What is Mindset?
Carol Dweck, Prof at Stanford University has studied mindset for decades. She identified through studies with children how different beliefs you have about your abilty to deal with challenge, difficutly and failure has a huge impact on your ability navigate life. Carol has carried out a vast amount of research and her studies have illustrated how a growth mindset enables us to be more successful and resilient. Yet often our society is more inclined to admire those who appear to be naturally good at things, we applaud those who can solve the mathematics problem in moments whilst others are scratching their heads trying to figure it out.
What Carol Dweck found most enlightening was observing how children reacted to struggle and difficultly, did they relish it and see it as a challenge or were they discouraged and disheartend by it? Did a child see failure as a bad thing or just a result that meant they needed to try something different. These two approaches became know as a fixed or growth mindset.
Fixed vs Growth Mindset
A fixed mindset might be used to describe someone who sees themselves limited to their current state of being in terms of intelligence, character, and creativity. They see failure as detrimental and don’t want to expose themselves to the risk of facing failure, instead they prefer to stay in their comfort zone, avoid obstacles and maintain the status quo. Often this outlook can mean we are self-critical and judgemental of our own performance.
A growth mindset, on the other hand. would be someone who sees challenge or difficultly as part of the learning process and each time something doesn’t work out, it’s a chance to progress onto another attempt. They believe that with application of effort and experience they can succeed and just keep trying.
Now of course, as individuals, we don’t fall exactly into either camp. We might be confident in one area of our life but have a very different outlook in another. We all have some fantastic examples of how all of us can grow and learn, from the moment we were born we began to learn and grow. Think how many times we had to fall before we could walk or learn to ride a bike, it might have felt impossible, but we kept going and our caregivers, hopefully, encouraged and praised us for our efforts.
As children grow they are subjected to societal pressures and expectations, we reward the smartest, the quickest, the most talented so those that have to put in more effort are thought of as slow, less intelligent and more likely to fail, but in reality it is those that do not fear failure and approach it as a challenge that are usually rewarded in life. It is said that it took Thomas Edison over 100o attempts to invent the lightbulb, just imagine if he figured after a few attempts that it just wasn’t possible?
What does the Research Tell us?
Carol Dweck has carried out some amazing studies with pupils from schools located in very deprived areas with the poorest performance. The style of teaching and approach was changed, the children began to be taught that effort was important and encouraged, failure was just part of learning, and a route to helping you to find the answer to a problem. It recognised the potential in each child, everyone had the ability to improve their grades. This resulted in a radical improvement in the school’s performance. This is NOT praising everything and anything, it is praising tenacity and effort. The message being you will be successful, just not yet, keep going, you are learning and growing as you progress.
Let’s use an example, you have a busy day at work, you make a silly error that costs money and then you get home to find a speeding fine on your door mat. You ring a friend to share your bad day and they seem disinterested. How do you react to this?
Do you say, I am terrible at my job, this is an awful mistake, I am such an idiot. How could I have been so stupid to get a speeding ticket, I am a useless driver and my friend hates me!
Or do you say, hey, mistakes happen, I will make sure I don’t repeat that again, I can see where I went wrong and I have found a way of making sure I don’t repeat the error. Actually I remember rushing that day for an appointment, oops, I will make sure I leave more time to travel to places so I can stay within the speed limit. I wonder what was up with Fred, he’s normally more interested in my news, maybe I should check in with him again tomorrow, I hope he’s ok.
Neuroscience has come on leaps and bounds in the last few decades and we now know that the brain has the ability to change and grow, it’s termed neuroplasticity. Yet often, those with a fixed mindset see themselves as limited to their current ability, they underestimate their skills and often distort what they are capable of in a negative way.
Our our brains certainley can and do change, for example a study of London cabbies showed that the brain that controls spatial awareness grew as they learnt the vast network of roads. Neuroplasticity is now been proven, but for our brains to create new pathways and connections we need to approach challenges with curiosity rather than trepidation, excitement rather than fear and courage rather than self defeat. Would you laugh and a baby and say it was dumb because it couldn’t speak! No, of course not it just hasn’t learnt yet.
How Does this Knowledge Help?
So why am I talking about this? Because how often have we allowed a fixed mindset to get in the way of our progress or attainment of your goals. ‘I could never do that’ or ‘I am useless at that’ and equally are you a perfectionist? If you don’t get things 100% right should you give up or perhaps not even start at all? Falling down is part of life and if we avoid it we deny ourselves the opportunity to learn and grow. Do you fail to take the chance? Grab the opportunity?
What about cultures within organisations? Are the bright, high flyers rewarded or is everyone valued and seen as a valuable commodity with potential that needs to be nutured and developed? The chances are that the high flyers will move on but by recognising the seed of potential in everyone and nurturing it you see and reap reward from their blossuming.
I love this quote from Carol’s book Mindset Changing the Way you Think to Fulfil Your Potential. It was provided by a teacher after a Mindset Workshop:
‘James, who never puts in any extra effort and often doesn’t turn homework in on time, actually stayed up late to finish an assignment early so I could reveiw it and give him a chance to revise it, he earned a B+(he had been getting C’s or lower previously)
The seed of potential is in all of us but we have to nuture it. So next time you hear your self talk telling you, you can’t, lean into the difficulty, know that sticking with it will ultimately bring you the results, recognise progress. So ask yourself, these two questions What can I do to improve? & If that didn’t work what can I try next?
All the great people on this planet may have had help from genetics or perhaps be naturally talent but none of them got where they are without a belief and determination they can achieve what they set out to do, stick with the challenge and learn from what doesn’t work.
My Goal Mapping Workshops teach how the brains neural pathways are created through positive thoughts and how the DAC Factor makes the difference between success or failure.