Whether we try new things with curiosity, willingness to learn, and courage, even if we encounter failures along the way, depends on our attitude and mindset. These, fortunately, can be trained.
Imagine that you are a highly regarded marketing professional. Your teammates and other departments are eager to consider your ideas, seeing them as creative and beneficial to the company. One day, your department completes an important project, and your company has organized a banquet to celebrate.
Finally, you all have a chance to meet outside of the workplace. No stress or anxiety. There are people you haven’t met in person yet, such as Kate, the new girl in your department who has accepted the same position as yours. Rumor has it that she is a promising young talent. You walk up to the table where your entire department is sitting.
You hear Catherine talking about her new, innovative idea. Your colleagues are delighted, but unfortunately, you, for the most part, have no idea what she is talking about. You have never dealt with this kind of technology.
Finally, one of your friends turns to you and says, “Hey, can you hear that? That’s brilliant! Well, you have some growing competition.
Being open to the new vs. sticking with the old
Ask yourself, how would you react in this situation? What would you have felt and thought about yourself and Kate? Some of us would most likely feel threatened or ashamed. Some would think: “I should know this”, “What kind of an expert am I if I haven’t heard about this?”, “I’ve always been weak when it comes to news…”.
Perhaps there would also be accusations in our heads: “She’s young and she’s already smart”, “What does she know? Or maybe we would have even ostentatiously laughed at the idea or changed the subject.
The other part of us would behave differently. We would have no problem admitting ignorance because we recognize our right to do so. Being an expert is not about knowing everything. We would think: “It’s interesting what she says; I want to learn it,” and instead of the embarrassment of ignorance and fear of negative evaluation from friends or boss, we would feel curiosity about a new topic.
Maybe we would have invited Catherine to lunch just to get to know her better and learn something new from her. Maybe we would even ask her to be our mentor.
If you find yourself struggling to admit that you are closer to the first approach in this story, then according to American psychologist Carol Dweck, you probably have a fixed mindset. If you are closer to the second attitude, you may have a growth mindset. I suspect you’ve already figured out which mindset is worth developing.
Our attitudes make a difference.
More than 30 years ago, Carol Dweck and her colleagues at Stanford University set up an experiment to see what strategies children adopt to cope with failure. In the experiment, each child was given a puzzle that was beyond their ability to solve.
What was Dweck’s surprise when several 10-year-olds, when faced with the task, reacted with satisfaction? “You know, I was just hoping to learn something,” replied one of the young participants in the study.
As the author found years later, these children were not just coping with failure, they were simply reacting to it with delight. It was from this experiment that an idea began to germinate in her that grew into an entire psychological concept.
According to Dweck, in the simplest terms, our mindset (or attitude and way of thinking) is divided into two attitudes, with a continuum stretching between them. On the one hand, we have the fixed mindset, on the other hand,
On one hand, we have a fixed mindset; on the other hand, a growth mindset. This means that each person in a given situation is somewhere between the two poles. A different mindset can also be activated depending on the challenge, e.g. in sport we have a fixed mindset, while in a new task at work we have a growth mindset.
A fixed mindset is an attitude in which the belief that one either has talent or does not have it, and that our potential and intelligence are fixed. Effectiveness in this approach is understood as performing tasks without effort, while hard work is treated as a weakness or a sign of lack of aptitude.
Effort is a sign of weakness. When a person with a fixed mindset encounters difficulties on his/her way, he/she is more likely to give up on the goal. This is due to fear of exposing one’s deficits. A person with a fixed mindset, however, wants to perform well, so he or she prefers easy or familiar tasks. In the fixed approach, we are so anxious to maintain our image in the eyes of others that we sometimes even start lying. In research
Children who exhibited a fixed mindset were more likely to cheat on exams, while students who were expected to inform their tutors of their performance were more likely to inflate their grades.
A growth mindset, as opposed to a fixed mindset, is an orientation focused on learning and growth. These individuals view hard work as integral to success.
They are able to derive joy and satisfaction from it. They will willingly choose tasks they are not familiar with because they can learn something new. They do not worry about failed attempts and treat them as an integral part of the learning process.
Of course, they are aware of their limitations and the fact that not everyone can achieve the same amount, but it does not matter to them as they value development more than the final result.
Fixed mindset vs. growth mindset
- They believe that their intelligence and abilities are innate and static. They believe that they are just that. They are. VS: They consider intelligence and talents to be dynamic and developable.
- They avoid challenges and tasks that they are unfamiliar with. They are ashamed of it. VS: They view challenges as opportunities for growth and their ignorance as normal.
- Avoid or ignore constructive criticism. VS: They are open to criticism and learn from it.
- They give up easily. VS: They are persistent in the face of setbacks and resilient in the face of adversity.
- They see no point in putting effort into something they believe they have no ability to do. VS: See effort as a path to mastery. They view learning as a workout for the brain.
- They drop in motivation if they are not externally motivated and do not see rapid progress. VS: They are motivated by the process, not necessarily the outcome.
- They are focused on proving their worth. VS: They put development above seeking approval.
- They seek out people from whom they will gain approval. VS: Seek out people with whom they can grow.
- They feel threatened when others are successful. They learn from and are inspired by the success of others. The success of others can motivate them to try and perform.
- They view their failure as confirmation of a lack of their abilities. VS: They view failures as opportunities for growth.
- They may cheat and pretend to maintain their image. VS: They collaborate with and surround themselves with people who are better than they are in order to grow.
Where does this mindset come from? I think it will not be a surprise when I write that it comes mainly from the way we were brought up, that is, from our childhood. A child who is constantly criticized in his environment, e.g. at school, for not having language skills, will eventually believe it. And what we believe affects how we function.
The conviction of lack of ability will result, for example, in fewer (if any) attempts to learn. Besides, what incentive do we have to do that if we have to overcome our lack of ability? It sounds like an idea doomed to failure. So we don’t make the effort, and the self-fulfilling prophecy only reinforces our belief that it’s all true.
We even explain success as a stroke of luck rather than the result of the work we put in. It’s amazing how many areas of life, such as internal assumptions, block our growth. If we were to think more deeply, after all, no one has confirmed our linguistic dysfunction. I remember a story I heard from one of my friends.
He recounted that throughout his childhood and adolescence, he was convinced that he had no ability to learn foreign languages, and in fact, this situation would have probably lasted for the rest of his life were it not for the fact that he was forced to move abroad. And there, to his surprise, after three months, he began to speak English fluently. When he recalled it, he was a successful lecturer.
The reason for the fixed approach in our lives, however, is not just criticism. It seems less obvious that it is also influenced by positive feedback that evaluates the whole person. If you have ever seen a child playing, trying to push a square block into the correct hole in a sorter, when and how did you usually reward them?
The vast majority will answer: “when the child has correctly matched the block”. Then we say: “That’s great that you put the block in,” or “You’re a smart girl.” So we reward performance and ability—a typical fixed approach. Far less often do we reward process and effort by saying: “Great that you are trying so persistently,” “Oh! That’s not the block. Keep trying. If you keep trying, you’ll learn it one time.
Children who are rewarded for their consistent traits and intelligence, Dweck’s research shows, are less likely to try new things and less likely to take risks. This is because they want to maintain their positive image in their own and others’ estimations.
So we should definitely change the way we motivate and teach to one that focuses much more on appreciating effort, trying despite failure, and perseverance.
We live in a world that favors results. From our upbringing at home, to school, to college, to business, we are more likely to be rewarded for and be rewarded for achievement than for the process of learning. We also prefer to be seen as gifted rather than working hard for success.
Sometimes we even hide that work from others, ashamed that we had to put so much energy into it. A great example of this is the Stanford students Dweck writes about in his book who are characterized by the “duck syndrome” (1) right before an exam session. They work hard, but pretend they haven’t put any effort into the work.
A bit like a swimming duck that looks proud and calm above the water, but under the surface is doing a lot of hard work, constantly flapping its fins. We want to be a talent. because talent is rewarded and shown. We don’t have a show on TV called “With a lot of effort,” but “America’s Got Talent.” That sounds better.
But the cherished belief that our results come from innate qualities is a dead end and most often prevents us from growing and succeeding, including in business. We know very well that under the surface of the water, under the iceberg of success, we will find effort, hours of work, and hundreds of attempts.
In the corporate world
Even entire companies can have the right mindset. Those with a fixed mindset are less likely to invest in developing employees who are no longer successful. Those who are “talented” are sent to talent and development programs, not those who perform mediocrely.
In many organizations, development is invested in and promoted until someone is successful. And when his performance is worse than the rest, it is discontinued. Because of this approach, many companies have a number of positions filled with people who are not promising.
Leaders with a fixed approach feel fear of losing authority, admitting ignorance, etc. And this can lead to an authoritarian management style.
Such a leader surrounds himself with inferior people or allows them to develop only to a certain level because he fears that when they surpass him, he will lose his authority. It is worth noticing this in others, but above all, you should observe yourself and, if necessary, work on improving your mindset.
In a world of constant change, the growth mindset is becoming an essential competence that needs to be developed. In particular, when you have a phrase ringing in your head that it is too late for you, remember that Fixed Mindset is speaking through you, and he is lying, bastard.
Changing your personal mindset for growth
How you think affects how you feel (2), and how you feel affects how you act, so changing your mindset can lead to big and permanent changes for the better in your life. Just being aware of what mindset we have and the impact of that mindset on our lives can be liberating.
Let’s also pay attention to the language we use. Not only when talking to others, but also, and perhaps even more importantly, when talking to ourselves. Here are some tips on how to change the language you use to interpret reality.
Instead of a fixed language, use the language of growth.
- I am not good at it. VS I can be better at it.
- I can’t do it. VS I want to try.
- I am not able to learn it. VS I can learn it if I put in the right work.
- I give up. It is beyond my ability. VS I believe in myself.
- I don’t have the ability to… VS I want to develop my abilities in a…
- This is frustrating. VS It is OK that my attempts are not always successful. I can learn from my mistakes.
- I am who I am. VS I can learn new things. I want to explore new things.
- This is too hard. VS Until I try, I won’t know.
Your daily training
1. Focus on process goals, not outcome goals.
Replace the goal of “I’m going to weigh 80 pounds” with “I’m going out on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 7 p.m. for a 45-minute walk.” Instead of getting a 5 on an exam, make it a goal to read 10 pages of a textbook every day, etc. A process goal becomes more tangible than a distant outcome goal.
2. Reward yourself for the effort, not just the result.
Not just the result itself, but progress and perseverance, e.g. when you found it difficult and yet you did it, are important. Appreciating yourself for them will increase your motivation.
3. Start treating failures as feedback.
Fear of mistakes is one of the main reasons why people don’t engage in new tasks. Approach failure as an experience. After each mistake, think about what it taught you. Success is impossible without failures, so treat them as opportunities for growth.
4. Be a friend to yourself.
When you are having a hard time and your fixed mindset kicks in, think about what you would say to someone close to you in the same situation. Talk to yourself with tenderness and love.
5. Look for ambitious challenges
They invite you to go outside your comfort zone, develop and confirm that you can do something. Of course, everything is safe and common sense.
6. Surround yourself with people different from you.
Being surrounded by people who are good at what you are. It can be shock therapy for someone with a fixed mindset. With that said, it’s the best way to broaden your horizons and develop your forgotten, dusty competencies.