The concept of a growth mindset was first proposed by Carol Dweck, a Stanford psychology professor, who suggested that our beliefs around intelligence and personality have a significant impact on how we live and what we accomplish. Dweck identified two opposing mindsets that lead to very different outcomes in the context of self-awareness and success.
The ‘fixed’ mindset is based on:
- A constant need for approval, demonstrating and affirming over and over that intelligence, skills, talents, character and personality traits are sufficient for success.
- An assumption that all traits are permanent and cannot be influenced.
- Assessing every experience according to how the individual is perceived i.e. success versus failure, smart versus dumb, accepted versus rejected, or winner versus loser.
- Accepting the ‘hand that was dealt’ and spending a lifetime proving that this is enough, even where there is a personal sense of deficiency or lack.
- Safety - because it doesn’t allow straying outside the comfort zone.
- Can be exhausting due to the constant need for validation.
Conversely the ‘growth’ mindset is based on:
- A passion and desire for continuous learning.
- A belief that individual potential – the combined application of intelligence, talent, aptitude, creativity, and behaviour can be improved by experience, motivation and practice. Nothing is fixed.
- The tenacity and resilience to apply oneself leads to personal accomplishment – talent is the reward of effort.
- A belief that success can be cultivated.
- An appreciation that setbacks are an opportunity for learning.
A growth mindset gives us freedom and empowerment, a knowing that we are in charge of our own destiny. When we operate from this perspective we have an absolute belief that anything is possible and our potential continues to expand as we move towards it. We see our success as something that is completely within our control and take all steps necessary to bring our goals to fruition.
Conversely, when we operate from a fixed mindset, we see our future as pre-determined. We shy away from challenges and opportunities that present development and growth because there is a risk of failure. We stay small and safe, but we sabotage our future potential and put limits around our capacity for success, health and happiness.
So how can we make the shift to a growth mindset?
- Embrace imperfection. Remember that nothing in nature is perfect. Perfection goes against the very law of nature. It is a race you cannot win, and one you will never finish. Every time you think you’re getting closer to those illustrious goal posts, they move. It’s a long and exhausting road that has no end. Don’t hide your imperfections, celebrate them. These are what make you unique. Acknowledge your weaknesses and reframe them as an opportunity for growth.
- Swap the word ‘failing’ with ‘learning’. Every time you make a mistake you have learned something new. Every failure, big or small, is a single step on the road to success. Stop and really listen to what your failures are telling you and decide how you will adapt moving forward. You are building a strong resilience muscle in the process.
- Stop approval seeking. You don’t need to prove yourself to anybody. The need for approval kills freedom. Learn to accept yourself for who you are. Your opinion is the only one that really matters and a little bit of self-appreciation goes a long way. When you make any decision, check in with how it feels to you and validate based on internal rather than external needs.
- See criticism as productive. Criticism doesn’t always need to be perceived as negative. It’s simply a matter of context. Reframe criticism as another opportunity to learn and adapt, to push you out of your comfort zone and embrace a different perspective. When delivered with the right intent, it is simply a form of communication and feedback that can be used to propel you forward.