Mind Your Mindset
“… no matter what your ability is, effort is what ignites that ability and turns it into accomplishment.” Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
What’s your mindset on a day to day basis? Do you think in terms of limits or possibilities? Do you see your success as driven by forces beyond you, or within your control? The answers may determine your success.
Pioneered by Stanford professor of psychology Dr. Carol Dweck, the concept of mindset, and specifically the concept of fixed vs. growth mindset, has changed the way we can realize human potential. First applied in the realm of education, the concept is finding its way into the business world, and has the power to improve every aspect of our lives.
In a nutshell, a mindset is the established attitude with which we view the world and undertake tasks and challenges. Our mindset can be either fixed (one which says that the key levers of success, such as our intelligence or opportunities as pre-determined) or growth (one which says that our capabilities can be grown, nurtured, and developed, and that we have the power to significantly influence our outcomes).
What does this look like in the workplace? Imagine a scenario where a new hire has been tasked with growing a segment of business. There are opportunities in the market, but established players make it difficult to net new business:
- If the new hire has a fixed mindset, they may view the competition as insurmountable. Since their capabilities are fixed, if their first attempt at making in-roads with target customers is not successful, they will become discouraged, since they believe they can’t change their approach. They may view the task as impossible given the market conditions, perhaps even resenting their manager for assigning them the task. In future, they will try to avoid being assigned to these types of challenges.
- If the new hire has a growth mindset, they will view the scenario as a challenge with a solution – they just need to find it. When their first attempts at breaking through are unsuccessful, they will re-group and try a different approach, perhaps seeking constructive criticism to determine where they went wrong and where they might improve. The market conditions provide them with an excellent learning opportunity – after all, if conditions were always favorable, the company wouldn’t need skilled salespeople. They may have even sought out the assignment, recognized the potential for growth the challenge offered them.
In reality, most of us don’t work from a purely fixed or a purely growth mindset – rather; we sit somewhere on the continuum between the two, and likely slide along that continuum depending on the situation. Regardless, there are things we can all do to shift our thinking in a more growth-oriented direction
Tips for Shifting Your Mindset
- Develop awareness. Oftentimes, our mindset is so entrenched that we don’t even notice it, and is based on assumptions we may not have thought to challenge. Pay attention to your thoughts and language, both about yourself and others. Do you think in terms of static, pre-determined abilities (“I’m not cut out for this job”) or do you take a more flexible view (“This job is a challenge, and I haven’t figured it out yet”). Just noticing which viewpoint you take, and recognizing that there are other interpretations available to you, can have a powerful effect on your mindset.
- Choose differently. If you’ve noticed a pattern of fixed mindset, make a different choice. Even if there are limitations beyond your control, that’s not a productive place to focus anyway. Look for ways to re-frame the situation that provide you with some room to develop and grow – no matter how small. Dweck notes that something as simple as adding the word “yet” to a sentence can have a profound effect. Consider the difference between saying “I don’t have the skills to do this job” and “I don’t have the skills to do this job yet.” The first implies a hopeless situation; the second one an opportunity. Of course, having re-framed, you need to …
- Take action. So, you don’t have the skills to do the job yet? The obvious question becomes, what do I need to do to get those skills? This is where the rubber hits the road, and you can turn a difficult situation in to a learning one. Take an online class, test out a course of action, speak to a manager or mentor. Be willing to make a mistake in the name of attaining those skills. This is where a growth mindset is transformed into actual growth.
Growth mindset is decidedly NOT about feel-good positive thinking. Rather, it involves acknowledging that you don’t know it all, that there is always room to grow, and that our success will not be based on some innate capability that we’ve either got or we don’t, but rather on whether we persist or not. It’s about being humble enough to fail, and learn from that failure.
To paraphrase Dweck, shift towards a growth mindset, and ignite your abilities.