What’s a Growth Mindset, Why Do I Need It and How Can I Cultivate One?

In my last article, I wrote about preparing for the future by thinking innovatively and embracing a growth mindset. I realize now that I may have put the cart before the horse by not discussing in greater detail the concept of a “growth mindset” (and its inverse, the “fixed mindset”) and why it’s important to be in one and how one can cultivate it.

The concept of Growth and Fixed mindset was first set forth by Carol S. Dweck, PhD in her seminal work ”Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” about how our mindset impacts our ability to succeed more than our innate talents. She examines how children who were praised for their intelligence and talent were far less successful than children who were recognized for their discipline, commitment, and hard work. When a child is praised for innate abilities, it can have a reverse impact by discouraging continued hard work and creates what Dweck refers to as a “fixed mindset.” This mindset holds that our abilities and intelligence are fixed and that, to some degree, and we unconsciously accept that effort is less important than natural ability and we take failure as the end of the game, not as the starting point. The fixed mindset perspective can be very self-limiting and can bring out our inner negative voice to excuse our perceived failure. As a result, we may only gravitate to those activities where we naturally excel, can be easily accomplished or where we feel assured that the hard work won’t tarnish a preconceived notion about us. When we aren’t afraid of being judged, we may work hard as if to prove to the world and ourselves that we were underestimated but then give up when faced with a any significant setback or failure.

A growth mindset recognizes that our brains and abilities are inherently fluid and “neuroplastic,” meaning we can grow the neurons in our brain to actually become smarter and more capable. Dweck found that the kids who were rewarded for hard work had greater perseverance, higher positivity and more tolerance for “failure” than kids who were recognized for being smart, talented and possessing innate abilities. These growth-minded kids were more willing to push through the challenges to achieve greater success. This is true for adults as well.

This growth mindset was taken a step further by Angela Duckworth, PhD as described in her NY Times bestselling book “Grit,” where she researched people she defined as having “Grit” – those who were particularly persistent and passionate to achieve despite setbacks and when other might have given up She found that feedback, deliberate/purposeful practice, and letting go of a preconceived notion of natural talent/ability can influence our grit. She found that by visualizing “vivid and concert plans” to carry out a desired outcome can help us to become more gritty and growth-minded. Creating specific goals with actionable plans can move us forward and hold us accountable to achieve greater results. While it’s important to have that big lofty end goal (BGE) but as I’ve written before, you need to know to have a map to get there. Break the BGE into smaller milestones so you can accomplish something every day/week/month to move you closer to your BGE. Connect your passion, determination and purpose to that goal. This is how you embrace a growth mindset and develop your grit.

Perhaps one of the harder elements of shifting from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset is letting go of those self-limiting beliefs (SLBs) that question our abilities to succeed at something that we may have failed at previously. .. These SLBs hold us back from fully embracing our full potential potential. The challenge and reward for building grit is all about holding the bar for ourselves higher than we think we can reach—and then KNOWING that pushing ourself may result in falling down. It’s this feedback that allows us to retool, reframe and re-imagine. Think of the scientist who does experiment after experiment. If one doesn’t work, it’s a process of elimination, not failure, it’s a methodology to hone to excellence, not to measure failure!

When you hear your inner voice asking, “Why do YOU think you can do that?” Here’s your opportunity to step into the mindset of “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Remember the saying, “If you believe you can or can’t do something, you’re absolutely right” and “If at first you don’t succeed, you need to just keep trying.”

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