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  • Writer's pictureHelen Frewin

Growth Mindset

In Better Than Confidence, I explore the importance of being open to learning from experience. Carol Dweck’s research and insights on the Growth Mindset are incredibly useful here, for us to consider how we can think more helpfully about our abilities and learning.

If you have not come across these ideas before, then you may like to read an overview here. I also highly recommend reading Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, as there are some brilliant insights in there and some super useful ideas for managing people and parenting too!

The Power of Yet

Dweck’s TED Talk has this title, “The Power of Yet,” as that one word can make a huge difference to our thinking.

A delegate on a leadership development programme this week shared with the group, “I realise there are some things I can’t do.”

I asked her, “What if you add the word, ‘yet’?”

“There are some things I can’t do yet.”

In decades of research on achievement and success, Dweck has discovered a truly groundbreaking idea that our thinking could have a more powerful impact on our abilities and success than we might ever have imagined.

Rather than abilities being fixed, we see time and time again that people can improve. Sure, some people start out with greater natural talent than others. Yet regardless of our starting point, we can all improve. The more you challenge your mind to learn, the more the brain grows and gets stronger. You’re working the muscle.

Adopting a ‘growth mindset’ means believing you can learn and improve. And Dweck found that such a mindset helped children build resilience and achieve better results at school, as well as adults to reach their personal and professional goals. This is in contrast to a fixed mindset, where we believe that ability is fixed. If I’m not good at drawing now, I never will be. If I’m pretty good at my job now, then that’s probably as good as I’ll ever be, so I need to protect myself and ensure people don’t question my ability. It will never get any better.

As Dweck summarises, “Believing that your qualities are carved in stone—the fixed mindset—creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over.” “Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them?”

Here are some of my other favourite quotes from the book:

“The fixed mindset makes you concerned with how you’ll be judged; the growth mindset makes you concerned with improving”.

“College students, after doing poorly on a test, were given a chance to look at tests of other students. Those in the growth mindset looked at the tests of people who had done far better than they had. As usual, they wanted to correct their deficiency. But students in the fixed mindset chose to look at the tests of people who had done really poorly. That was their way of feeling better about themselves”.

I was delighted to see this HBR article from Dweck a few years after her book was published, as I have heard all of the misunderstandings about Growth and Fixed Mindsets she describes here.

Perhaps the most common, inappropriate phrase I hear is, “yes, yes, I already have a growth mindset,” as though it is a constant unchanging characteristic.

What if instead we understood the need to constantly choose a growth mindset? What if we noticed those situations that bring out more of a fixed mindset in us, and challenge that thinking? For me personally, I found that in many areas, I had a growth mindset. But my fixed mindset turned up in all things creative, as I told people “I can’t draw” and “I wasn’t built for art.” Then I noticed my fixed mindset raising an ugly head when others in my network succeeded at something.

I found myself resenting that person, feeling angry at their success. Choosing to notice these shifts in my thinking and challenge their truth and helpfulness, the biggest change has been in this piece about others’s success. Now I am inspired by people around me doing well. Instead of being angry at their results, I am inspired to consider – “if they can do it, maybe I can too,” and ask, “what can I learn from them?”

This sums it up brilliantly:

“it’s still not easy to attain a growth mindset. One reason why is we all have our own fixed-mindset triggers. When we face challenges, receive criticism, or fare poorly compared with others, we can easily fall into insecurity or defensiveness, a response that inhibits growth.

To remain in a growth zone, we must identify and work with these triggers. Many managers and executives have benefited from learning to recognize when their fixed-mindset “persona” shows up and what it says to make them feel threatened or defensive. Most importantly, over time they have learned to talk back to it, persuading it to collaborate with them as they pursue challenging goals.

It’s hard work, but individuals and organizations can gain a lot by deepening their understanding of growth-mindset concepts and the processes for putting them into practice. It gives them a richer sense of who they are, what they stand for, and how they want to move forward.”

When do you fall into more fixed mindset thinking? Next time that happens, how could you choose a different line of thinking? What difference might that make for you?

Now for a shameless plug of my book!


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