The ability to learn from setbacks, absorb the learnings inherent in failure, and use it all to fuel growth is a key to success. This orientation to success is what Researcher and Professor Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset.”
A growth mindset is the belief that your essential qualities can grow through effort. Although people may differ in talents and aptitudes or interests, everyone can change and grow through application and experience. (This is one of the reasons many researchers and scientists have called into question the usefulness of IQ tests, finding them fundamentally flawed.)
Minds that Grow from Challenge
People with a growth mindset are more likely to take on challenging tasks, accept failure as part of the learning process, and as a result, learn and grow more than a colleague with a “fixed mindset.” They also recognize the value of constructive feedback and know how to put it to work for improved outcomes.
Dweck’s research indicates that a fixed mindset can negatively impact relationships as well as achievement. “Believing that your qualities are carved in stone creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over,” says Dweck. “If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character, well then, you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.”
How to Change Your Mind
The best news is that growth mindsets can be developed. Here’s how:
Acknowledge challenges and mistakes so that you can learn from them. For many of us, looking at our shortcomings and flaws is a painful experience. We may have been raised from childhood to think of these as shameful, or the result of some character flaw. Unfortunately, these deeply rooted beliefs can make it challenging to move beyond shame and into self-acceptance and growth. Developing a growth mindset requires that we first accept ourselves as imperfect people and acknowledge our imperfections as part of our human experience.
Experiment with new approaches to tasks and problem-solving. I had a great-auntie who used to say, “If you keep doing what you did, you’ll keep getting what you got.” Growth requires that we step out of our comfort zones and habitual ways of doing things. Even small changes can prompt us into new thought patterns. For example, if your problem-solving approach is to invite your team together to brainstorm, try instead sending them on a 30-minute walk with the request that they return with ideas. You might be surprised how much energy and new thinking shows up on your next call.
Stop seeking approval. The need for approval is deeply wired in many of us. But continually looking over your shoulder to see if you’re getting approval from others inhibits your creativity and the development of your self-confidence. When you find yourself looking for that pat on the back or words of affirmation, stop. Take a deep breath. Notice that need for encouragement, and instead of looking for it externally, offer it to yourself. Thank yourself for the effort applied to that project, and congratulate yourself for the determination to bring it to completion. (And while you’re at it, remember to thank your colleagues as well.)
Value the process of learning over the result. Our goal-focused work environments often miss the critical fact that learning – developing capacity over time – can often be more valuable to our outcomes than the goals and objectives we were pursuing in the first place. This is a significant shift. As a leader, consider praising your teams for the effort and skill they applied to a project, rather than just the results.
Developing a growth mindset encourages us to embrace and own our intellectual and personal development. It’s a critical early step in the lifelong journey beyond knowledge to wisdom.
Loretta Cooper is a Senior Consultant at Wheelhouse Group. She is an ICF Certified Executive and Team Coach (PCC) and an accomplished consulting professional with more than 12 years of private and public sector experience. Loretta comes to consulting after nearly two decades in network broadcasting. As an award-winning, Washington-based, National Affairs Correspondent for ABC News, Loretta (aka Lauren Rogers) had the opportunity to observe leaders in every sphere of influence – political, government, corporate, activist – and learn from their strategy successes and failures. She is married, the mother to two fabulous young men (just ask!), and enjoys long walks, jet skis, good books, and knitting.