What we think of ourselves and how we see our own potential shapes how successful we’ll be.
The mindset that we’re in makes all the difference between seeing the glass half full or half empty. The concept of the “growth mindset” versus the “fixed mindset” was made famous by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. The book is based on her many years of research into how changing our beliefs (even the smallest ones) can completely change our lives.
A fixed mindset assumes that everything about us (our intelligence, creative abilities, etc.) are fixed and can’t be changed no matter how much we want to. People with this type of mindset do anything to avoid failure and they’re so focused on appearing smart/knowledgeable. They’ll avoid challenges, question themselves frequently, and give up easily. Many people that are insecure have this mindset (including myself). As a result of these insecurities and this mindset, people plateau early on, rarely reaching their full potential.
A growth mindset, on the other hand, is the opposite of this. They gladly accept challenges, are eager to learn, and never give up. They’re completely focused on personal growth and continuous improvement. As a result, they end up achieving much more in life.
These mindsets form in us from an early age and affect our personal and professional relationships, our attitude towards failure, and ultimately our happiness.
Here is how Dweck explains it in her book:
For twenty years, my research has shown that 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.
Believing that your qualities are carved in stone — the fixed mindset — creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only 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…
Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated:Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser?
There’s another mindset in which these traits are not simply a hand you’re dealt and have to live with, always trying to convince yourself and others that you have a royal flush when you’re secretly worried it’s a pair of tens. 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…
Do people with this mindset believe that anyone can be anything, that anyone with proper motivation or education can become Einstein or Beethoven? No, but they believe that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training.
The key difference is that people with a growth mindset don’t actually see themselves as failing in those situations — they see themselves as learning. It’s this constant fear of failure that holds people with a fixed mindset back. It’s the insecurity of always wondering how you’re being perceived.
Having a fixed mindset can have profound impacts in the workplace as well, even with employee feedback.
How these mindsets affect employee feedback
Where her research gets particularly interesting is in how these two mindsets handle feedback. She invited people back to her lab to study how the brain reacted to receiving feedback after answering difficult questions. What she found was that people with a fixed mindset would tune out information that could help them improve. Even worse, they wouldn’t listen to the right answer if they got a question wrong, because they had already filed it away under the “failure” category. They had already given up.
On the other hand, those with a growth mindset were attentive to information that could help them expand their existing knowledge and were actively seeking feedback, even if they got an answer wrong - they saw it as an opportunity to learn and grow.
Again, the focus for those with a growth mindset is on growth, whereas those with a fixed mindset, the focus was on failure.
This is interesting to understand if you’re thinking about how an employee might react to feedback, but what about leaders?
I could easily see this being a huge problem in many companies, where employees aren’t getting the guidance they deserve.
I’m reminded of the famous psychology experiment by Robert Rosenthal in 1964 involving teachers at an elementary school.
The experiment was to see what would happen if teachers were told that certain students were destined to succeed.
Rosenthal took a regular IQ test and put a fake cover page on it that said “Harvard Test of Inflected Acquisition”. The teachers were told that this test had the ability to predict which kids were going to experience a growth in their IQ.
He then chose students at random and told the teachers that these kids were experiencing a growth in IQ.
“If teachers had been led to expect greater gains in IQ, then increasingly, those kids gained more IQ,” he said.
His research found that expectations affect teachers’ daily interactions with the children. Teachers give the students that they expect to succeed more time to answer questions and more specific feedback.
This is an important lesson for all managers.
So then the obvious question becomes, how do you develop a growth mindset? I’ll share a few tips, but more than anything, it starts by building up your own confidence.
It all starts with confidence
A few months ago, I wrote a post called Why confidence is the secret to success in lifewhere I explained how lack of confidence holds us back from so much in life. If you can learn how to build up that confidence you’ll set yourself up for developing a growth mindset. The key is to get yourself out of that mindset of insecurity. It’s much easier said than done, but if you can learn that failure is okay, you’ll be set.
From all the research I’ve done for this post, the root of that fixed mindset is not thinking highly enough of yourself. It’s important to be able to build up that self confidence by doing things to make yourself better, like exercise, thinking positively, meditation, etc.
5 Ways to develop a growth mindset
Like I mentioned, I really believe that all of this starts by building up your confidence, but here are some other ways that you can develop a growth mindset.
1. Talk back to yourself
People with a fixed mindset will often go through a discussion with themselves in their heads. “Can I really do this? What happens if you screw up? Will everyone laugh?” Learn how to shut that voice up. Talk back and tell yourself that of course you can do it, and no one is going to laugh at you, that’s silly.
2. Look at the glass as half full
Remember that in life, you always have two choices. When you fail at something you can see it as a failure or you can see it as an opportunity, it’s up to you. Try to find something positive in every setback.
3. Celebrate small wins
Understand that everything is a learning process, celebrate small wins with yourself and remind yourself how much you’re learning. You’ll slowly train yourself to develop a mindset of always growing and learning.
4. Set realistic expectations
It’s important to set realistic expectations for yourself. Maybe the goals you’re setting aren’t the right ones or are way too ambitious, setting yourself up for failure. As you lock in some quick wins, you’ll continue to build up that confidence.
5. Exercise your mind
Doing exercise, yoga, or meditation is a great way to keep yourself calm and mentally strong. Being mentally strong will help you build up that confidence and see things clearer, helping you develop that growth mindset.
Any tips for developing a Growth Mindset?