I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. – Thomas Edison
In Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset, The New Psychology of Success, she makes a case that humans are naturally inclined towards one of two mindsets: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset.
If you have a predominantly fixed mindset you believe your qualities are fixed in stone.
Traits like intelligence, personality and character are what they are – you have been given your allotment of them and good luck to you.
In the growth mindset, you believe that these qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.
Here’s the kicker: which view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects how you live your life.
Dweck offers a vignette about a young adult who gets a poor grade, then a parking ticket, then calls a friend and gets brushed off.
More About the Mindsets
How does someone with a fixed mindset respond?
I’m a failure.
I feel like a reject.
I’m an idiot.
Even deeper thoughts emerge:
Someone is out to get me.
Someone is out to get me.
How would the fixed mindset person cope?
Do nothing. Stay in bed. Eat chocolate. Yell at someone. Listen to music and feel sorry for myself.
You get the picture. Have you ever felt this way?
Let’s take a look at a growth mindset leaning person.
She may say:
I have to study harder next time.
I have to leave more time to park my car.
Maybe my friend had a bad day.
I have time to pull up my grade.
How does the growth mindset cope with adversity? Directly.
They may say:
I will talk to my teacher to see where I did poorly so I can focus more.
I will take note of better parking options.
I’m going to ask my friend if there is anything going on in her life that I can help with.
The Mindset Test
Which mindset do you lean towards?
Dweck provides a litmus test.
Read each statement and decide whether you agree or disagree with it.
- Your intelligence is something very basic about you that you can’t change very much.
- You can learn new things, but you can’t really change how intelligent you are.
- No matter how much intelligence you have, you can always change it quite a bit.
- You can always substantially change how intelligent you are.
Questions 1 and 2 are fixed mindset questions. 3 and 4 reflect the growth mindset. Which mindset did you agree with more?
Let’s look at personal qualities as well:
- You are a certain kind of person, and there is not much that can be done to really change that.
- No matter what kind of person you are, you can always change substantially.
- You can do things differently, but the important parts of you can’t really be changed.
- You can always change basic things about the kind of person you are.
Questions 1 and 3 are fixed mindset questions and 2 and 4 reflect a growth mindset.
Did you differ here compared to the intelligence mindset questions?
Although we switch between mindsets, Dweck contends that we probably have a primary or default mindset.
You Can Change
The good news is you can learn to have a growth mindset if you currently gravitate towards a fixed mindset.
In order to do so, Dweck recommends reviewing this diagram.
Every morning, ask yourself the following questions:
What are my opportunities for learning and growth today? For myself? For the people around me?
When, where, and how will I embark on my plan?
When adversity enters the picture ask:
When, where and how will I act on my new plan?
When you succeed, don’t settle. Ask:
What do I have to do to maintain and continue the growth?
I’ve spent time in both mindsets. I remember a fixed mindset period in my corporate career where I thought all I could ever be in life was a corporate HR professional. I was hanging on for dear life, thinking I had reached my maximum potential.
On the other hand, when I faced the adversity of a layoff, I recall wondering what I could learn from it. I wound up learning new skills and starting a business.
It is a constant process, one which you must remain vigilant.
Back to Edison’s quote at the beginning: he definitely had a growth mindset which served him well in his life. How about you?
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