MINDMATTERS:   Is Your Mindset Stunting Your Growth?

In preparation for an upcoming client engagement, I recently revisited Carol Dweck’s work on a growth mindset.  I love this concept of the growth vs. fixed mindset – it truly resonates with me, but it is still sometimes hard for me to hold onto it in the day-to-day of life.

According to Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University, there are two types of mindsets:  a growth mindset and a fixed mindset.  “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment” (Dweck, 2015).  In other words, people in a growth mindset believe that intellect evolves.  They are more likely to embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, see effort as the path to mastery, learn from criticism, and find lessons and inspiration in the success of others.

In contrast, a fixed mindset is driven by the underlying belief that people are born with a fixed amount of intelligence and natural talent.  Essentially, this means intellect is static – you either have it or you don’t – and efforts to develop and improve are not impactful.  When in a fixed mindset, people are more likely to avoid challenges, give up easily, see effort as fruitless or worse, ignore useful negative feedback, and feel threatened by the success of others.

I am a life-long learner who tends to become bored and feel stagnant when I am not growing.  My brain enjoys gaining new knowledge and identifying new ideas and possibilities.  This mindset fuels creativity and a willingness to venture outside of my comfort zone to take on challenges and try new things.
At the same time, however, I am also a recovering perfectionist.  My natural temperament, early life experiences and modeling all likely contributed to my drive to succeed, a desire to please, and some fear of failure.  I realize that these work against my ability to consistently and authentically live from a growth mindset in my day-to-day.  I have worked hard and intentionally as an adult to build greater awareness of the ways and circumstances in which perfectionism hinders me, and I have worked to dial it back a bit.  As both a professional and in my personal life, I do not want to stunt my growth by operating from a place of self-protection.
While I do think I spend more time in a growth mindset now than in the past, my perfectionistic thoughts still bubble up at times and get in the way.  I clearly recall this happening earlier in the summer, while my husband and I were spending a weekend with several other couples at a lake house.  I remember the situation because it surprised me at the time and then bothered me afterwards.  Here is what happened:

We were out on our friends’ wakeboard boat for the day, and various people were trying out wake skating (like wakeboarding but without the boots on the board).  Most of us had never tried it before but are experienced water skiers, knee boarders, etc.  I loved watching people learn and try, try, try again that day.  But when I was prodded to get out there, I quickly felt reluctant – even though I really wanted to try it.  My thoughts were conflicted and along the lines of, “It looks so fun and I REALLY want to do it,” coupled with, “I don’t want all of them to see me crash over and over.  That won’t be pretty.  What if I can’t get up at all?  I’m too old to try this.”  I declined initially, making a lame excuse about my back not tolerating water skiing and such anymore.  But, eventually my desire to try something new won out.  It felt like a bit of a risk at the time, but I pushed myself to do it anyway and I loved it. 

Upon reflection, I realized that this was an opportunity to try something new that looked fun and that I have the general skillset to accomplish; but, nonetheless, my mindset initially held me back.  I am so glad that I did not let a fixed mindset dominate that day.  In addition to missing out on fun, I would also have missed out on the sense of accomplishment that came with success (AND, on getting to see the look of surprise and slight admiration on my teenage son’s face when he later found out that I had done it)!  It takes ongoing effort to recognize and push back when the fixed mindset takes hold.  Awareness and reflection on my self-talk around the wake skate experience has reminded and inspired me to keep working to strengthen my growth mindset.

According to Dr. Dweck, “the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life.”  Since our mindset stems from a set of beliefs and our beliefs are not innate (they are developed over time), this means that we also have the power within us to reconsider and change our beliefs when they no longer hold true and/or serve us well.
What can we do to strengthen the growth mindset?  In her Inc. Magazine article, “Shift to a Growth Mindset with These 8 Powerful Strategies,” Angelina Zimmerman shares these techniques for developing a growth mindset:

  1. Create A New Compelling Belief – Create a new compelling belief by believing your talents and skills can be refined by applying yourself.   It is this effort and the enjoyment that you get from it that will help you to achieve mastery.


  1. View Failure in A Different Light – Stay clear in your mind that failure is what you do, not who you are as a person.   We all experience failure in life, but it need not define us.  Failure can be learned from and can guide additional efforts toward success.  It can be used to guide adjustments and then spur us on to keep trying.


  1. Skyrocket Your Self-Awareness – Build a keen self-awareness of your strengths and weaknesses.  Seek feedback from trusted others (family, close friends, boss, and colleagues) to gain additional perspectives.


  1. Become A Curious Learner – Channel your inner child by approaching life with wonder and seek to discover its beauty.  Focus on learning and growing.  Take the time to ask more questions of those around you and allow yourself to be curious. You never know what you might discover, until you allow yourself to let go and to seek out the knowledge of what you are afraid to ask.


  1. Embrace Challenge as Your New Best Friend – Adopt a view of life as an ongoing journey with inherent challenge and risk on the path to success.  It is up to you to determine the goals you will strive for, the paths you will take and the degree of risk you are willing to tolerate.  In order to succeed in reaching your goals, you must become mentally strong and persist in the face of challenge.  Zimmerman explains that success is “all about learning and taking positive action time and time again.  No matter how far (you) fall, (you) continue to get back up to begin playing the game once more.”


  1. Love Takes You to The Top – Love what you do.  People with a growth mindset who love what they do tend to achieve success more organically.  When people lack clear aspirations, success is merely a spin-off from doing what they love and continuing to do so passionately, even when faced with adversity and challenges.


  1. Tenacity That Ignites – Tenacity can make you unstoppable.  For tenacious people, giving up is not an option.  They have a goal and will not stop until they succeed.  This is a key to their success and sets them apart from others.  Champions simply keep going in the face of adversity, defeat and against all odds.


  1. Be Massively Inspired by Others – Enjoy and celebrate the success of others.  Watching others achieve goals and succeed can highlight the possibilities of life and then spur you on to continue your journey with the renewed sense that your own success is achievable.

Like most things worth doing, improving the growth mindset takes effort and repeated practice.  The more effort and energy you put into it, the greater benefit you will likely reap in terms of establishing beliefs that support this powerful mindset.  I hope you will find these strategies useful and, like me, then feel inspired to do the ongoing work to firmly establish your overall mindset as characterized by one of growth.  I don’t want a fixed mindset to stunt my growth and hope you won’t either.  Have a great week and let us know about your current growth efforts!