Understanding and Adopting a Growth Mindset

By Sara Tetzloff posted 07-11-2022 16:10


Hi, my name is Sara and I’m a professional development addict. I impulsively buy books authored by gurus and renowned speakers. I devour Ted Talks by the dozen. I listen to podcasts that interview experts on my runs. One of the topics I hear a lot about is having a growth mindset. A veritable dream for someone with my obsession.

Of course, I had to get to the bottom of what a growth mindset is. After all, I fancy myself a lifelong learner, and isn’t that what a growth mindset is all about? It turns out the answer is “yes, and.” Dr. Carol Dweck and her colleagues coined the term “growth mindset” after finding interest in and conducting research on their student’s feelings about failure. What they realized is a growth mindset had potential to contribute to vast more potential for growth and learning than a fixed mindset.

The Difference Between a Growth Mindset and Fixed Mindset

Put simply, a fixed mindset means you think the traits and skills you were born with are the traits and skills you’ll have for life. You’re static. It’s basically the mindset of “you either got it, or you don’t.”

Some of the characteristics of someone with a fixed mindset is that they avoid challenges or give in easily, they feel they know everything about everything, they avoid or shrug off criticism, and they often feel insecure when others experience success.

There is no room for failure and imperfection in a fixed mindset.

What Growth Mindset Means

Having a growth mindset sometimes gets confused with being open-minded. Even sometimes being eternally optimistic. However, having a growth mindset is about believing that the traits and talents you’re born with are just the beginning. So even when you’re crushing your SMART goals, there is always room to grow and improve.

Growth mindset can be about attitude, but it’s more about effort. It does not necessarily mean achieving mastery or perfection—everyone has some type of limitations that can affect the level at which they are able to improve. But a growth mindset empowers us to give something new our best shot and to have the resilience to get back up and try again if we fail.

Why Growth Mindset Is Important

Humans are wired to grow and evolve, and often it happens without our knowledge or intention. However, adopting the growth mindset makes the sometimes-uncomfortable process of learning or progressing more manageable.

For example, I’ve often said I’m not great at math. Maybe that’s true but I always seem to get a little better at it. Needing to take several math classes as an MBA candidate has shown me that progress is possible, no matter how small the increments are. I think the thing that saves me from utter and total failure is the desire and the effort to get better with every class.

The nice thing about the growth mindset is you literally can get an “A for effort.” When you’re applauded for making the effort to learn and grow even in the face of failure, you’re encouraged and empowered to continue putting in the effort to improve. Complimenting success is great, but it often disregards all the work that went into it.

Can Growth Mindset Be Taught?

Darn right it can. If you’re committed to your fixed mindset, it could be a long and arduous process but it’s not impossible. Here are some things you can try to start adopting a growth mindset.

  • Identify and investigate your starting point on the spectrum. Make note of past experiences and how you’ve approached learning. Do you have a growth mindset with some fixed mindset beliefs? Are you all in on the fixed mindset? Question why that is and maybe even identify where it comes from. For me, my fixed mindset behaviors stemmed from perfectionism.
  • Establish your why. One of the people I’ve enjoyed learning from on my professional development journey is Simon Sinek who has a strong belief that understanding and operating from our “why” can make a difference in how much effort we’re willing to put into a task or learning a new skill. For example, my why is to “Craft meaningful experiences for others so they may experience joy.” Therefore, I’m all about investing time in energy into learning and developing skills that allow me to deliver on that “why.”
  • Evaluate your thoughts and attitudes toward yourself and others. Especially around success and failure. Self-talk is a powerful thing. If you’re constantly beating yourself or others up for failures and shortcomings, you’re convincing yourself that you shouldn’t try to grow or improve. Silence that inner critic. When I find myself feeling like a negative Nelly, I try to change my self-talk so that I’m thinking in flexible terms. So, if I’m not good at, say, cross-stitch, I would say, “I’m not good at cross-stitch ”
  • Welcome radical candor. When we’re open to feedback, we’re accepting the possibility that we can improve. One of my favorite books on feedback is “Daring Greatly” by Brené Brown, who examines shame guilt, and vulnerability in a way that makes you feel like you’re having a cup of coffee with a wise friend.

If you’re leading a company or a team and you want to live the growth mindset life, here are three quick tips to set you up for success, er, I mean, growth.

  • If you’re striving for a growth mindset culture, ask interview questions that determine where candidates are on that spectrum. Ask them for an example of their growth mindset in action.
  • Put your money where your mouth is. Promote growth amongst employees and team members by funding professional development or continuing education.
  • Walk the walk day in and day out by building a learning culture at work. Create a safe environment where people are encouraged to take risks and make mistakes. Then help them derive and learn lessons to help them get better.

Where do you fall on the mindset spectrum? If you don’t have a growth mindset yet, which of these tips seem the most doable for you?