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  • Writer's pictureAli McNab

How to develop a Growth Mindset

When faced with a situation that challenges your ability and pushes you out of your comfort zone - what do you do? Do you run away, avoid it at all cost? Do you think “I can’t do this”, “I’m going to fail”?

Or does the challenge excite and motivate you to learn and grow? Do you think “I can’t do this YET, but I can develop the ability and skills to overcome this challenge". Do you think “if I DO fail this time I will learn from it for next time”?

In this article we explore how fixed and growth mindsets can help or hinder a positive response to a challenge or discomfort. We look at how to tap into our growth mindset to overcome the belief that we can’t do something.

What are Fixed and Growth Mindsets?

When we have a fixed mindset we believe that our success is due to a natural ability. We assume that our basic skills and intelligence are fixed traits, that we either have or don’t have, and no amount of effort will improve them.

With a growth mindset, we believe our success is based on the effort we put in. Hard work, learning, training and persistence. We realise that our abilities are not innately fixed, but can be developed and improved.

A fixed mindset dreads failure and avoids challenges that are outside our perceived skill set or comfort zone. We keep away from, or fear, situations where we might feel embarrassed or inadequate and we don’t ask questions for fear of “looking stupid”. As a result we do not embrace new experiences and challenges that may help us grow and develop. Instead we stay with what we comfortably know we can do.

A growth mindset sees failure as an opportunity to learn and grow, we embrace challenge and find it exciting, we are not afraid to ask questions. Our inner dialogue shifts from “I can’t do this” to “I can’t do this NOW, but with effort and motivation I CAN”.

As humans, we are likely to have a natural tendency to one or the other mindset, embedded by our beliefs, values and past experiences that make us who we are. It is, however, possible to challenge our fixed mindset and tap into our growth mindset. Realising that with effort, focus, motivation and learning we can become better at most things.

The terms Fixed and Growth Mindset were coined by Carol Dweck, an American Psychologist who studied human motivation, development and personality. Dweck asserts that a growth mindset allows us to live a less stressful and more successful life.

Adopting a growth mindset means we not only cope better but actively look for opportunities for learning and growth” (Carol Dweck (2017))

Characteristics of a Fixed Mindset

Dweck identified that a fixed mindset (the belief that intelligence is static) leads to a desire to look smart and, therefore, a tendency to:

  • avoid challenges

  • give up easily

  • see effort as fruitless or worse

  • ignore useful negative feedback

  • feel threatened by the success of others

As a result, people with a fixed mindset may plateau early and achieve less than their full potential.

Characteristics of a Growth Mindset

According to Dweck, a growth mindset (the belief that intelligence can be developed) leads to a desire to learn and, therefore, a tendency to:

  • embrace challenges

  • persist in the face of setbacks

  • see effort as the path to mastery

  • learn from criticism

  • find lessons and inspiration in the success of others

As a result, people with a growth mindset reach even higher levels of achievement (Dweck, 2006)

Developing your Growth Mindset

Shifting Mindset is not easy, and doesn’t happen overnight. Our mindsets are embedded as a result of past experiences that create the lenses through which we view ourselves and the world around us. However by recognising when we are operating from a fixed mindset, and taking small steps to shift our thinking and behaviours, we can begin to operate from a growth mindset and develop and grow our abilities and experiences.

7 tips for tapping into your Growth Mindset

  1. Face challenges with courage: If you feel you want to give up when something feels hard; persist! Think of it as an opportunity, an adventure. Recognise that the feeling of fear can be a motivational emotion to drive you to learn and navigate the challenge.

  2. Be willing to make mistakes and be vulnerable: Making mistakes in front of others gets easier the more you do it. You realise the judgement from others is often not as significant as your inner-critic has you believe. Displaying vulnerability shows you are human and can draw out others' sense of compassion, often willing you to succeed. Learn from your mistakes, and the mistakes of others. Ask questions when faced with something you don’t know, believe in the phrase “no such thing as a stupid question”.

  3. Embrace feedback: Actively seek and learn from feedback, rather than avoiding it or feeling defensive. Respect and embrace the different perspective of how others view you or your work and take feedback as an opportunity to develop and grow.

  4. Stop comparing yourself to others: Instead be inspired to learn from others. Trust your authentic self and your own personal strengths rather than aspiring to be someone you are not.

  5. Combat negative thought patterns: When you find yourself saying or thinking “I SHOULD do this” change it to “I WANT to do this”. Replace “I CAN’T” with “I CAN” or “I can’t YET”. When feeling the judgement of your inner-critic tap into your inner-coach’s compassion and kindness.

  6. Start from knowing your strengths and building on them: It is human nature to focus on our weaknesses and what we know we are not so good at. Starting by knowing your strengths, and using them to develop and grow, reinforces self-belief. This means you can then work on your areas for development with greater confidence and self-compassion.

  7. Take your time: Mindset shift does not happen overnight, and learning a new skill or process can take time. Embrace the process of learning and growing rather than focusing on the end result.

Ali McNab is a Transformational Coach helping people who feel frustrated, stuck or lost to reach a more fulfilled and balanced life. She will help you clarify where you want to be, explore your values, strengths and obstacles and define what needs to change to get you there. Ali works directly with individuals and with charities and social purpose organisations supporting their approaches to staff well-being and growth.

This article first appeared on the Life Coach Directory 28 July 2021.


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