What is a growth mindset? Why do some athletes take on challenges while others stay in their comfort zone? Why do some seem to jump back from failures so well, while others are debilitated by setbacks? And, what are the keys to develop a growth mindset?
Why do we sometimes choose to pad our schedules with easy wins and avoid the challenging and evenly matched opponent? Or, hide from presenting at annual meetings or convention?
I am sure the answer to these questions are varied and complex, but one of my favorite books in the last 5 years, Mindset by Carol Dweck, provides insight into these questions.
Dweck, a Stanford Psychologist, uses the construct of mindsets to study achievement and success. In the book she describes two distinct types of mindsets, the growth and the fixed.
I have read some of her work in the past, mostly as interviews, but this simple paradigm was a real “aha” for me.
I saw myself in this book, as well as, many of the athletes and teammates from my past.
The two mindsets, fixed and growth.
In the “fixed mindset” an individual perceives herself to be already established and permanent, or as Dweck says, “carved in stone.”
You either believe you are smart or that you are not. Talented or not. Creative or not and so on.
If you are stuck with a fixed mindset you believe you are who you are. You must always be either proving yourself or hiding your flaws and limitations. Failure can be debilitating. There is little hope for improvement.
On the other hand, the growth mindset, indicates you believe you can improve and grow with effort.
As Dweck asserts, “The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset.”
Setbacks motivate this person. He believes he can get better and conquer the challenge.
“Grow Your Mindset.”
Dweck makes the case that you can change your mindset.
Each chapter ends with a section titled “Grow Your Mindset” intended to help in the transition from fixed to growth.
She asserts that you may go back and forth between the two in your lifetime based on your experiences, including success.
You may have a fixed mindset in one area of your life, like your relationships, but a growth mindset in another, perhaps your career.
She breaks the book into different disciplines: art, sports, relationships etc.
From my point of view the weakest section is on sports. It feels a bit shallow. I imagine an artist will feel the same in that chapter and a business leader in the chapter devoted to business.
I found some of the most valuable information in the book on the chapter on teachers. For example, her section titled “Which is the enemy success or failure?” she considers the possibility that success leads to the fixed mindset.
Is she opposed to winning then?
No, but she is wary and includes this reminder:
“Beware of success. It can knock you into a fixed mindset. “I won because I have talent. Therefore I will keep winning.” Success can infect a team or it can infect an individual. Alex Rodriguez, one of the best players in baseball, is not infected with success. “You never stay the same,” he says, “You either go one way or the other.”
False Growth Mindset
Since the original publication Dweck has also updated her research to include the concept of false growth mindset. It’s not enough to just try hard, but we are still looking to put our efforts towards growth, learning and effectiveness.
Dweck elaborated on the idea of growth mindset in an interview in the Atlantic where she included an explanation of false growth mindset
False growth mindset is saying you have growth mindset when you don’t really have it or you don’t really understand [what it is]. It’s also false in the sense that nobody has a growth mindset in everything all the time. Everyone is a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets. …So I think we all, students and adults, have to look for our fixed-mindset triggers and understand when we are falling into that mindset. … To find out that teachers were using it in the same way was of great concern to me. The whole idea of growth-mindset praise is to focus on the learning process. When you focus on effort, [you have to] show how effort created learning progress or success.
In the News
I saw this example of how to develop a growth mindset the other night on the news.
Did you catch the PBS segment about Patrice Banks who learned to be a mechanic well into adulthood?
That seems like a pretty impressive accomplishment in its own right.
She then started her own shop targeted at women customers and staffed exclusively by women.
“It was rough, this dirty garage with a bunch of men that don’t care, cursing, screaming, yelling at me. But, again, I kept telling myself, like, Patrice, you’re on a mission here. Right? This is just growth, you’re learning. You’re not here for these people, right? You’re here for women and you’re here to learn.”
If you are like me, we speak a lot about how to develop a growth mindset to our teams or people we are coaching so it’s good to be able to give them a real-life picture of what we are talking about. This PBS segment is a great out-of -sports example to show them of growth mindset at its benefits.
Here’s another — the Glass Hammer, a career resource for professional women, published an article a few years back that gives other examples of ways to develop a growth mindset.
- Be open to big opportunities
- Focus on your purpose
- Learn from challenges
In addition, Dweck uses a technique where she inserts the word yet into any skill that she is in the process of learning. If we take an example above, we might say “I’m not a mechanic yet” reminding ourselves that we are on our way.
These resonate with the book and remind us that we can develop a growth mindset and that it is well worth our time.
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