Some people see mistakes as a learning experience, and persevere to achieve success.
Others see failure as evidence that they have little talent in that area, and thus stop trying.
Stanford Professor Carol Dweck and her colleagues studied school childrens’ attitudes about failure. They noticed that some children bounced back after experiencing problems, while others seemed overwhelmed by relatively small challenges.
Through this research they identified two mindsets: fixed and growth.
What’s the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset?
A fixed mindset is, “believing your qualities are carved in stone,” whereas a growth mindset is “the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts” (Dweck, 2016). A growth mindset generally leads to a more varied, confident, interesting life because the individual is happy to learn and try new experiences and skills.
Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts). This is because they worry less about looking smart and they put more energy into learning.Carol Dweck, From: What having a “growth mindset” actually means. Harvard Business Review.
Whether we have a fixed or growth mindset is not an ‘either / or” situation. It is a sliding scale, and very few people have a 100% fixed mindset, or 100% growth mindset.
- We might believe that singing ability is pre-set – we either have the talent to sing, or we don’t. This might lead us to avoid learning how to sing due to fear of embarrassment and making mistakes, and also feeling that it is futile to try! (fixed mindset)
- We might feel that some people are definitely more talented than others, but that skill and practice can also play a part. (mixture of fixed and growth mindset)
- We might also consider that effort plays a large part, and that anyone can learn to sing if they put in sufficient practice. We might enjoy learning the new skill, and be OK with making mistakes as we see them as a way to learn. We wouldn’t be embarrassed by the mistakes, or by others seeing (and hearing) us while we make mistakes. (growth mindset)
We can also have a fixed mindset about one area of life, and a growth mindset about another.
- Maybe we feel that cooking is a skill that can be learnt, and so we practice and practice. If one of the meals does not turn out as we wish, we simply try again until we are happy with the result.
- Alternatively, we might feel that individuals either have (or don’t have) the ability to use computer programs – spreadsheets, mobile device apps, etc. we feel we don’t have this ability, so don’t try to learn or practice.
In her article for the Harvard Business Review (Dweck, 2016), she points out areas of confusion some experience about her research:-
- Some people think open-mindedness and flexibility is a growth mindset.
- People sometimes believe that concentrating on praising and rewarding effort is all that matters. Her research showed that although the effort is critical, it is also important to reward activities that lead to progress and outcomes – e.g. seeking help from others, trying new strategies, and capitalizing on setbacks to move forward.
- Sometimes people only talk about a growth mindset, have it in a company’s mission statement, effectively stating “we have a growth mindset”. That is not sufficient!
10 Ways to Develop a Growth Mindset
It is possible to shift towards a growth mindset:
1. Learn from others
Learning from others’ mistakes and successes enables us to see which activities work well to achieve our goals, and which activities to avoid.
2. See challenges as opportunities for learning
A little child who is learning to walk sees this as a challenge. Few children decide that they cannot be bothered making the effort! A challenge can be an opportunity to learn something new rather than something to be feared or avoided. Think of the times in life when you have overcame an obstacle, or had to learn a new skill, and how you feel afterwards – perhaps proud of yourself, confident, or other positive emotions….
3. Pay attention to your self-talk
Whether a person talks to themselves in their head (silent self-talk) or talks out loud to others, they ‘hear’ what they are saying about themselves. If they start to pay attention to the words they speak, even the words in their mind, this can improve the self-talk. This improves self-esteem as well. They can think and say positive statements about themselves. Of course they need to be realistic – e.g. “I’m committed to improving my singing, and practice an hour a day” rather than “I’m sure I’ll win the singing contest in two months”.
4. Stop comparing ourselves to others
Generally, there are always going to be people who are better at “it” (whatever “it” may be) than we are. Comparing ourselves to others can lead to a fixed mindset (“they just have more talent – I’ll never be as good as they are”), stress and lack of confidence. To encourage a growth mindset, we can compete with ourselves. Try to be better this week (or month) than we were last week (or month).
5. Respect yourself
Linked to the previous point, appreciation of our strong points makes a growth mindset much easier. No-one is perfect, so why not get into the habit of appreciating the strengths that we all have!
6. Know your purpose
Just like the young child who perseveres in walking, falling down and walking a bit further, it helps to know the purpose of what you are learning or practising. On a wider scale, it also helps to know how the effort fits into the greater purpose of life. Perhaps the immediate purpose of learning to sing is to give monthly concerts to the local retirement home, and the greater purpose / why we want to do that is a desire to improve the lives of other people.
While she was studying for her nutrition and dietetics degree, one of my friends had a large piece of cardboard pinned above her desk which read “Joan Wallace, BSc Nutrition and Dietetics”, showing the imagined end result of her hard work. She was making her purpose clear and accessible – she saw the card every time she looked up from her study desk!
7. Listen to constructive criticism
If other people have useful ideas on how we can improve, why not listen to them? They could have valuable insight. Remember that it’s OK to be imperfect and it’s OK to be learning and make mistakes. That’s one of the ways to learn.
8. Take the time to learn
Learning and practising a skill takes time. Human nature means that if we stick at something, we will improve. Some skills take a long time to learn, or to learn really well.
9. Focus on the process and the goal
Linked to the previous point, and also linked to striving to beat your previous performance, focus on the journey as well as the destination. This often improves the end result, and leads to greater motivation, satisfaction, and confidence.
10. It’s OK to make mistakes in public
This is generally part of growing and practising – e.g. students will practise and answer questions in class in front of other students.
In business, I would rehearse a speech in private until I felt I had perfected it, but I know that it was only by actually delivering the presentations in front of strangers and other colleagues that I really learnt some valuable lessons in public speaking.
In addition, making mistakes in front of others will usually get easier with practice!
Is a growth mindset enough?
To get the most from life, it is not enough to shift one’s mindset. We also need a healthy dose of grit and resilience to achieve short and long-term goals.
But what is grit? This term was first applied to mental effort by Angela Duckworth:-
“Grit is the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals”(Duckworth et al., 2007).
Resilience is the ability to pick ourselves up and continue towards our goals after experiencing adversity.
Resilience is “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors.”(American Psychological Association (APA, n.d.) )
Grit and resilience are closely linked.
Duckworth believes that people are born with varying amounts of grit, but it develops through life experience. Having a growth mindset helps with developing grit.
I’ll delve into the connection between grit, resilience and growth mindset in a future blogpost.
- American Psychological Association [APA] (n.d.). The road to resilience. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience
- Duckworth, A.L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M.D., & Kelly, D.R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1087-1101. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.1247
- Dweck, C. (13 January 2016). What having a “growth mindset” actually means. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2016/01/what-having-a-growth-mindset-actually-means