When I first started training and coaching more than 30 years ago I found that there were two distinct types of client or participant:
- Those who were motivated and eager to learn, did so and enjoyed great results, and became more successful, and
- Those who believed that they didn't need to be there. They knew everything they needed and were pretty much brilliant at everything. They were unmotivated to learn and gained little, if anything, from their limited interaction and went off to be just as excellent as they always believed they had been.
I blamed myself about the second group, of course. Somehow, I wasn't getting through, but try as I may, somehow I couldn't find a way to get them to learn. Then I read Carol Dweck's excellent book on Mindset and my lightening fast brain ignited with insight:
In every group of people there are two base mindsets, those who have what Dweck calls a Growth mindset and those who have a predominantly Fixed Mindset.
Your mindset is a set of beliefs that you hold about yourself: your intelligence, your talents and your personality.
And I'd like you to take a moment to pause and think here:
- Do you believe that these qualities are pretty well fixed traits, carved in stone by your DNA or at least by the time you reach late childhood?
- Or, do you believe that these qualities are things that can be developed and changed through dedication and effort?
If you are more inclined to the first belief, you believe that your traits are a given. You have a certain amount of brains and talent and nothing can change that.
If you are more inclined to the second belief, you see these qualities as things that can be developed through your dedication and effort.
Now, I'm going out on a limb here, but I suspect that you are more inclined to the second belief. After all, why would you be reading or listening to something deliberately designed to help you learn and grow if you were of a fixed mindset? If I'm wrong, fantastic, and please let me know, because I too want to learn, understand and grow.
Let’s first take a look at the Growth Mindset:
Individuals who hold the Growth Mindset believe that intelligence can be and is developed, that the brain is like a muscle that can be trained. With this belief is the desire to improve.
To improve, firstly you embrace challenges because you know that overcoming challenges makes you stronger.
No matter what you decide to do, there will be obstacles. For the Growth Mindset believer, external setbacks do not discourage you. Your self-esteem and self-image are not tied to how you look to others or your success. You see failure as the best opportunity to learn. Thus, either way, you win.
You don’t see the effort as something useless to be avoided but as necessary to grow and master useful skills.
No-one truly enjoys criticism or negative feedback, but the Growth Mindset individual integrates feedback that has genuine worth as an opportunity to change and learn. Negative feedback is not seen as a personal attack, but for what it is; feedback.
The success of others is seen as a source of inspiration and information. To Growth Mindset individuals, success is not seen as a zero-sum game.
Growth Mindset individuals will improve because of this, and this creates positive feedback loops that encourage them to keep learning, growing and improving.
Let’s have a look at the Fixed Mindset side:
Those who hold these beliefs think that “they are the way they are.” This doesn’t mean that they have any less desire for a positive self-image than anyone else, and they do want to perform well and look smart. But, to achieve these goals…
The challenge is hard and success is not assured, so rather than risk failing and negatively impacting their self-image, they will often avoid challenges and stick to what they know they can do well.
Obstacles face everyone, but the difference with the Fixed Mindset individual is that obstacles are seen as external forces that get in the way and are either avoided (leading to sub-optimal results and usually, blaming others) or are the ‘excuse’ for giving up.
When effort is required, and your view is that effort is unpleasant and rarely pays dividends. What’s the point in exerting that effort? The smart thing to do then is avoid as much effort as possible.
Negative feedback tends to be ignored because the Fixed Mindset leads you to believe that any criticism of your capabilities is a criticism of you. This is discouraging to the people who are giving you feedback and after a while they stop giving any negative feedback, further isolating the person from external influences that could generate some change.
Other’s success is used as a benchmark with which to beat yourself. Success, in this worldview, is put down to luck or unprincipled actions. Some will go further and deride another person’s success finding juicy gossip to attach to them when their success is being lauded by anyone else.
The results are that they don’t reach their full potential, and their beliefs feed on themselves: They don’t change or improve much with time, if at all, and so to them this confirms that “they are as they are.”
The good news – especially if you just recognized yourself as being someone who holds the Fixed Mindset worldview – is that it is possible to change from one to the other.
3 Questions to guarantee a growth mindset
The important thing to remember is that the right growth mindset comes in cans, not in can'ts!
Whenever you face a challenge or a setback ask yourself on, two or three questions:
- What's the most useful thing I can learn?
- What can I change?
- How can I add value to others from this experience?
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol S. Dweck, 2006 Random House, New York