Caroline Foran’s new book shows us how certain unhelpful thoughts and behaviours can prevent us from fulfilling our potential not just for success but for happiness too …
Coined by Professor Carol Dweck of Stanford University, a growth mindset is one where you believe that you are always evolving and learning and improving, where you might sometimes take two steps back but then you’ll take one step forward. It’s where you exert effort to move forward and you persist in the face of perceived setbacks.
Conversely, a fixed mindset is where we believe that we are born and raised with a fixed set of skills and abilities that will determine how far we’ll go and the level of success we can enjoy. With a fixed mindset, we might hit a roadblock and then get stuck. Not ideal but certainly something you could change.
When you develop your own growth mindset, you can take the envy that you’re sure to feel from time to time and then use it as a resource. Instead of self talk such as “I’m a loser because they’re successful”, we can take note of what they’ve done and apply it to ourselves. “I’m impressed by her tenacity, I’m going to keep pushing through my own self-doubt.”
You’ll notice your growth mindset is growing and working for you when you no longer get stopped in your tracks by social comparison. Without it, you’d get stuck, you’d feel discouraged, but with it, you can consciously choose benign envy, rather than falling victim to its negative counterparts.
To develop your own growth mindset, you will need to start with a willingness to be vulnerable. Why? Because, among other things, with a growth mindset you have to take steps towards challenges and opportunities where there are risks involved, where you might make mistakes or fail and you have to believe that if things don’t go your way, you haven’t actually lost, you’ve grown.
You need to change the narrative that sees these moments in life as challenges and instead recognise them as opportunities. You also need to view yourself as a constant work in progress. You will not progress every day – and we definitely need days to just be – but, overall, you’re trending in the direction of where you want to be. You need to be realistic with yourself and patient, knowing that things take time. You need to watch your thoughts and how you speak to yourself, how you react in the face of social comparison and choose the benign end of the envy spectrum.
I asked Dr Tchiki Davis, author of Click Here for Happiness and founder of the Berkeley Well-being Institute (or in short, a very impressive woman), for her two cents on the growth mindset, as it’s something she’s explored extensively in her work.
To be living with a growth mindset, she says, “We have to view living as learning. When we do, we start to pursue scary things, try new things, and make an effort to learn from our mistakes.” It’s important because if you want to make a change in your life, “you need to believe you can change, and if you actually believe that change is possible, you’re more likely to put in the effort that it takes to change”.
On top of a willingness to be vulnerable, Davis also suggests it’s good to have a pretty clear idea of how a growth mindset and a fixed mindset differ, so that you can identify which one you’re in. You might, at times, slip into a fixed mindset (I certainly do, and it’s easy for that to happen when we are stressed out or exhausted) but with awareness you can nudge yourself back in the growth direction. Davis cites three key differences to be mindful of:
When faced with hard work, the “fixed mindset” person may recruit others to do the hardest parts, spending as little effort as possible, while the “growth mindset” person believes that good outcomes often require exertion – “effort” is just a part of the process. In order to master a new task, one usually needs to apply energy, whether mental, physical or simply by using repetition over time.
A “fixed mindset” person shies away from challenges, possibly from fear of failure and may go into hiding as a way to avoid responsibilities. In contrast, the “growth mindset” person finds challenges to be exciting and engaging, knowing that they will learn something valuable from their experiences. They stick to it, mastering the challenge, and then are able to move on to ever greater accomplishments.
3. Mistakes and Feedback
The “fixed mindset” person hates making mistakes because it’s embarrassing. They may blame others or be defensive when criticised. Meanwhile, a “growth mindset” person will see the mistake as a lesson to learn from and will be less likely to take criticism personally. Being open to criticism can help improve one’s ability to do better the next time, which is another reason why a ‘growth mindset’ can lead to success.
From Naked, Ten Truths To Change Your Life, Caroline Foran, is out now and can be purchased at www.easons.com.
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