Discover the power of a Growth mindset

What if there were a fundamental but simple shift that you could make that would inspire you, allow you to do more than you ever thought possible and drive you to long term success?  There is such a thing, but you might think that it sounds too basic to really make a difference.

Have you ever heard anyone say:

  • “I’ll never be able to figure out all of that technology stuff, I’m just not wired that way.”
  • “That guy is just a natural when it comes to selling!”
  • “My kids are really smart – I tell them that all the time.”

These are all examples of a fixed mindset – a dangerous (and common) situation that ultimately leads to failure, frustration and generally not reaching your potential.

Want to learn how to avoid this trap?  Read on!

It all starts with your mindset – Mindset:  a habitual or characteristic mental attitude that determines how you will interpret and respond to situations.

Your mindset is the lens that you see everything through – is that a problem or an opportunity?  Is the glass half empty or half full?  Am I talented/smart/gifted at something or not?  It may seem cliché, but there has been a lot of scientific research that explains and validates why your mindset can so powerfully affect what you do.  This isn’t a gimmick or wishful thinking (I’m talking to you “Secret”).  Your brain is complex and capable of amazing things, including potentially holding you back – but by looking at things with a different perspective you can start doing more now!

Mindset by Carol Dweck, Ph.D.

A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to work with Valerie Burke who recommended the book Mindset by Carol S. Dweck Ph.D.  Valerie is using Mindset (along with several other sources) for a lot of the training and speaking that she does – and I highly recommend it as a practical way to learn more about what makes you (and the rest of us tick) and how to do something about it.

Through years of research and working with students, athletes and business executives, Carol Dweck – a Stanford psychologist has clarified that people operate under 1 of 2 specific mindsets when it comes to learning and progression – a Fixed mindset or a Growth mindset.

The fixed mindset says that your talents and abilities are set in stone – you are as smart or as talented as your abilities enable you to be.  It’s not about working hard, it’s about using the fixed abilities that you already have.  In fact if you have to work at it, if it doesn’t come naturally then it’s not an ability you have and you’re wasting your time.

The growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities (including intelligence and other talents) can be cultivated and developed over time.  With hard work and effort, you can get better…at anything!  Your potential is unknown (and unknowable) but if your focus is growth and learning new things, you will constantly be improving.

The trap with the fixed mindset is that it not only tends to keep people from realizing their potential but it also keeps them from really trying new things – i.e. I’ve never been good at art (or music, sports, games, technology, etc.) so there’s no point in even trying to learn how to do to that, it’s not one of my talents.

Here’s a quote from “The Secret to raising Smart Kids” – an article in Scientific American that explains this better than I can:

Our society worships talent, and many people assume that possessing superior intelligence or ability—along with confidence in that ability—is a recipe for success. In fact, however, more than 30 years of scientific investigation suggests that an overemphasis on intellect or talent leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unwilling to remedy their shortcomings.

Just like a sports team can’t afford to buy into their press clippings, assuming your success because you are talented will cause problems in the long run.

On the other hand, a growth mindset encourages a much healthier long term outlook – here’s a quote from Stanford magazine article called the ‘The Effort Effect”:

Leaders, too, can benefit from Dweck’s work, says Robert Sternberg, PhD ’75, Tufts University’s dean of the School of Arts and Sciences. Sternberg, a past president of the American Psychological Association, says that excessive concern with looking smart keeps you from making bold, visionary moves. “If you’re afraid of making mistakes, you’ll never learn on the job, and your whole approach becomes defensive: ‘I have to make sure I don’t screw up.’”

The growth mindset is about constantly improving and getting it right in the long run – not just focusing on the next outcome.

You can change your mindset!

The good news is that ultimately everyone has the ability to change out their mindset – as with any habit, it will take some hard work and focus over a period of time, but it is possible to change.

This is especially important when it comes to working with kids – here’s an excerpt from an article in the New Yorker “How Not to Talk to Your Kids”.

When parents praise their children’s intelligence, they believe they are providing the solution to this problem. According to a survey conducted by Columbia University, 85 percent of American parents think it’s important to tell their kids that they’re smart.

But a growing body of research—and a new study from the trenches of the New York public-school system—strongly suggests it might be the other way around. Giving kids the label of “smart” does not prevent them from underperforming. It might actually be causing it.

What are the right steps to start changing?  Read the articles that I’ve linked to here and pick up the book when you get a chance (it’s on Amazon and I found it locally at Borders).  Becoming mindful of the difference between Fixed and Growth mindsets is a big start and consciously choosing to look at things as learning opportunities (whether you succeed or fail) will also help.

Additionally I would suggest surrounding yourself with people that will challenge you and keep you focused on growth (promotional plug – you could always check out one of the Peer Group Advisory Board meetings that I run).

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this idea – how would you encourage someone to develop more of a growth approach?  Have you dealt with any examples on either side of this?  Share your thoughts here, I’d love to hear them.

Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach

3 thoughts on “Discover the power of a Growth mindset”

  1. fullpotential says:

    Great article Shawn ~
    As a professional coach who is passionate about helping individuals and teams reach their full p0tential, I can appreciate the difference in a fixed and growth mindset. I encourage all my clients to be life-long learners. Perhaps I should take some of my own medicine and take up golf…I've had this 'fixed' mindset that I wouldn't excel at the sport so have avoided giving it a real try. Thanks for the inspiration Shawn!
    Deb Hamacher
    Full Potential LLC

  2. leonpat1 says:

    Combine that with a little ECON 101, which says that people perform to the level at which they have incentive and are rewarded. Thus, in order to have a growth mindset in your workplace, you must provide incentives that foster trial and error, training, volunteering to tackle new roles, advancing in chosen career paths. I'd also add that folks check out Geoff Colvin's book from a few months back on talent, noting that talent is a misleading term and that what breeds success is constructive mentoring/coaching and focused practice over an extended period. Great article, Shawn.

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