Last week I wrote about what it takes to fail forward by learning from your mistakes. Part of being able to do that involves having a growth mindset. This week we are going to talk more in depth about what a growth mindset is, why it’s important, and how you can cultivate it.
GROWTH MINDSET DEFINED
The opposite of a growth mindset is a fixed mindset. However, these two concepts are on a spectrum, not just two sides of a coin. To have a completely fixed mindset is to believe that you cannot grow or improve.
For example, you might believe that good public speakers are born not created. In this mindset you would assume that if you watched someone speak and they were not particularly good at it, it simply wasn’t possible for them to do much to change that.
On the opposite end of this spectrum is the growth mindset. This is the belief that you have the ability to change and grow. Therefore if you started out being a nervous and inarticulate speaker, you could take classes or join Toastmasters and become a better speaker. You believe you have the opportunity for growth if you apply yourself.
Not only are these ideas on a spectrum, according to the current thought leader on the topic, Carol Dweck, it’s also likely that you can have different beliefs on different areas. Maybe you think that you can grow and improve in your technology skills, but as far as your cooking skills go, you figure you’re hopeless.
Now I’m not saying we don’t all have our own innate skills and abilities. Some are born to be great runners while others have the pipes of an opera singer. A growth mindset doesn’t mean that you believe that you can be GREAT at everything, but it does mean that you believe you can improve.
There are many benefits to having a growth mindset — including improved mental health. As I discussed in my last article, failure can be viewed in two lights. Either you failed because you suck at math and you’re never going to be any good at it (fixed) or you failed because you need to study and focus more (growth).
The first option would make anyone feel pretty dismal about their chances of ever passing a math test. If you internalize the failure by blaming who you are and how you’re made, it’s probably going to take a solid toll on your self esteem.
However, if you look at as just needing to study more and perhaps get a tutor, that doesn’t say anything about who you are as a person. It’s simply an action step that you need to take so that you can improve.
If you were to stop internalizing all your failures and start looking at them as opportunities for growth, imagine how much your mental health might improve.
People with a fixed mindset tend to only explore concepts or topics that they feel comfortable with. For example, if you had a fixed mindset and were totally in to science and math, but felt that you could never draw, you would probably avoid art altogether in attempt to avoid failure.
However, people with a growth mindset tend to be okay with not being very good at things, and are comfortable with being a beginner. This means that they try things in areas that are outside their main “genius zone”. By doing this they are more likely to come up with novel ideas by crossing into other disciplines.
Think about Apple products. People don’t just buy them because of their processing speed and retina displays. There’s always an eye on the physical design of the product. When Apple designs a product they cross into other disciplines to gain inspiration which leads to their technology being designed in a new and interesting ways.
If you’ve ever been in a toxic work environment where everyone is trying to one-up each other, then you know what it’s like to work in a fixed mindset. When many fixed mindsets get together there comes a culture where workers are viewed as commodities rather than unique individuals.
In this environment each person believes that they must prove that they are better than someone else to get ahead. After if you don’t believe that you can grow or improve, then the only way to get ahead is to show that you’re better or that someone else is worse.
This also means that no one wants to collaborate with anyone else unless they can steal ideas and pass them off as their own. Many of us have worked for a boss who has taken credit for our ideas or work. This is a fixed mindset in action.
However, in an environment where growth is the primary belief you will find collaborators. These people want to learn from each other and use each other to grow. In this case, you understand that even though your office mate might be better at technology than you are, that doesn’t mean that you can’t improve in that area. This eliminates the jealousy and backstabbing that comes with a fixed mindset culture.
IDENTIFYING A FIXED MINDSET
As I said above you could have a growth mindset in one area and a fixed mindset in another area. Sometimes it’s hard to identify our own feelings because we live in our heads and we hear ourselves say the same things all the time — and we rarely stop to question those thoughts.
To help you catch yourself in fixed mindset thinking, below is a list of feelings and thoughts that you should analyze should they arise.
If you’re in a situation and you feel defensive or threatened by another person, you might be in a fixed mindset. Now I don’t mean someone-has-a-gun-to-you threatened, I mean if a new employee is hired and they have a different skill set than you. If you start to feel that this person may one up you or replace you, a fixed mindset might be in charge. Adopting a growth mindset would help you see that any skills that they have, you are capable of improving yourself — and this new person might even be the one to teach you how.
There are a lot of reasons behind wanting to avoid failure (hello perfectionism!). Certainly no one enjoys it, but if you will do anything to avoid it, that’s something to be mindful about. For example, if the reason that you won’t do presentations at work is because you believe you can’t speak in front of others, that’s a fixed mindset. Moving towards a growth mindset will allow you to see that you could improve your speaking skills and therefore take on a presentation.
When you make mistakes or fail at something, what do you say to yourself? If you are talking to someone and something you totally didn’t mean to say falls out of your mouth, what’s the language of the backlash in your head?
Do you say “why am I so stupid? Only an idiot says things like that!” or is it more “I really need figure out how to be more careful of what I say. Saying stuff like that isn’t getting me anywhere!”
In the first example you’ve internalized the mistake. To you the mistake you made is a reflection of who you are to the core. In the second example, the mistake is a reflection of how you act right now, not necessarily who you are as a person.
Internalizing mistakes and failures is a warning flag of a fixed mindset.
DEVELOPING A GROWTH MINDSET
Now that you’ve identified where your mindset could use some improvement, try some of these ideas to help you switch your thinking.
- Remember that it’s your effort that helps you improve. Sure you might not be a prodigy right out of the gate, but let’s face it, most people aren’t. That just means that with effort you’ll see great improvement.
- Pay attention to your failures. Don’t just give up when you fail, notice where they were, why they happened. Then use that to help you decide where to focus your energy to continue to grow.
- Get feedback. Very little growth happens in a vacuum. While you can certainly learn to do something on your own, it’s amazing how much faster growth happens with someone else giving you feedback and guidance.
- Embrace learning. Don’t be afraid to be a beginner — embrace those learning opportunities. By following your curiosity you will witness first hand your potential for growth. Then use that to remind yourself that growth in all areas is possible.
- Keep going. Life is hard, right? But the choices are to give up and never really get anywhere, or keep going until you reach your goal. At some point, even things that you are super excited to do will get hard. But by pushing through the hard times and working through failures and set backs, you will have no choice but to grow in order to reach your goal. Commit to something realistic — even if it’s a small step — and don’t stop until you get there.
- Be inspired by others. As hard as it is sometimes to see someone else doing what you desperately want to do, try to switch from jealousy to feeling inspired. If someone else has had success in an area, they are simply demonstrating to you that what you want is totally possible.
If you’re struggling with your mindset, contact me here. I can help you figure out what’s stopping you from moving forward by helping you change the way you think.