Rome wasn’t built on one day…

Finally, I sat down to read probably the most quoted book in developmental and social phycology – “Mindset” by Dr Carol Dweck. I am not sure if you heard her name, especially if you are not a coach or a social scientist, but I am positive you have seen colourful pictures, inspirational quotes, passionate videos about the “growth mindset”. There is probably no motivational speaker who talks about management, personal growth, education or even relationships without mentioning the “evil” fixed mindset and praise the remedy to all problems – the “growth mindset”. I was saturated (if not fed up) with these superficial speeches and wanted to read something more “scientific”. To my surprise, “Mindset” turned out to be one of the most academically profound and easy-to-read books written by a world-renowned psychologist and university professor. The book offers deep insights into our beliefs and their consequences on various aspects of our lives such as career, education, parenting, family.

What is a fixed mindset environment?

The reality and the society we live in is filled with fixed mindset even if we aspire to the opposite. Think about the following situation. A child (let’s call him Alex) spends days and nights preparing a presentation on a difficult subject at school.  He struggles to understand complex formulas, asks his parents and older sister for help, reads a lot of additional materials. He spends the entire weekend preparing the assignment. Alex even practices delivering the presentation to his dog, Charlie. Finally, he feels more or less confident and ready. Next morning, everything goes smoothly. Alex does an excellent job. The audience is pleased and the teacher says: “You must be very talented not only in physics but also in public speaking. Great job. By the way, how much time did you spend on the preparation?” Alex feels the relief in his entire body, the inner panic goes away. He thinks for a moment and answers: “Yeaaah… I read some articles and outlined some key messages… I don’t know exactly, probably it took me one hour or so…”

This is an example of how a child with a growth mindset learns the fixed mindset. Alex accepts the challenge, works hard and achieves an amazing result. But does he feel 100% happy? Not really… Alex has just got the confirmation that he is talented and special, but secretly he knows exactly that it is not the case… “Smart kids don’t spend hours studying” – this is the fixed mindset belief so common in our schools. The teacher gets the proof she was searching for. Alex is a talented kid. Not all children are equally smart. There are “naturals”. Talent is rare.  It turns out that many people try to understate their effort in order to seem more intelligent. Natural talent is a mysterious quality people strive for. Usually, we consider the phrases “You are such a brain” or “You are so bright” as more flattering compliments than “You must have put a lot of effort into it to achieve such an amazing result”. It starts at school and continues in the office when you spend nights to impress your colleagues with a new magic spreadsheet, practice presentations to seem effortless, easy and fun. In some organizations, it is better not to try than to fail. The employees are supposed to be talented and bright. Nobody wants to fail to confirm this assumption.

What are the consequences of a fixed mindset?

Why is fixed mindset bad? People with a fixed mindset are always trying to prove themselves. They are supersensitive about being wrong or making mistakes.  And they deliberately miss the opportunities to learn and to grow. In the worst case, they get stuck with their teenage skillset. Don’t get me wrong. There are very few people who are stuck in a fixed mindset in all aspects of their lives. Usually, we keep learning and accept challenges in those spheres where we feel to be experts in. If you were great at sports as a child, the chances are very high that you still enjoy it and keep practising and becoming better (or at least not worse). But what about maths? Do you still believe you are simply not good at it? That’s why you dropped your finance major and believe that “big data” is even not worth reading about? You miss opportunities, resources, adventures. Or do think you are a bad presenter and would never volunteer for a public speech? What about your relationships? Both at work and in your private life? We are all social creatures. But some children and teenagers were not always understood and decided that he or she was not a “people person”. From that moment on, these guys gave up on their dreams to achieve 1a, 1b, 1c, 2a, 2b… on their life agenda.

A fixed mindset is one of the strongest roots for depression with its consequences. I don’t want to go deeper into this topic, but one thing is clear – fixed mindset is unhealthy!

Another aspect of the fixed mindset is envy. People with a fixed mindset feel threatened by the success of others. You have definitely met a couple of those. When I have read it, I was very happy to have at least some characteristics of a growth mindset. I find a lot of inspiration in the success of others and try to learn from their paths. If they could do it, I can do it!

The good news is that we can change our mindset and strengthen our resilience.

What can we do in order to foster a growth mindset?

We come to the most important point – what are small steps on the way to the growth mindset? Here is a selection of ideas I found useful and easy to start with:

  1. Think about something you truly enjoy. It can be dancing, learning a new language, tackling mathematical puzzles, playing basketball. Suddenly, it becomes difficult and you instinctively search for a chance to opt out. You start cleaning your apartments, get hungry or feel tired. This is the fixed mindset coming to the surface. Imagine neuron connections strengthening, your brain literally growing from this opportunity to master the challenge. View this difficult task not as a moment to prove your intelligence or talent but as a chance to learn.
  2. Find people who foster a growth mindset. It’s easy to create a world in which we seem to be perfect. Don’t do it. Don’t surround yourself with worshipers. Appreciate constructive criticism from your close ones. At the same time, ignore (or if it seems too difficult for you, simply avoid) people who don’t believe in development and prefer doing nothing to failing.
  3. Recall your biggest failure. Were you fired from your dream job? Did your fiancé leave you? Was it that English test at school that you failed? Or the driving license exam? Now, look at it from the growth mindset perspective. What did you learn? Stop feeling miserable about yourself. This failure does not define you as a person. Be grateful for the experience you made early enough in your life. Make the next step keeping the lessons learnt in mind. Stop rehearsing that moment now!
  4. Pay attention to your own comments, especially if you have kids. How often do you praise their talent or intelligence? Stop it (or at least limit it)! Start paying more attention to their effort, learning curve and improvements they make along this way. Praise grit and view failures as achievements from which they learn. The same applies to your partners, team colleagues and people you care about.
  5. Plan your small “mission impossible”! Do you have a secret dream, crazy idea or something you always admired but thought it was not for you? Write down a detailed plan and work on it. View it as your daily mindset exercise.

I am already working on my “mission impossible”…

“Mindset” by C. Dweck on Amazon –

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