings may indeed be valid, but before you take them at face value and give in to them, assume a growth mindset and honestly question your reaction to that particular situation. If it is your fixed mindset at work, try to plan around these situations by breaking your goals into smaller pieces, and giving yourself a reasonable amount of time to accomplish them.

Process instead of performance

Just because you need to improve in an area does not mean you have failed. It means that you are on the right track, you’re just not quite there yet. Thomas Edison, the famous inventor and business man, brought it to the point in a 1921 interview with the American Magazine:

“After we had conducted thousands of experiments on a certain project without solving the problem, one of my associates, after we had conducted the crowning experiment and it had proved a failure, expressed discouragement and disgust over our having failed to find out anything. I cheerily assured him that we had learned something. For we had learned for a certainty that the thing couldn’t be done that way, and that we would have to try some other way.”

Thomas Edison definitely valued IMPROVING rather than PROVING.

Action over ability

Stop believing in your limitations. For example, if you think that you simply suck at being organised, that you are a natural procrastinator and that there is no help for you, then you are very much limiting your personal development and waste a good part of your life, simply by not trying to improve. If we put an emphasis on making an effort and taking action to achieve something, rather than on the end result, we encourage more action (and eventually success).

 

In order to develop a growth mindset, you have to be willing and committed to changing your beliefs about what you are able to do. You cannot stay wrapped up in the idea that you were born with all of your talents and abilities, and have no room to grow. The view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value. And it is your daily actions that support and over time change the perception of yourself.

“Dare to make a difference!”

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