In the world of education, personal development, as well as the corporate world, the concept of a growth mindset, and the benefits of a growth mindset – as compared to a fixed mindset – has become more common. Carol Dweck, who coined the term, explains it like this:
“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.”
Deciding to embrace a growth mindset means we believe that skills and talents come from effort and can always be improved, challenges are not something to avoid or illustrative of lack of skills but should be embraced as an opportunity to grow, and feedback is not critical but something to learn from.
No more ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ or ‘I was just never any good at math’ thinking…but it IS true that ‘old habits die hard’ and so there is definitely change involved in moving from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. AND we may have different types of mindsets in different areas of our lives. For example, you could have an open, curious, always-learning approach to your career, but believe that you could never be thin, or fit, or charismatic. Or vice versa. You get the picture.
And speaking of pictures, we humans THINK in pictures, in images, so the words we use and the thoughts we think play a significant role in how well we are able to change our mindsets. How we think affects how we feel, and it is our emotional mind (or our subconscious mind) that controls what’s happening in our lives at a daily level (you can read more about that in a previous blog here).
The power of words in changing our inner and outer game is a passion of mine. The sometimes overused 'you become what you think about' is true (and while sounding simple isn't easy) - it starts with our thoughts…which are comprised of words and choosing the right words for the right effects is essential.
First let’s assume we want to see ourselves with a growth mindset, which means we believe we can develop our skills. It’s essential that we model this and that we foster it in the people in our lives – family, students, employees – we can’t give what we don’t have. Should you do the inner work for yourself because it’s good for YOU? Definitely. Are you more likely to be conscious of your words, thoughts and actions when you remind yourself you are a role model? Definitely! And that will be good for everyone!
When you make a mistake (because you will), first notice what you say to yourself inside your head – is it encouraging learning, persistence, effort? How do you react reading this to the very idea of making mistakes, or of failing? Talk about the power of words!
If your inner dialogue – which often ends up as outer dialogue! – is not supportive, what can you say instead? Muttering ‘how can I be so stupid’, or ‘I can’t believe I messed that up’ are the polite versions of what you may have said before. It takes conscious effort to change the language to embrace a growth mindset approach. So instead saying to yourself ‘I’m going to figure this out’ or ‘well that didn’t work so what I can try that will’.
This is not about striving for perfection OR empty praise and a participation ribbon, neither of which will create the results we desire. Personally I want – and I want my clients and my children to want – a journey of discovery that leads to success. What that success looks like is another discussion and article but I want to live ‘Practise Makes Progress’.
Let go of the idea of perfection. There is no perfect standard to obtain, but instead always a better, more beautiful way. The ‘Best Practices’ documents from 5 years ago are no longer the best practices. My ‘best’ presentation deck from 1 year ago is not longer my best! When we are striving for ‘better’ each and every day, knowing that this changes over time, we can bring together our focus on – and celebration of – of both the process, and the outcome. Instead of leaning toward the extremes of praising only the outcome, or only the process (risking empty praise or lacklustre results) we dig in and enjoy the learning, the experiences that are required to get our best results. And our best results keep on getting better!
To me, cultivating a growth mindset is about building resilience and belief in our abilities to grow and change and to keep on getting better and better. One of my favourite quotes about goals is by Henry David Thoreau and it’s all about growth, of who you want to BE:
“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals”
Who do you want to be? What do you tell yourself about that person – their skills and talents, their drive and persistence, their confidence, their beauty?
Neuroscience has shown us the plasticity of the brain and its ability to change. YOU can control the plasticity of your mind and create the changes in your life. Start with one new or different thought – try ‘Practice Makes Progress’ – and then think it again and again as you strengthen your growth mindset in new and beautiful ways!
About the Author:
Lisa Hardess is an accomplished coach and consultant who has worked with adults, children, teams and communities to support the transformation of their professional and personal lives using a combination of critical mind shifts and strategic action planning. Lisa has worked in consulting, education and not-for-profits with people in groups, workshops, and one-on-one for over 15 years. She has a Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Education, a Master of Science in Planning and Development. Lisa is a certified Thinking Into Results consultant with the (Bob) Proctor Gallagher Institute.