Updated: Apr 24, 2020
I can't... yet. That small word, ‘yet,’ is the heart of “growth mindset”. A term coined by Carol Dweck, a psychologist who studies why people do / do not succeed at their goals. For Dweck, the term ‘yet’ is crucial. It makes “I can’t” turn into “I can’t … yet”. “I can’t” is a reflection of what is called ‘fixed mindset’. This is a mindset where your abilities, capacities and intelligence are all fixed. In this mindset, things cannot be changed. “It is what it is.” When we encounter challenges with a fixed mindset, we close doors immediately, by stating ways we ‘cannot’ do something. Leon Miller in ‘Growth Mindset Coach’ makes a great point on this. He notes there are some valid fixed mindsets. For example, "I cannot fly - and no amount of training or effort to physically fly will make me able." So this is a valid, reasonable fixed mindset. But what happens when your brain tricks you into thinking something is a reasonable fixed thought just to stay comfortable? This is where mindset becomes really interesting. We inherently want to stay comfortable, the same. From an evolutionary perspective, this is how human beings are still alive. The brain has been trained over generations to avoid pain and suffering, and seek out comfort. When we were hunter gatherers, pain and discomfort meant we weren’t eating, or we were running from a bear. Put simply things weren’t looking too good for us. When we sought out reward, we ate that night. Things were looking up. In modern times, however, discomfort can be choosing to sit through a meditation for 5 minutes even though your mind is spinning. It can be sitting down with your boss and saying “this isn’t working for me, I would like to re-evaluate my salary.” Uncomfortable? Hugely. But also necessary for growth, change and development. A squirmy pathway to getting more of what you want from your life. This is where growth mindset can be the difference between staying frustrated but comfortable, or becoming less comfortable but proud of the changes you are making in your life. By putting the focus on 'yet', i.e. the focus on learning, we can light up our brains by tapping into one of the most motivating emotions we possess: curiosity. Let’s take an example. A CEO, let’s call her Linda, is viewed by society as being “successful” in terms of financial and influential power. But Linda feels fearful every time she speaks publicly in front of her reportees. A fixed mindset tells her “well, what’s the point, I’ve always been like that, I’m an introvert… I’ll stick to what I’m good at and let other people do the talking.” A growth mindset would say “I know I have felt fearful in this situation before, and I know I can change... I’m curious to find out what could help me here.” In a fixed mindset, she meets many closed doors. And it feels pretty comfortable, even though it’s excruciating. Because she feels awful every time she has to speak publicly. But it’s a known discomfort, and she reckons ‘better the devil you know.’ This is just the way it will be. And so it is the way it continues for some time. Until one day, she decides she's had enough. She has to do a keynote speech that she has been putting off for months, and there is a small voice in her gut she can no longer ignore saying “it’s time to play bigger.” So she agrees to the speech, and decides to put in the work. She gets curious. Her new approach is “I am curious what I can do to change this.” She begins the work of changing her mindset. She works with a coach, and begins to see progress. She slowly begins to change her mindset, time and time again. And her fixed mindset shows up in many different parts of her life… “This is what works for me, I’ll do this every day forever”... “I can’t, I will never get the hang of it”... “I tried it before and it didn’t work, so it won’t work this time” … and so on. Think of a baby learning to walk. Do you ever see them give up? “Oh, well, walking just isn’t for me. I tried for a while” Or do we ever give up on them? “Ah, Joey is a lovely kid, he tried it for a few weeks, but the walking just isn’t for him.” Of course not! It’s laughable! Yet how often do we do this to ourselves about the things that really matter to us? So… what can you do to develop a growth mindset?
Self-awareness. Begin to notice all the times you create fixed ideas about yourself or others - How often do you use words like… Can’t, Always, Never?
Self-compassion. Don’t let this be another way to berate yourself. “Another thing you aren’t doing well enough”. Instead, be kind. This is just a pattern. Like a muscle that has become stronger over time, nothing more. It isn’t who you are, it is open to change, like most things in life. Practice kindness towards yourself every time you notice fixed mindset thoughts - just like you would to a baby learning to walk.
Commit to change. Decide fully if you are ready to change these thoughts - list 5 benefits to staying in a fixed mindset, and 5 benefits to developing a growth mindset. What could you gain?
Action. Follow up immediately with actions that show your commitment. What one thing do you truly want to work towards in your life or career right now? What is your gut yearning for? What timeline will it require? Who will help to keep you accountable?
Celebrate success. Along the way, you will start to notice changes and improvements. Old fixed mindset thoughts might creep in, telling you “Well, you haven’t accomplished the goal, so no point celebrating.” Support your growth mindset by celebrating successes. Ask yourself each week... In what ways have I grown in the last week? How can I celebrate that growth in this moment? And then follow through, and celebrate! Looking for more inspiration on the topic? Check out Carol Dweck’s 10 minute TEDTalk here. Wishing you well this week, Laura