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What is a Growth Mindset and How Can it Help You Succeed?

What is a Growth Mindset and How Can it Help You Succeed?
Hi there. You’re looking marvelous today. In this session you’ll learn about the awesome power of your beliefs, particularly something called the growth mindset. After decades of studying how our beliefs affect us, researchers have found that our beliefs about ourselves, others, and how people become talented predict how high we set our goals and whether we succeed in achieving them. Now our beliefs predict whether we seek out hard problems, or whether we take the easy way out. Whether we take risks, or whether we play it safe. Whether we admit our mistakes, or whether we hide them, or whether we blame others for our mistakes.
Whether we ask for negative as well as positive feedback, and whether we handle our transitions well, or whether we crumble. Our beliefs even predict whether we’re more likely to cheat when given the opportunity to do so. For over ten years, Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck and her colleagues have been studying how our unconscious beliefs about how people achieve success have profound effects on our choices, our behaviors, and ultimately our ability to achieve our goals. They have found that some people have what they call a fixed mindset, whereas others have what they call a growth mindset. And each mindset predicts how likely a person is to succeed at school, at work, in their career, and even in their personal relationships.
These mindsets are described in this session. While learning about the power of mindset, think about whether you tend to have beliefs that are more consistent with the fixed or the growth mindset and consider the consequences this beliefs may have on your future. And I’ll tell you upfront that I’m going to make the case, that you would be wise to have or develop a growth mindset. People who have a fixed mindset believe in nature over nurture. In other words, they believe that each person inherits intelligence, talents, and personality characteristics that are unique to their genetic makeup. And these characteristics, they believe, stay pretty stable throughout their lives.
Consequently, they’re more likely to say things like, I’m a people person, I’m a numbers person, she’s a natural storyteller, and leaders are born and not made. They see their strengths and weaknesses as part of who they are as a person. And they make their day-to-day choices according to this belief. Dr. Dweck and her colleagues have found that people with a fixed mindset are more likely to seek out opportunities where they can demonstrate their strengths, and avoid situations that might expose their weaknesses. They’re less likely to take risks.
For example, taking on a course or a job assignment in which they may not excel because they fear that doing so may put them in situations that require skills that they don’t yet have and that may lead to failure. When they or others make mistakes they’re more likely to believe that these mistakes are due to a lack of natural ability rather than an opportunity to reflect on what they can learn from the mistake and learn new skills.
They are less likely to seek out and appreciate negative feedback because it can feel like a threat to their identity, particularly because they are more likely to believe that they can’t do much to change their weaknesses since they believe that their strength and weaknesses are wired in. They’re also more likely to quit when facing hurdles and setbacks because they believe that struggles suggest that they don’t have the natural ability in those areas. So, why even try? For people with a fixed mindset, focusing primarily on their strengths may serve them well for a while as they continue to excel in what they already do well.
But as they continue to miss out on opportunities to take risks, learn, and grow, their strategy of focusing on their strengths can backfire in the long run because their strengths that helped them in the path may not help them in the future especially if the environment changes and they don’t change with it. In contrast, people who have a growth mindset believe more in nurture than in nature. They believe that intelligent, talents, and personality characteristics are learned and can change over time with effort and practice. They are more likely to say, she worked hard to get where she is today. I can become a great speaker if I put my mind to it. And leaders are made, not born.
They believe that effort, careful planning, and ongoing learning, more so than natural ability, predict people’s ability to achieve success, and they make their day-to-day choices and pursue their goals according to this belief. Because they believe their strengths are the result of effort rather than innate abilities, they are more likely to take on projects in which they can learn things that they have not yet mastered, even if doing so highlights their current weaknesses. They are more likely to take risks because they are more interested in growth than in protecting themselves from the possibility of mistakes and failure. They are more likely to see mistakes as opportunities for learning rather than as signs of permanent personal flaws.
They are more likely to seek out negative feedback and persist when faced with hurdles and setbacks. Because they believe these are to be expected as they move step by step toward their goals. In fact many people with a growth mindset find negative feedback, hurdles, and setbacks to be motivating rather than demoralizing, and they double up their efforts to improve their performance. The hallmark of people with a growth mindset is that they believe in the adage that the harder I work, the smarter I get. Day by day, they focus more on developing their future self than on validating and protecting their current self. They don’t see the advantage of being the smartest person in the room.
And they’re not comfortable receiving only positive feedback. Now, here’s another way that a growth mindset pays off. Because they start taking risks and learning from mistakes earlier in their careers, people who favor a growth mindset tend to be better prepared to handle the bigger problems and then make fewer mistakes later in their career when the stakes are higher. Dr. Dweck and her colleagues have conducted and inspired over ten years of research on the power of the growth mindset in predicting success. Now listen for yourself to Dr. Dweck talk about this research, and the power of what she calls Not Yet.
I hope you’ve found Dr. Dweck’s presentation to be useful. Here’s what’s really interesting about the growth mindset. A theme in this course is that a small interventions can trigger big changes, and this is demonstrated in that study by Dweck and her colleagues. In the study, researchers gave hundreds of adolescent students a test that was made up of ten questions designed to assess nonverbal ability, and most of the students did pretty well on the test. After taking the test, the researchers praised some of the students for their ability, a fixed mindset, saying, wow, you did very well on those problems. You got x many problems right. That’s a really good score. You must be smart at these problems.
The researchers praised other students for their effort, emphasizing a growth mindset. They said things like, wow, you got x many right. That’s a really good score. You must have worked hard at these problems. The researchers later gave the students to tackle an easy or a hard task. 80% of the students who are praised for their intelligence, the fixed mindset, chose the easier task. And 67% of the students who are praised for their effort chose the challenging task. Now as part of the study the researchers also asked the students to write a private letter to their peers discussing their experience with the study and revealing their scores on the test that they took for the study.
Interestingly, 40% of the students who were told, you must be really smart, lied and overstated their scores, compared to only 13% of the students who were praised for their effort. It seems that the students with a fixed mindset were more invested in demonstrating that they were smart not only to themselves but to others as well, even if that meant inflating their scores. In study after study researchers have found similar results. For example, the growth mindset has been associated with academic performance in both underachieving and high achieving students.
It has been associated with adolescence resilience in responding to peer exclusion and bullying, girls’ test scores in math, community college students’ grades in remedial math courses, medical students’ grades, Hong Kong students’ willingness to take classes to improve their English language skills, and managers’ willingness to coach employees and their effectiveness in doing so. Let me tell you a personal story about the power of Not Yet. About 15 years ago I was Academic Director of the part-time MBA Program at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.
A student was trying to get admitted to the MBA Program, even though he had a low score on the Graduate Management Admissions Test, a test that was required for admission to the MBA program. And it’s supposed to be designed to access one’s ability to successfully tackle the rigors of an MBA program. He took the test several times, studying hard between each test. But despite his efforts, his test score would not budge. He applied to the MBA program twice and he did not get admitted in large part due to his low GMAT scores. The third time he applied to the MBA program, he tried a different strategy. He visited the dean of the business school and made the dean a promise.
He said that he was certain that he would get excellent grades if he was admitted to the MBA program. And he promised that if he did not get high grades, he would voluntarily leave the program. Based on that agreement he was admitted to the program where he indeed earned a very high grade point average by the time he graduated with his MBA. A few years later I ran into him while I was teaching a leadership program at his place of work. He had enjoyed several promotions since graduating from the MBA program.
And although I didn’t know about the research comparing the fixed and growth mindsets at the time, I believe that having a growth mindset played a key role in this man’s success. He lived in a world of not yet, and that world was serving him, his teams, and his organization very well.
Now before moving on, you’ll get more out of this session if you take time to think about your own mindset and how it may affect your ability to achieve your goals. To assess your mindset, ask yourself the following questions.
Do you say things like, I’m a natural people person or I’ve learned to work well with people? Do you say, he’s a born mathematician, or, he must have worked hard to develop his math skills? Do you say, she’s a natural leader, or, she worked her way up to the leadership role? If you’re a parent, do you say things to your children, such as, you’re so smart, or, you worked hard, you’re a natural athlete, or, you sure practice a lot? I guess math just isn’t your talent, or, what can you do to do better at math? How does what you say every day reflect the growth or fixed mindset?
And what might be the consequences on your own or other’s performance and ability to achieve important goals?
How can you encourage yourself to use language that reflects the growth rather than fixed mindset? For example, you can praise yourself and others for the strategies, effort and resilience used when learning new skills and talents. For your children, you can ask them questions such as, what did you do today that was hard? What can you learn from this? What mistakes did you make that taught you something? Well if that didn’t work what can you do to try another way?
And you can guide your choices with the power of the phrase not yet, and push yourself to become more skilled in areas that you’re not yet good at. For example, if you’re not yet comfortable giving presentations, you can join one of the highly respected Toastmaster clubs in which you’ll work with others who are trying to enhance their communication skills. If you aren’t yet comfortable in settings in which you should speaking with people informally, say a conference, you can read a book, or search for a website about working the room or making small talk. You can take courses including online courses to increase your skills in many different areas.
And then you can practice your new skill every day at home, at school, or at work.
I hope you found learning about the growth mindset to be interesting and useful for yourself and for the people you care about at work, at school, and at home. Let me end this session with one of my favorite quotations by Dr. Dweck. Remember, she said, the people who start off the smartest don’t always end up the smartest. In the next session, we’ll talk about how the growth mind set can protect people against some of the negative effects of prejudice and bias. Until then take care and I’ll see you soon.
This article is from the free online

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