Mindset is a hot topic these days. We are all starting to recognise that success is not simply about qualifications, knowledge and skills. Mindset plays a massive part in whether we achieve our goals or not. If we don’t believe we can do something, chances are we won’t. In contrast, those of us who have confidence that our goals are categorically going to be reached, usually find a way to make sure that’s what happens.
Types of mindset
Mindset can be thought of in terms of two main types – fixed and growth. These terms were coined by Dweck and associates over 30 years ago when they studied a group of school children to determine why some got so upset when things didn’t go their way and others bounced back quickly and tried again.
This research and more recent studies show that we tend to think in terms of either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. This starts early in children and persists through adult life and defines our personality.
What is a fixed mindset?
A fixed mindset is the belief that our character, intelligence and creativity are defined and unchangeable. Put simply, people with a fixed mindset think you are either good at something or you’re not. It is based on your inherent nature and there is nothing you can do to change it, it’s just who you are.
Unfortunately, a fixed mindset is the most common and potentially damaging. Someone with a fixed mindset will have the kind of belief that says, ‘I am naturally very creative’ or ‘I will never be a good dancer’. They do not believe that these things are changeable, it’s just the way things are.
With this view, it’s not just beliefs about yourself and your abilities that are static. If you have a fixed mindset, you will believe that situations aren’t changeable either. For example, ‘I am depressed so I will never be happy’. There is no way out and so as a result, people with a fixed mindset give up.
What is a growth mindset?
In contrast, people with a growth mindset believe that everything in life is changeable. They believe that you can be good at anything with the right amount of effort and practice. Our abilities are due to our actions and not fixed at birth. This allows people with a growth mindset to see situations as non-permanent and therefore, they are able to rebound quickly and find a solution to a problem. They see setbacks as a way to grow and develop.
Someone with a growth mindset will take the attitude of ‘if they can, why can’t I?’ With an understanding that we can all grow and develop, they are more likely to put in the effort to improve, strive for goals and ultimately achieve more.
What defines our mindset?
It could be argued that we are all born with a growth mindset. Babies don’t give up when they learn to walk and repeatedly fall. They get up and they try again. They are the example of a growth mindset. So why do some of us develop a fixed mindset?
As with anything, the type of mindset we adopt can come from a multitude of factors, most notably by what we are taught as children. This doesn’t necessarily mean that people with a fixed mindset were told they were no good at things or labelled as ‘nonathletic’ or ‘not artistic’, although this will have a drastic effect on mindset too. In fact, it’s likely to be the opposite and derived from the good intentions of educators and parents.
Children who are praised instead of allowed to fail could end up with a fixed mindset. If achievements are constantly praised and failure discouraged as opposed to efforts praised, this can have the same effect on mindset.
Dweck looked at the effects of praise on adolescents performing an IQ test. Half the students were praised for their score and half, for their efforts. Almost immediately, differences between the groups were observed. The ability praised students rejected a new challenge that they could learn from and the effort praised group took it.
Can we change our mindset?
The chances are, if you are a business owner, you probably have a growth mindset. Owning a business means you have to learn from challenges, keep going when times get tough and see every potential failure as an opportunity to learn. If you are reading this thinking perhaps your mindset is fixed, don’t worry, there is plenty you can do to develop a growth mindset.
Neurological research on brain plasticity shows that we are able to change things such as mindset through experiences and practice. The more we do something, the stronger the neural pathways in our brains become. In the same way that being told we are good at something naturally (or not good at something naturally) contributes to a fixed mindset, if we adopt a new belief and cement it through practice and repetition, we are able to build new neural pathways. Therefore, if we believe our brains and minds can grow, we behave differently and that becomes our reality.
Adopting a growth mindset
Looking at strategies to develop a growth mindset is useful not only for people with a fixed mindset but as a tool for all of us to further develop a mindset that helps us improve and grow, even if we already identify with a growth mindset.
Embrace your imperfections
If you have a growth mindset, in theory, you shouldn’t have imperfections because everything is changeable. In reality, we all have insecurities, but it is important to see them as opportunities for growth, rather than hiding them and being ashamed. Lying about ability and hiding failures or perceived shortcoming are traits of a fixed mindset. Accept the challenge and work on those areas that are holding you back. Someone with a developed growth mindset will be able to look at their weaknesses without pain and with excitement at the possibility to improve.
Learn to ignore those with a fixed mindset
All around us, there will be people with a fixed mindset, not only telling themselves that their lives and stories are written on the wall, but also that yours are too. People will question your abilities and decisions, people will tell you things aren’t possible. Be vigilant and don’t let these people get into your head.
These people will use the word ‘can’t’ a lot. ‘I can’t work for myself, I know nothing about business’. They also use a lot of ‘buts’. ‘I would love to move out of the city, but I can’t leave my job’. When you hear these words and phrases, ignore them and if they are directed at you, turn it around. ‘I can do anything I want’.
You can even go one step further and completely remove the word ‘can’t’ from your vocabulary. There is always a way if you want to find it.
Small changes everyday
We know that the brain has a high level of plasticity, but it is not easy to change years of a certain way of thinking in a short space of time. It takes determination and persistence to change a habit, and a way of thinking is a habit.
Carol Dweck recommends a few techniques:
Hear your fixed mindset voice
When you start to tell yourself you’re not good enough and that you’ll never compete with others, recognise that voice and call it out.
Make your choice
Realise you have a choice to continue thinking in this way or choose to follow a growth mindset.
Talk back to the fixed mindset in a growth mindset voice
Imagine you are talking to a friend. What advice would you give? Think along the lines of, ‘it may be scary, and I may fail, but I will learn from that experience and improve as a result. By not trying, I have already lost’.
Choose the growth mindset
Practice what you preach and go with the growth.
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