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5 Tips For Cultivating a Growth Mindset

(posted: October 28th, 2019)

What are you bad at? Do you tell yourself that you are not good at public speaking, or that you don't have the patience to read more, or that you simply can't handle conflict?

When you are assigned a new project at work, do you think, "Oh no, I can't do this! I've never headed up a big project. I'm not qualified, I don't know how to manage a team of people."

Or do you say, "Okay, how can I make this work? Who can I bring in to help? What do I need to learn in order to bring this project in successfully?"

How do you react when your boss sits you down after several weeks on the above project and tells you it's not going well?

Do you beat yourself up, admit that you knew you weren't talented or skilled enough for the job, or decide that your boss has no idea of what's involved, anyway, and then spend the rest of the day complaining or sulking?

Or do you take an honest look at how things have been going and ask your boss for specific, constructive feedback so that you can figure out how to improve, and then get moving?

The way you think, your mindset, influences how you succeed.

Carol Dweck, Stanford professor and author of ""Mindset: The New Psychology of Success identified these different approaches to life as "fixed mindset" and "growth mindset". Success in school, work, sports, the arts, and almost every other area you can think of is influenced by how we think about our talents and abilities.

"I derive just as much happiness from the process as from the results. I don't mind losing as long as I see improvement...If I lose, I just go back to the track and work some more."
~ Jackie Joyner-Kersee

From Carol Dweck:

Fixed Mindset is:
"Believing that your qualities are carved in stone - the fixed mindset - creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you only have a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character -- well, then you'd better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn't do to look deficient in these most basic characteristics."

Growth Mindset is:
"In this mindset, the hand you're dealt is just the starting point for development. This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way -- in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments -- everyone can change and grow through application and exercise."

How Do You Know Which Mindset You Have?

Which of the statements in the lists below describe you?

Fixed Mindset Beliefs include:

  • I'm only good at certain things
  • I dislike and avoid challenges for fear of not being smart or talented enough.
  • I lose interest when a task gets harder.
  • I take feedback or criticism personally.
  • I get discouraged after one setback, rejection, or failure.
  • I give up easily.

Growth Mindset Beliefs include:

  • I can be good at anything.
  • I try until I get the results I want.
  • I seek challenges and thrive under pressure.
  • I'm more motivated when things get hard.
  • I'm curious and like learning things I don't know.
  • I believe that hard work is essential because natural talent isn't enough.

We Can Have Both Mindsets

If you are thinking, "Wait, what if I sometimes believe things from the first list, and sometimes from the second list?" you are not alone.

Most of us combine both mindsets. Perhaps you tend to approach work with a growth mindset and a can-do attitude, yet in your personal life you tend towards a fixed mindset. I have a client who often reacts to failures and challenges with a fixed mindset initially, but after a bit she talks herself into the growth mindset ("This isn't the end of the world. I just need to try again.") and gets back to work.

Here's the really good news -- You can change your mindset! It's never too late to change to a growth mindset, though it does require a little awareness, a willingness to shift your perspective, and some work.

"Watch your thoughts, they become your words. Watch your words, they become your actions. Watch your actions, they become your habits. Watch your habits, they become your character. Watch your character, it becomes your destiny."
~ Lao Tzu

Tips to Help You Cultivate a Growth Mindset

Acknowledge and embrace imperfections.
Hiding from your weaknesses means you'll never overcome them. Besides, perfection isn't a real option.

View challenges as opportunities.
Start small. Take a minor difficulty and test-drive a different perspective. What would happen if you spent some time trying to figure out how to overcome this difficulty? Write a list of possible solutions, noting down whatever comes to mind, from the practical to the crazy. Do any of them seem feasible? If you were to learn something new, would that allow you to surmount this obstacle?

Replace the word "failing" with the word "learning."
Start shifting your thinking about failures. They may seem bad, or negative, or catastrophic, but once you're past the moment failures can teach you a lot. Give some thought to a particular "failure" and identify what you might do differently now that you know what doesn't work.

"People with a growth mind-set feel smart when they're learning, not when they're flawless."
~ Peter Bregman

Emphasize growth over speed.
Learning fast isn't the same as learning well, and learning well sometimes requires allowing time for mistakes. There is nothing wrong with making mistakes, just do it quickly, learn from it, and move forward.

Reframe criticism as positive.
You don't have to used the term, "constructive criticism," but believe in the concept. Start by assuming that whoever is offering the feedback probably has your best interests in mind to some extent, or they wouldn't bother. Work past the feelings of being attacked, then go back and ask for specifics. What isn't working and what can you do to improve?

Use the word "yet" liberally.
Carol Dweck often says that "not yet" has become one of her favorite phrases, and I tend to agree. Whenever you (or a teammate, or a direct report, or even a friend) are struggling with something remind yourself that you haven't mastered it, yet.

Cultivate grit.
That extra bit of determination and resilience will help you keep going when your old, fixed mindset threatens to return. I highly recommend reading Angela Duckworth's book, ''Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance''. This link give you different options to buy the book, plus access to her "grit scale", a quick, fun way to see how "gritty" you are!

Finally, keep in mind that your mindset is more habit than anything else, and it takes time and effort to change a habit. If you are willing to simply recognize that maybe you can change the way you see your skills and abilities, you've taken the biggest step. You've started.

Keep trying. When you catch yourself falling back into the mindset that says you can't change or grow or be anything more than you are right now, take out this list and read it again.

"Whether you think you can, or you think you can't, you're right."
~ Henry Ford

Challenge Yourself
  • Thinking about your colleagues, direct reports, or superiors, can you identify those with a fixed mindset and those with a growth mindset?
  • What about you? In which situations do you have a fixed mindset? In which situations do you have a growth mindset?
  • Have you increased your growth mindset over time? If so, what tactics did you use? Please share in the comments so that we can all learn!
  • If all of this is new to you, what one technique do you want to start with to cultivate your own growth mindset?

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