Here are a few questions for you…
(A) Do you believe that with persistence, strategy and input from others you can grow your capabilities? or
(B) Do you believe your capabilities are innate and therefore static?
(A) Do you embrace challenges? or
(B) Do you avoid challenges?
(A) Do you find inspiration and lessons in the work and achievements of others? or
(B) Do you feel threatened by the work and achievements of others?
If you have answered mostly A, then you have growth mindset tendencies. If you have answered mostly B, then you have fixed mindset tendencies.
The term growth mindset was coined by psychologist Dr Carol Dweck after she and her colleagues became interested in students' attitudes about failure. They found that whilst some students were thwarted by setbacks, others rebounded. Much of this had to do with the students’ underlying belief about learning and intelligence.
When we have a growth mindset we believe we can grow and become smarter, and as such we contribute greater time and effort to our learning. This equates to higher achievement. If we believe ourselves to be incapable, we are less likely to apply ourselves and therefore experience diminished success when compared to our growth mindset counterparts.
Though this study looked specifically at students, the implications are vast - especially as learning and accrual of new knowledge and skills is essential for anyone within the modern workforce.
As described by Brassey, van Dam and Coats for McKinsey, “The people who will thrive in the 21st century will be those who embrace lifelong learning and continually increase their knowledge, skills, and competencies.”
Historically workers developed deep expertise at the beginning of their career which was then sustained by years of on-the-job experience. However, as the majority of us now spend more time within the workforce and undertake different roles throughout our professional lifetime, it’s essential that we develop deep expertise in different areas to stay adept and competitive.
From a purely practical perspective we simply cannot stop learning. We can’t succumb to complacency and challenge with a fixed mindset. We need to embrace growth.
If you are reading this article it’s likely that you have an insatiable curiosity and love of learning. This propensity is beautifully described by Zao-Sanders and Schveninger in their HBR article,
“For many, a number of conscious experiences converge at the point of learning. There is an illumination of the unknown, as beams of light fall on hidden secrets and treasures. There’s the awareness of a new capability and the freedom and independence that may bring — the power to deal better with the big, uncertain world.”
Even though many of us have experienced first hand the joie de vivre that learning bestows, the reality is that the consuming and urgent nature of work often eclipses our time and energy for self-directed learning (no matter how much of a growth mindset you may have).
So how can we embrace a growth mindset to prioritise our lifelong learning both for personal growth and professional success?
Carol Dweck has concluded that “mind-set has a significant impact on the effort put forward, perception of criticism, willingness to accept failure, and, ultimately, how much will be learned” (McKinsey).
With just a few simple mindfulness exercises we can shift our mindset from fixed to growth:
“Draw experience from rich tapestry of life”
- Marc Zao-Sanders and Catalina Schveninger
As studies have shown, the brain is malleable with an evolving structure of neural networks that change through experience. Through practice and perseverance we will not only learn, but also adapt our mindset from fixed to growth.
As Benjamin Franklin once said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”. This logic extends to your learning strategy. Those with growth mindset tendencies naturally persist in the face of setbacks and understand effort as the path to mastery, however even the greatest learning intentions are futile without a clear strategy.
It is well documented that learning takes place when we stretch beyond our comfort zone. Embracing challenges is a core tenant of a growth mindset, so when setting learning goals or planning a learning strategy be sure to integrate opportunities to learn outside of your comfort zone.
This could look like:
When the going gets tough it is through resilience and perseverance that we will grow and learn.
TIP: Gather a learning community of peers, mentors, family or friends to keep you accountable through constructive criticism, collective learning and ideation. You can do this face-to-face or use a platform like myhaventime teams to collaborate remotely.