Mindset: fixed or growth. Which one are you?

I am reading the book Mindset by Carol Dweck. It is a book Neil has been encouraging me to read for a while now and I have finally ceded to his request and I love the reward!

Dweck posits that there are two mindsets: fixed and growth. A fixed mindset is pretty black and white: we are either gifted or we are not. If we are not naturally good, then it’s not worth trying to get better. We love praise and if we do not get praise we worry and start to wonder if we have value. Making an attempt and failing is not an option. A growth mindset is one in which we never settle for good enough, we know that if we try harder, practice more and get feedback or coaching we can and will get better. We are willing to take risks in order to find out where we stand, even if we are unsuccessful. In this mindset, failure is imperative to growth. We all have both mindsets depending on the circumstances. As a leader, it is critical to recognize the different mindsets in yourself and others, understand they developed in a biological and historical climate and know how to shift them.

For example, throughout my years in school I developed a fixed mindset about my writing ability. For me, school was the perfect climate to grow this mindset. I was an average student. I got a D in high school English because I had a hard time understanding present perfect progressives, past participles and a myriad of other alliterative terminology that made my head spin. When I got to college the expectations of the teachers increased and my writing ability improved slightly, but the mindset I was developing, average student, not gifted in writing, led me to not try very hard. Even though I wrote many papers, they really were not very good. I knew the concepts in books and art, could derive meaning from the subject matter, I thrived in lecture classes, but the structure of my papers sucked. In graduate school, my thesis was arduous, I hated feedback and the end result was terrible. I did not even know where to begin because changing the way I wrote seemed insurmountable.  

Now remember, a fixed mindset is one in which we don’t like to fail, and if we fail we move onto something else. This method can work for a while but eventually many opportunities will be out of our grasp since most skills require a bit of risk to learn and grow. Over time this mindset can severely limit our ability to thrive in the world.

Time passed and as I grew into my life work I discovered that I wanted to tell the world about it. One day I felt inspired and just started writing. I did not care if I was good or bad, I simply had to write! The more I wrote the better I got. I am not saying that I am Pulitzer material, but I and others enjoy my perspective and I am interested in working hard to improve my abilities. I switched my mindset! I even like feedback. As a result of what I hear I adjust my output and my writing just keeps getting better.

As a coach I help people understand the biological and historical climate in which their mindsets developed. For instance if a client grew up in a family where the parents were unconsciously anxious about their, say, writing ability maybe the previous generation, their parents, held this same fear or sense of inadequacy. This anxiety will be transferred to the people in that family system and be passed down not only as values, we are not writers, but also as unconscious behaviors, we don’t try to write or expect very much because we are not writers. This mindset limits the opportunity we see in the world, our motivation and the actions we can take.

In order to be an agile leader in an ever evolving and fast paced market place, it is essential to know how to operate from a growth mindset. It does not mean throwing out all of the stability for risk. It means being ready to learn through examining ourselves: our habits of thought, emotion and behavior and their origins and risking even if you fail. From my experience and the research of Carol Dweck, below are a few ways to self-diagnose your mindset.

Do you have a growth mindset?

  • Feedback is appreciated. We are hungry for and encourage it.
  • Failure is a way we can learn and is talked about without shame.
  • Challenges are a way to increase our knowledge and breadth in the world. We reach for challenges are a rarely satisfied by the status quo.

Do you have a fixed mindset?

  • Feedback makes us anxious. We feel defensive when it is given. Often the reaction to feedback is accompanied by a sense of entitlement; we are working hard and want people to recognize the effort we are already putting in.
  • Taking risks where we might fail makes us uncomfortable. We will procrastinate and avoid these situations.
  • Lip service is given to learning, but we often find fault in the way others do things, which leads us to just stick with the way we have always done things. This incongruence can often be frustrating to others.

Given my historical and biological climate I had a fixed mindset about my writing; I never thought I was any good. This was a myth that I believed for a long time and it limited my ability to have impact in the world. Over time I shifted this mindset through introspection and risking time, energy, money, and my reputation to find my path. This journey required the cumulative support of an amazing partner, coaches, therapists, family, friends and colleagues who all believed in me. Through the attention and care of the people in my life encouraging me to let go of the way I pigeon-holed myself, I was able to change my capacity for action. And as a result, you are reading what I write, I hope you enjoy it!

Let this post be the encouragement you need. Invite perspective, get support, shift your mindset, and change the world. We need your voice and your path. Inspire us!