My last post focused on the importance of a growth mindset and the limitations of fixed thinking. These concepts are based on the research of psychologist Carol Dweck of Stanford University. In short, a fixed mindset is when we assume that our skills are relatively unchangeable such as academic or artistic abilities. The problem Dweck found is that people who believe their abilities are fixed tend to underperform. If they perform well, it reinforces their beliefs about themselves, but if they fail, they may feel that the security of their belief system has been pulled out from under them. This results in a no-win situation where both children and adults alike are less willing to take chances for fear of threatening their identities.
“Just because one person can do something well without much training, doesn’t mean another person can’t do it well with training. This is even true of qualities we consider the most basic and unchangeable, such as athletic ability,” says Dweck.
If you find yourself falling into a fixed mindset, even if it’s regarding a positive personal attribute, but especially if it’s negative, here are some questions to ask yourself to challenge your assumptions:
- When did I surprise myself and perform in a way I didn’t think I was capable?
- What have I gotten better at over the years?
- What is an important lesson I have learned from a failure?
- How have I developed professionally in the last year?
- When did I act out of character for my personality? For example, if you think of yourself as introverted, when didn’t you act shy?
- What do I hope to learn in the future?
You can harness a growth mindset by focusing on your future goals and the rewards of the knowledge you will gain along the way. Instead of focusing on how you will perform, place your attention on what you will learn and the excitement of trying something new. You are likely to be surprised by how much greater satisfaction you feel.