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When you think about people who are successful, skillful, or intelligent, how do you think they got there? Did they earn those traits? Were they just lucky or gifted?
Do you consider these traits to be the result of hard work, perseverance, and persistent learning from failure? Or do you believe that skill, intelligence, and success are entirely genetic and that some people are just naturally talented in certain areas, and others aren’t?
These different viewpoints are known as fixed and growth mindsets.
Are you interested in finding out which is which and why it matters?
Let’s take a look at:
- What it means to have a growth mindset
- What a growth mindset is and isn’t
- How a growth mindset differs from a fixed mindset
- 13 steps to developing a growth mindset and manifesting your own success
What does it mean to have a growth mindset?
So, what is a growth mindset?
The growth mindset concept was originally developed by Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck. She introduced the idea to the public in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
In this book, Dweck demonstrates how people (students, in particular) can be divided into two groups. There are those who have a growth mindset and those who have a fixed mindset.
The growth mindset definition is:
People with growth mindsets believe that skill and intelligence are something that people can develop. They believe that while people have inherent qualities and traits, success comes from constant personal development.
The fixed mindset definition is:
By contrast, those with fixed mindsets believe that talent and intelligence are something you either have or you don’t.
That is, some people are good at certain activities, and others excel in different areas. They don’t believe that practice, failure, and strategy development are key to developing talent or intelligence.
What Dweck discusses is that those who do develop a high degree of talent are more often people with a growth mindset.
Interestingly, those with growth mindsets experience greater success and skill development.
It works both ways.
Debunking myths: growth mindset
There is sometimes a lack of clarity for many as to what the growth mindset theory really means.
So, let’s start by debunking some growth mindset myths and discuss a few realities and findings that stem from Dweck's research.
5 growth mindset myths
First, let’s take a look at five common misconceptions about a growth mindset:
1. The mindsets are either/or
When we first learn about growth and fixed mindsets, the tendency is to try and identify with one or the other.
After all, it seems like a binary concept, with just two beliefs to choose from.
The truth is, the mindsets aren’t generally an either/or affair. Most of us sit on a spectrum somewhere in between a growth and a fixed mindset.
2. An organization can have a mindset
Another challenge presented by the growth mindset culture is the myth that organizations can have a mindset.
Inspired leaders often claim that “our organization has a growth mindset.” This typically isn’t true.
Organizations are made of many people, and each individual person has their own mindset.
An organization can seek to foster and develop growth mindsets in the individuals within it as part of its company culture. But a business cannot have a growth mindset in itself.
3. A growth mindset is the same as a positive mindset
A growth mindset is not simply about remaining positive.
Growth mindsets are about believing in the potential for development and that learning a new skill comes from practice and perseverance. It’s not simply from natural talent.
4. Growth mindsets automatically lead to positive results
A growth mindset in itself does not guarantee results. Nor is a person with a fixed mindset excluded from success.
A growth mindset coupled with the motivation to improve, a commitment to personal growth, and time put into developing a skill drives positive results.
5. Everyone has unlimited potential
The truth is that not everyone is capable of absolutely everything.
Some believe that having a growth mindset means that the achievement of anything is possible.
This is inaccurate. Individuals with a growth mindset recognize that their innate ability and limitations play a part as well.
But they also understand that their capacity for achievement does not start and stop with their genetic makeup.
4 growth mindset realities
Now that we have busted some common myths, let’s look at four realities about a growth mindset.
1. Most people are somewhere in between
When Professor Carol Dweck analyzed students' mindsets, she did not identify a purely binary result.
Though most students in the classroom lean strongly toward one side or the other, most were found to have mindsets somewhere in the middle.
They might believe, for example, that their ability to improve at math comes down to teaching strategies and their own attention and commitment to the learning process. But they might also believe that their reading and writing abilities are inherent.
The same observations can be made in the workplace.
2. Growth mindset is more than just effort
Dweck has noticed, as growth mindsets are embraced by the leader and educator alike, that many seem to believe that it all comes down to effort.
Dweck notes that some teachers seem to believe that they can improve a student’s achievement by telling them to try harder. She calls this a ‘false growth mindset.’
Effort is important. But more crucial is a student’s attitude toward learning a new thing and their perspective on failure as a part of the learning process.
3. Not everyone can achieve everything
Each individual has limitations that a growth mindset intervention might help combat but cannot overcome entirely.
The 5’2” 22-year old is unlikely to become a player in the WNBA.
4. Positive results come from a growth mindset and working toward a goal
Growth mindset students and employees are people who understand that positive improvement is possible.
They believe that to achieve their goals, they must:
- View failure as a part of learning
- Put in the time
- Embrace the challenge
- Develop new strategies to overcome each challenge
Working toward a goal without these views is unlikely to elicit positive results. Cultivating a growth mindset won’t do much without putting in the necessary time and practice to develop a new skill.
Growth mindset vs. fixed mindset
We’ve discussed what a growth mindset is. But how is it different from a fixed mindset?
Here are the differences between the two viewpoints:
Perseveres in spite of failure
Gives in when they come up against hardship
Believes that people can increase their intelligence or skills
Believes that intelligence and skills are something you’re born with and can’t develop
Is inspired and motivated by the success of others
Is threatened by the success of others
Wants to learn
Believes they know everything already
Accepts and embraces criticism
Ignores or dismisses criticism
How to develop a growth mindset: 13 tips
Now that we’ve discussed the benefits of a growth mindset, let’s walk through some tips on how you can develop one.
First, we will talk about actions you can take right now, and then we’ll give you some action you’ll need to commit to long-term.
Prepare to develop a growth mindset
Here are seven steps you can take right now to develop a growth mindset:
1. Determine where you sit now
Do you consider yourself more or less in the growth mindset pool, and you’re looking to make sure you stay that way? Or would you describe yourself as having a fixed mindset?
Knowing where you stand to begin with is the first phase. You can’t tell where to go if you don’t know where you are.
2. Explore why you want to develop a growth mindset
What is it about the growth mindset that motivates you to change? What benefits do you see a growth mindset bringing to your life?
Understanding this will give you purpose during the difficult stages of developing this worldview.
3. Find examples of others who have developed a growth mindset
Start talking to your friends, family, and colleagues about the growth mindset. See if anyone you know has also been working on developing one. They might be able to provide some valuable insights.
4. Change your perspective on failure
Start viewing failure not as a sign of inability but as part of the process of learning.
Nobody starts out on any endeavor being the perfect example of the goal. Even the world’s greatest athletes, artists, and business magnates started out as kids with little talent or expertise.
5. Understand your own limitations
Recognize that some things will be beyond what you can achieve. This helps you to set realistic goals. It will help you understand that some endeavors (such as the ones that your genetic makeup is less suited for) will require even more effort.
6. Notice how you speak and act
Notice how you talk about talent and skill. Do you find yourself saying things like, “I’m no good at this” or “She’s just naturally talented”?
Swap those phrases out for “I’m not great at this yet.” and “She’s clearly put in a lot of effort to become so talented.”
Notice how others around you speak and act, and then seek out those who have growth mindsets and foster your relationships with them.
7. Learn about brain plasticity
If you're the kind of person who loves learning about how the human brain works, then consider diving into the world of neuroplasticity.
This will give you a neat physiological perspective on how the growth mindset actually works.
Start cultivating and developing a growth mindset
Once you’ve mastered the above seven steps, it’s time to start adding these growth mindset actions to your repertoire.
1. See your challenges as opportunities
Life will always find a way to throw something difficult at you. Try not to see these challenges as obstacles or setbacks that you dread.
Rather, try to view them more positively. Try to view them as opportunities to overcome something difficult and grow as a result. The more difficult the challenge, the greater the opportunity for learning and growth.
2. Reflect each day on what you’ve failed at (and learned from)
Many of us spend some time at the end of the day reflecting on our successes. While this is a valuable habit, try adding a couple of minutes to reflect on the areas where things didn’t go as well. What did you learn from that experience? The point isn't to dwell or beat yourself up but to recognize and lock in the learning.
3. Stop seeking approval from others
When we seek the approval of others, we take on the wrong objective. We start taking being right as our goal, rather than learning and growing. Become aware of the difference. Pause to recognize when you are pursuing approval rather than growth and remind yourself, kindly, to stop seeking approval from others. You’ll find that you become more comfortable with the daily failures that come with stretching.
4. Identify opportunities to celebrate the success of others
When others around you succeed, celebrate! More than this, get curious about what made them successful. Even better, ask them. Connect with others to understand what actions they took and how they approached the challenge to get there.
5. Focus on rewarding actions, not traits
You can help others develop a growth mindset, too, by praising their efforts and actions rather than their inherent traits.
For example, if your child brings home a stellar result on their pop quiz, appropriate praise would sound like, “Wow, you did so well, you must have put a lot of effort into studying,” rather than, “Wow, you did so well, you must be very smart.”
6. Start using the word "yet" more often
This is a simple one. Whenever you catch yourself thinking “I’m not very good at this,” add the word "yet":
“I’m not very good at this yet.”
Do you have a fixed or growth mindset?
Now that you’ve learned about growth mindsets and fixed mindsets, which camp do you feel you fit into?
If you identify with the growth mindset concept, great! You’re well on your way to developing your own talents. Spend some time reflecting on areas where your mindset might be more fixed, though, as most of us are a blend of the two.
If you feel like you’re more of a fixed mindset person, then the next question to ask yourself is: “Is this something I want to change?”
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