Our thoughts and mindset determine how we view life, learning, and failure. Our minds are always observing and deciphering what's happening around us and what we need to do as a result. Sometimes we interpret life through a certain lens or particular mindset.
For example, I can interpret failure through the lens of inferiority or hopelessness, confirming my belief that I'm incompetent. Or I can interpret failure through the lens of hope and as an opportunity to grow, confirming my belief that I’m competent.
Researcher Carol S. Dweck in her book, "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success," classifies two mindsets—a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.
A fixed mindset is based on your ability. This mindset feels “set,” so you try to prove who you are—that you're smart, talented, compassionate, (or however you're defining yourself). You seek to be validated. Failure is seen as bad, as it means you didn't measure up and you aren't smart. Effort is also viewed as bad, because it means you don't already possess the skill. The fixed mindset leads people to stop wanting to learn.
A growth mindset is based on your effort. This mindset incorporates changing qualities—learning something new and developing yourself. Failure is viewed as an opportunity to learn and grow. The growth mindset breeds hope and encourages discovery and continued learning. It keeps people from turning inward and feeling stuck when things don't go as expected. In a team setting, this mindset believes the best of others and encourages their process and progress.
Are you wondering if you might be stuck in a fixed mindset? No need to be discouraged, as ample research has proven the mind’s ability to change. Our mindset or thinking, neurologically speaking, is a series of pathways in our brain. Think of it as a series of trails through a forest. Some are well-groomed and often-used paths, others are small and infrequently used. We have the ability to make new trails in our brains, but it takes work. We can also let old paths go, and they will eventually become grown over with disuse. Because the brain is malleable, challenging work helps to rewire the brain. When there is hope of change, resiliency and continued learning results.
How can you take steps toward a growth mindset?
1. Add "yet" to your vocabulary. This reminds us that we are in the process of learning and that growth is possible. Just because we don't know something now doesn't mean we won't learn it later. For example, "I'm not competent, yet" or "I don't know it well, yet."
2. Focus on your effort rather than ability. While the fixed mindset belief might be a true fact (for example, you are intelligent), it could still hinder you from attempting new challenges. There’s a possibility you may fail. It would skew your "I'm intelligent" identity, or it might keep you from continuing to learn because you feel like you’ve arrived already. Challenge yourself to think "growth mindset" thoughts, such as “How can I move forward?” (instead of “I can’t do this”) and “I’m going to utilize some new resources” (instead of “I give up”).
3. Ask new questions. In order to move from a fixed to a growth mindset, you must challenge your thinking in how you view mistakes. For example, "What did I learn from that mistake?" "How can I utilize someone else who knows this already?"
4. Invite feedback. What might sound like criticism to someone with a fixed mindset could be a springboard for action for someone with a growth mindset. Feedback provides insight into our lives from another perspective and can open us to new ways to improve.
5. Remember how you learned in the past. Do you remember the first time you tried baking a gourmet dessert, driving a car, or speaking a new language? The first time is tough, but each time it's practiced, learning is happening and overall improvement. We aren't good when we begin, but we learn with practice. Create a vision, and keep making strides to get there.
If you want a new mindset, start choosing to think a new way today. The more often you do, the wider and more used that path will become!
About the Author: After living in Morocco with her family for 9 years, Alicia and her family now reside in a Chicago suburb. She is trying to apply the growth mindset in re-learning American culture. (i.e., "Keep trying even when you make all the alarms go off at the the self-serve checkout! Learn from your mistakes.") Alicia loves time with her grown kids, hearing people's varied stories, collecting scarves, and writing blogs for See Beyond (an IDEAS Associates' business). Click here for the original blog posting.