We’ve all heard the stories. You know, the ones where individuals have overcome great adversity to find great success in their lives. There are, of course, famous people such as Oprah who came from a poor family environment to achieve great wealth and success. There are also everyday examples where individuals had a “can do” attitude and were able to make it despite the odds. A child who was homeless who eventually graduated from an Ivy League school or a student who had significant learning disabilities who eventually become the graduating class’ valedictorian. Have you ever thought what do these individuals have that I don’t? Well, thanks to Dr. Carol Dweck, author of the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, we now have a language and framework as to how some individuals manage to succeed, while others don’t, despite their unfavorable circumstances.
Growth versus Fixed Mindset
A Growth Mindset is a fundamental belief in one’s ability to learn, continually develop and succeed. Moreover, a person who has a Growth Mindset is one who embraces challenges, is resilient when faced with obstacles and learns from criticism and failure. They are inspired, not intimidated, by the success of others and will take the added effort to learn from those individuals so they too can have success. Failure for someone with a growth mindset is seen as a good thing because it provides a platform for significant learning.
Conversely, someone with a Fixed Mindset is generally a static individual. They tend to believe that their intelligence and capability is fixed. He or she avoids challenges and may give up easily, feeling threatened by others. And, they are typically uncomfortable with constructive criticism. Above all, a fixed mindset individual will avoid failure at all costs as their tendency is to maintain an illusion of success and intelligence.
The Business Case for Growth Mindset
Imagine a business culture where you, as an employee or leader, didn’t feel that you needed to constantly prove yourself and/or hide your flaws and failures. You weren’t paralyzed with fear that someone may find out that you aren’t as smart, competent or interesting as you alluded in your interview process. This culture would encourage innovation and risk-taking. Most importantly, this type of environment would recognize that all things can be improved and all employees can grow, learn, develop and flourish.
In today’s complex world of constant change, all employees need a Growth Mindset mentality. As competitive as our markets have become, we all have a role to play to ensure our organizations are successful. By having a Growth Mindset, organizations can get un-stuck and achieve high levels of business and professional success.
As we learn more about having a Growth Mindset, we are able to recognize the organizational benefit of having strong Growth Mindset leaders. Recent research has suggested that leaders with a Growth Mindset tend to make better coaches to their employees, recognize employee successes and generally promote the notion of continuous improvement. Successful 21st-century leaders are ones where they demonstrate a Growth Mindset. These types of leaders are willing to grow, develop and change and must embody this mindset for their followers.
The Growth/Fixed Mindset Continuum
So, what if you are reading this article and thinking to yourself “yikes, I’m a fixed mindset type of person” and thinking these strategies simply won’t apply. First, the good news is that anyone has the capacity to develop a Growth Mindset. Secondly, I tend to think that in different circumstances, scenarios or contexts, all of us may tend to fall along the spectrum of growth versus fixed mindset.
I vividly remember my first month of my Ph.D. program and thinking that starting this program was a big mistake for me. I even went as far as to go to my advisor and tell her that I felt I didn’t have the intellectual prowess to be in a Ph.D. program. And, yes, at that point in time, I was clearly demonstrating a Fixed Mindset.
On the other end of the spectrum, I launched my Growth Mindset in high gear when I signed up for the San Diego 5K Turkey Trot. Anyone close to me can attest to my limited athletic abilities and thus, could fully appreciate why I was terrified at the notion of running this race. None the less, prior to the race, I mentally told myself that I was going to run the entire race and I could do it! Essentially, I was a modern version of the Little Engine that Could with the mantra of “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can”. And, I made it to the finish line in a slow but steady jog!
5 Strategies for a Growth Mindset
(1) Develop Self Awareness-To begin your process of moving towards a Growth Mindset, you have to become aware of the triggers for you that draw you to a Fixed Mindset. Perhaps you tend to become closed or static when you feel threatened or when you feel insecure. Be astutely aware of the language that you may be using that reinforces a Fixed Mindset such as “I can’t” or “It’s too big of a risk”. By fully understanding those triggers that are directly connected to you, you can start unlearning and then relearning from the lens of Growth.
(2) Be Willing to Think Differently-You need to start by challenging one key belief about yourself that you have long held near and dear to your heart. That narrative that has played over and over again in your head about “x” is now fully entrenched so you have to be intentional about changing this belief. In some ways, we all tend to judge ourselves and think we don’t measure up-whether that be in a professional or personal setting. Once you’ve fully identified those areas for yourself, be willing to give up on that belief as a precursor to developing a Growth Mindset.
(3) Start Exercising Your Brain for Growth-Our brains are like a muscle. We need to exercise that muscle for it to get stronger and improve. Through the process of learning (essentially bringing the unconscious incompetence into consciousness and then back to unconscious competence), we can begin to train our brain to think in a Growth Mindset. This “relearning” if you will, begins with how we think about developing ourselves and our perceptions of failure. The voice in our heads that once spoke of an inability to do things will now start saying “it’s possible” and “most successful people have failure”, etc..
(4) Be Action-Oriented Around Growth-Take the risk to learn something new or apply for a job outside of your comfort zone. Most of us tend to think quite small about ourselves and our capabilities. We have been trained that there is one right way and have been told many times throughout childhood that we were wrong. It will take time to uncondition these thought processes but once you start taking steps towards Growth and then having successes, your confidence will improve.
(5) Anticipate Setbacks, Roadblocks, and Detours Ahead-The path to changing any behavior can be arduous and frustrating. So, it is healthy to celebrate the successful changes that we may make at any given time and use a Growth Mindset when we have failures (i.e. Recognizing this as an opportunity to learn). I am pleased to announce that I successfully completed my Ph.D. with many setbacks along the way but I can also confess that despite my Growth Mindset as it related to my Turkey Trot 5k, that was the last one that I completed. For me, Growth and Fixed Mindset has shown up regularly and I suspect, it will be something that I will always be seeking to improve. Ultimately, it is important to acknowledge the progress to achievement of your goal and this progress may present itself in varied and erratic ways. Celebrate those accomplishments and be willing to learn from areas where you show up as “Fixed”. Ultimately, Growth Mindset is about learning, continually improving and recognizing the power of “Not Yet” as in not yet complete.
Suzanne is an author, consultant, wife, mom and life-long learner whose passion is to work with others in their learning journey.