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Growing Your Growth Mindset

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No matter what your current ability is, effort is what ignites that ability and turns it into accomplishment…. A growth mindset is the belief you can develop abilities.”

~ Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Belief in your abilities is important, but belief in your ability to grow—the growth mindset—is what enables you to learn from mistakes, accept that true learning requires effort, and move forward in the direction you have chosen. A growth mindset adjusts your perception about your skills, attitudes, knowledge, and abilities: they are not fixed but capable of change and development.

Four Obstacles to a Growth Mindset

Sometimes, the growth mindset is misunderstood as a way to praise oneself and others for the effort only, regardless of the results. But growth mindset must be accompanied by a goal and a willingness to go all out to attain that goal. It requires resilience and self-awareness, especially grit, self-confidence, and self-efficacy.

To achieve a growth mindset, you have to let go of:

  • Fear of making a mistake or being shown up
  • Avoidance of tasks that require effort, whether that involves breaking a habit interfering with your goals or adding a skill set
  • Taking umbrage at criticism or any negative reaction
  • Confounding intense busyness and stress with accomplishment or using them as an excuse to delay action
  • Seeking approval from others, making your efforts seem worthless unless others recognize them.

Four Growth Mindset Attitudes

A growth mindset involves three primary attitudes: (1) excitement about new challenges and the possibility of learning something new; (2) a willingness to expend effort and hard work to overcome weaknesses (or gain knowledge and understanding); and (3) are willing to try even if they fail or expect to fail.

The fourth attitude is “that’s enough”: knowing how to control the first three attitudes. The need to keep learning and challenging oneself can easily morph into unrealistic expectations, an inability to prioritize or take action, or other stressful behaviors. At some point, learning has to give way to acting and possibly failing. Continual challenges have to give way to recognize that one has reached the original goal or that the risks have become too high, and it is time to turn to other goals.

Four Steps to Toward a Growth Mindset

To encourage your own growth mindset, you should:

  • Emphasize growth over speed. You may take a while to achieve your goals, but growth is not a competition. Demonstrate patience with yourself and others.
  • Take time to reflect on where you are now and where you were in the past. Look at that old resume if you’ve forgotten how much you’ve learned and accomplished in the intervening years!
  • Learn from and accept your mistakes and successes. Practice gratitude for an opportunity; objectively evaluate what you have learned and what you might change as a result.
  • Actively look for opportunities to learn, take risks, and experiment. 

Changing the Mindset of Adults

Studies into using the growth mindset to motivate students have shown mixed results. In general, the surrounding culture had to support the enthusiasm for taking on additional challenges. Other differences were likely rooted in the different teaching techniques used, the mindset of the teacher or parent, and the population being exposed to the concept of a growth mindset. 

Adults also react differently from students. In one experiment, adults who were told they were hard workers blamed their failures on low intelligence. Somehow, they interpreted “hard worker” as a veiled insult indicating inadequacy. 

Age and individual interpretations must be part of any attempt to promote a growth mindset in other people.

It is important to realize that changing focus to a growth mindset in yourself is quite possible. However, if you try to give your team a growth mindset, you would be wise to seek out professional with is aware of the influence of culture, technique, personal mindset, age, and interpretation on fostering a growth mindset.

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