Do you see the glass half-full or half-empty? Your outlook can influence every aspect of your life – including how you perform in your career.
The impact of mindset is something Professor Carol Dweck talks about in her book ‘Mindset – changing the way you think to fulfil your potential’. She thinks that it’s not just our abilities and talents that bring us success, but whether we approach them with a ‘growth’ mindset.
What is a growth mindset?
A growth mindset means believing in your capacity to develop your abilities through learning, practise and persistence. On the other hand, a fixed mindset is a belief that intelligence and talent are innate and cannot be acquired. Professor Dweck proposes that those with a growth mindset are capable of far higher achievements than those with a fixed mindset.
The cool thing about the growth mindset theory is that it levels the playing field between people born with genetic advantages and those born with less genetic advantages. With the right attitude, a person with an IQ of 110 might achieve more than someone with an IQ of 140. Likewise, a person with modest muscle mass might have more success at sports than someone naturally muscular, just because of their sheer determination.
When you look at really successful people, you might assume their success is down to innate talent or maybe they were just born lucky? But what if the only way these high flyers are different is their mindset? What could you achieve if you adjusted yours?
According to Professor Dweck, while we develop our mindset at a young age, we’re not stuck with it for life. The brain has the ability to change continuously in response to new learnings and experiences. Thanks to this, we’re able to create new neural pathways and alter existing ones to effectively remould the way we think.
By taking steps to develop a growth mindset, you can take your career to another level. You can let go of anything holding back your creativity and say goodbye to beliefs preventing you from tackling new challenges.
Ready? Try the seven strategies below to turn your fixed mindset into a growth mindset.
How to achieve a growth mindset in 7 steps
Step 1. Learn about the concept of ‘incremental success’
When we aim for self-development, we usually set ourselves big goals, but big goals can become overwhelming. So much so, that you might give up at the first hurdle or not start at all.
Let’s say you’d like to learn a new language. If you don’t have a natural ear for languages, you know it’s going to take a lot of time and effort to achieve any degree of mastery. Because of that you keep putting it off, saying you’ll start next year when you’ve got less on your plate and can focus. But what if you worried less about creating the optimum conditions for learning and just committed to making a start?
It’s a fact that if you dedicated just 15 minutes a day to learning a language (say, by listening to a podcast), and you did that every day for a year, you would be able to speak a lot more of that language than you can today – regardless of any perceived lack of ability. And what if you kept going with those 15-minute daily learning sessions for another year, and then another?
It’s the idea of incremental success; by making small, regular gains you will eventually reach a tipping point whereby a far bigger goal has been achieved. This concept can be applied to anything and underlines that it’s not all about natural ability, it’s also about persistence.
Step 2. Embrace failure
For people with a fixed mindset, failure is scary. That’s because they see it as proof of their limited abilities. And because they don’t want to be found out, they will avoid taking on challenges where failure is possible. As a result, they don’t work at improving their abilities and their belief becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
People with a growth mindset have a totally different take on failure. To them, failure is an important part of learning. Far from being something to be ashamed of, they can wear their ‘failures’ as a badge of honour, because – as long as they keep going – it’s proof that they’re committed to trying and learning. Think of it like this, when a baby is learning to walk, nobody thinks the baby is a failure because he falls down a few times before hitting his stride, it’s just part of the process.
People with growth mindsets are different from people with fixed mindsets because they don’t care what others think. They’re not doing what they’re doing to please anyone else, and they’re not looking for approval. Because they’re focused on themselves they don’t compare themselves to others either. This is important because people learn and develop at different rates. Just because your colleague is making faster progress than you, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. If you do make a mistake, don’t try to hide it. Recognise the progress you have made and embrace the opportunity to learn and grow.
Step 3. Listen out for your fixed mindset voice
The fixed mindset is a bit of an insidious creature – you might not even realise you have one. It’s like having a best friend who casually drops insults; you brush them off because you’re convinced they must have your best interests at heart. But it’s time to sit up and take notice of that negative voice – and call it out each time you hear it.
If you don’t know what your fixed mindset voice sounds like, it goes something like this: “I know you want to go for the promotion but you’ll be going up against stiff competition. The other applicants are more qualified and more experienced so you probably don’t stand a chance. And to top it all off, your boss is going to feel embarrassed having to turn you down and it will just make everything awkward at work.”
At first you think this voice is trying to protect you, but listen again and you’ll hear it’s actually trying to hold you back. When you recognise you’re coming from a fixed mindset, you can challenge yourself to re-frame your thoughts. For example, “I should go for the promotion. Even if I don’t get the position it will give me the opportunity to show my boss I’m keen to progress. My boss can then help me access training to gain the extra skills I need – maybe she can even suggest someone to mentor me.”
Whenever you engage in internal dialogue, be sure to question what mindset the voice is coming from. If it’s coming from a fixed mindset, always remember you have a choice whether you listen to it or not. Understanding that you have complete autonomy over this (and don’t have to be dictated to by doubt!) can change everything.
Step 4. Change your language
You may think they’re only words, but the language you use can be very powerful. You can help to reframe the way you think by swapping some of the words and phrases you currently use for ones with more positive connotations.
For starters, failure is not an option! You’re not failing, you’re learning. Likewise, if something goes wrong, you didn’t make a mistake, it simply did not turn out as you expected. If you feel anxious or stressed about something, think about that as being energised.
Don’t deal with problems, embrace challenges. And when you’re tired, don’t tell yourself you’re exhausted, simply recognise it’s time to recharge. Another word to banish from your vocabulary is ‘criticism’ – if you accept that people are only trying to give you advice or guidance, you will give yourself so much more room to grow.
Finally, discover the power of this small, three-letter word: ‘yet’. Yet is a brilliant concept because it’s full of opportunity and potential. Here’s an example, ‘I can’t use this software’ versus ‘I can’t use this software yet’. It’s a great way to set your intentions and play into your growth mindset.
Step 5. Seek outside help
Having a growth mindset and believing in yourself doesn’t mean you have to face everything alone. Quite the opposite – building a great team around you and knowing when to ask for help is vital.
People with a fixed mindset are more likely to be stubborn and refuse assistance because they believe they should have the capacity to do things unaided. But those with a growth mindset know if they don’t currently have the ability, they can obtain it with help.
It’s okay not to be perfect. Recognise where you might need development, understand what challenges you might need help navigating, and identify where you can go for support. Asking for training or working with a mentor is not a show of weakness. It’s about commitment to continual learning and self-development – both of which are integral to a growth mindset.
Step 6. Accept feedback
How you deal with feedback is the single biggest indicator as to whether you have a fixed or a growth mindset. If someone tells you something you don’t want to hear, do you immediately go on the defensive? Do you blame someone or something else? Do you get angry or upset with the person giving you the feedback?
This is a normal emotional response, but it’s also the response of a fixed mindset. As you work at changing your fixed mindset to a growth one, you’ll get steadily better at accepting feedback, until you can see it as something positive.
We discussed the importance of changing your language when it comes to feedback. Let’s not even call it ‘constructive criticism’. If you can think of feedback as advice from someone who wants to help, you’ll likely be more relaxed when you receive it. This means you can listen to what’s actually being said rather than letting emotions get the better of you and inflating everything out of proportion.
Ask yourself, what can you learn from the feedback? What can you do differently next time for a better result? Remember that it’s your choice how you interpret what’s said – do you let it set you back or will you use it to spur you on?
Step 7. Keep going
‘Dedication’s what you need’
It was the theme tune to the BBC’s Record Breakers… and, if you want to achieve a growth mindset, it should be yours too. Perseverance is the number one trait that sets a person apart as having a growth mindset.
According to studies, to achieve mastery in anything you need to get a minimum of 10,000 hours of practice under your belt. Whether it’s becoming a virtuoso composer, a chess grandmaster, or Olympic figure skater, you don’t get there without enormous dedication.
It’s true that these people might start with a degree of talent, but if they didn’t work at honing and developing that talent they would never excel in the way they do. And while we might not be trying out for the Olympics, applying that knowledge to our own lives is just as valid.
We can improve our performance at anything if we set our minds to it – and keep going even when things get tough. Remember, you don’t have to race towards big goals. People with a growth mindset understand achieving success is a marathon, not a sprint. Be sure to celebrate every mile you make (or even every half-mile) and you can feel good about your continual progress.
A final thought
What could a growth mindset do for your professional development? Using the above tactics to transform your psychology could change the way you deal with challenges, communicate with others and go after what you want.
But it’s not just you who can benefit from a change in mindset; it can also benefit your colleagues and partners (and everyone else around you). As Dweck says: “Mindset change is about seeing things in a new way. When people change to a growth mindset, they change from a judge-and-be-judged framework to a learn-and-help-learn framework.”