How to develop a growth mindset
By Madison Hanscom, PhD
Changing how we think can have a profound impact on our life at home and work. Growth mindset is the notion that who we are as a person (e.g., our character, abilities, intelligence) is malleable and capable of being developed with effort. At the opposite end of the spectrum is a fixed mindset, which describes when an individual feels their talents and abilities are predetermined and not flexible. Those with a more fixed mindset might feel some people “have it” and others “don’t”. Research on this topic began in education, where it was observed that students with a growth mindset approached difficulty as a challenge, and they were more likely to persevere with success despite setbacks. Students with a growth mindset vs. a fixed mindset had higher motivation, effort, and school outcomes (like math grades) (1).
This research has also extended to adults in the workplace. Employees with a higher growth mindset experience higher engagement, improved task performance, more creativity, and higher job satisfaction (2-6). Not only is it beneficial for employees to have a growth mindset, it is advantageous for leadership to embrace this way of thinking, too. The pioneer of growth mindset, Carol Dweck, explains how “many managers do not believe in personal change. These fixed-mindset managers simply look for existing talent — they judge employees as competent or incompetent at the start and that’s that … when employees do improve, they may fail to take notice, remaining stuck in their initial impression. What’s more, they are far less likely to seek or accept critical feedback from their employees” (7). There is clearly a need for employees and leaders alike to embrace a growth mindset at work.
Tips for embracing a growth mindset:
• Identify triggers. Figure out what your most common fixed thoughts look like so you can prepare new thoughts that are instead aligned with a growth mindset. Think about the last time you had a setback and approached it with a fixed mindset. Perhaps you made a mistake in a publication that went to your whole company, and your thought was “I just don’t have great attention to detail.” Prepare your growth-oriented reaction for next time (e.g., “That was a great lesson I learned – I will now have a proofreading checklist for future publications I send out” ). Self-reflection is an important part in the process. A deliberate choice and strategy will be needed in order to sustain persistent action.
• Reframe “failing” as “learning”. When a mistake is made, it is not a time to place blame or make excuses. It is a time to learn and improve in the future. People with a growth mindset see failure as a steppingstone and part of the journey as long as lessons are integrated into the next attempt. Instead of sweeping failure under the rug and pushing on, take time to debrief and reflect.
• Embrace changes and challenges. Can you think of something you are not great at doing, but you wish you were? It is time to take it on! Perhaps it is a public speaking engagement, learning that new programming language, or even running in your company’s annual 5k for charity. Whatever you decide to take on, embrace this change as a meaningful and exciting challenge that will likely have some bumps in the road, but will be an incredible developmental experience.
• Set goals. Building from the previous tip: embrace changes and challenges, and then set goals for the process. Think about where you are now and where you want to be. For instance, if you are currently struggling with public speaking, carve this into bite-sized accomplishments. You might decide in 12 months you want to speak comfortably at a conference (macro goal) so you join a public speaking club to work on smaller challenges along the way (micro goals). For each of these goals you should write down the parameters to ensure they are specific, measurable, and challenging. Don’t forget to include growth mindset thinking in these steps along the way!
• Have discussions. It can be helpful to find someone you trust, like a friend or a mentor, to have regular check-ins and discussions about your goals. You might also ask for feedback from those around you.
• Focus on the journey and not the destination. When reflecting on past experiences, make an effort to focus on what you did well along the way. Especially if something didn’t turn out the way you expected; think about the journey, were there lessons you learned? Perhaps you put in great effort and will do that again next time, but you made a mistake and will avoid that in the future.
• Use the word, “yet”. Including the word “yet” when thinking and speaking about difficult moments is great way to establish a growth mindset. Rather than saying you can’t do something (“I can’t lead that meeting on my own!”), remind yourself you can’t do it “yet”. The implication here is that abilities are fluid and with growth over time, they can stretch to new possibilities.
• Practice. First, think about common dilemmas or business scenarios. Second, reflect on how these can be framed in a fixed vs. a growth mindset. The more you walk through scenarios and practice, the easier it will come to you in the moment when opportunities present themselves where a growth mindset would be useful.
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(2) Caniëls, M. C., Semeijn, J. H., & Renders, I. H. (2018). Mind the mindset! The interaction of proactive personality, transformational leadership and growth mindset for engagement at work. Career Development International, 23(1), 48–66.
(3) Zeng, G., Chen, X., Cheung, H. Y., & Peng, K. (2019). Teachers’ growth mindset and work engagement in the Chinese educational context: Well-being and perseverance of effort as mediators. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 1–10.
(4) Cutumisu, M., Brown, M. R., Fray, C., & Schmölzer, G. M. (2018). Growth mindset mod- erates the effect of the neonatal resuscitation program on performance in a computer- based game training simulation. Frontiers in Pediatrics, 6, 195.
(5) Karwowski, M. (2014). Creative mindsets: Measurement, correlates, consequences. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 8(1), 62–70.
(6) Rattan, A., & Dweck, C. S. (2018). What happens after prejudice is confronted in the workplace? How mindsets affect minorities’ and women’s outlook on future social relations. Journal of Applied Psychology, 103(6), 676–687.