A vital future skill that is fundamental to success is a growth mindset. A growth mindset means that you have an underlying belief that you can improve. You thrive on challenge and see failure as a ‘not yet’ opportunity to do better and work harder and learn from your mistakes.
Believing that you can improve is an impressively positive approach to life, and research has proven time and again that people with this type of attitude and mindset believe that success can be achieved through effort. While we know that people have different talents and aptitudes, everyone can grow and change through hard work and learning.
(Carol Dweck is the name most associated with this topic because of all the work she has done around students’ attitudes to failure.)
One of the biggest blessings about having a growth mindset is the ability to bounce back after setbacks. This goes hand in hand with resilience and grit which we have talked about over the past three weeks. What better gift can you equip someone with, than the ability to bounce back after adversities?
This type of ‘bouncing back’ brings to mind something that happened when my son was about two. We were in the bush. He was toddling along in front of us as we arrived, heading to the little chalet that we were going to be staying in. We had our hands full of luggage and cooler bags, when suddenly he started screaming and hopping on the spot. We were a way behind him, but watched as he shrieked, then hopped a bit, then suddenly just crumpled up on the floor in a helpless ball screeching. Of course we panicked and didn’t have a clue what had happened. What we discovered when we rushed to him was that he had walked through a pile of nasty red ants that had started biting his feet and running up his legs and biting him.
He crumpled in a heap and literally gave up on life. Poor little mite didn’t know what was causing him the pain nor how to stop it. And that was it. He gave up. He did not overcome that little incident.
This is the visual I get when I think about someone with a fixed mindset hits an obstacle. They believe their knowledge and skill set is fixed, and as such don’t believe they have what it takes to succeed, nor develop or grow. They are stuck. I literally picture them curled up in a helpless ball while the ants feast on them.
It is critical to develop a growth mindset when it comes to future success
I believe that the perception a person has of themselves, their abilities, and their work, affects their prospects of developing personally and professionally. When people develop a growth mindset, they are able to challenge themselves by taking specific actions towards their own development and success, which significantly impacts their career and life course.
Not everyone has that mindset, but the good news is that it can be developed. Let us explore how to foster that from early on.
OBSTACLES ARE TEMPORARY CHALLENGES We need to know that those nasty little ants can be removed. You can walk around them. You can learn to watch for them. You can wear closed shoes in the bush. All of these are solutions to being overtaken by wicked biting ants. We need to understand that we are having a bad day, or a bad moment, but the moment will pass, and we will have new moments.
A growth mindset doesn’t see obstacles as permanent.
ARE WE THERE YET? Carol Dweck speaks about the power of “not yet”. There is no failure, there is only ‘not there yet’. This is incredibly powerful. When you are told you are not there yet, there is hope. You know that if you try again, you can eventually get there. If you are told you have failed, it is a conclusion. It is not hopeful. Failure kills the prospect of future success. It is finite.
When we are attempting to achieve something, we need to focus on the improvements and the ‘almost there’. Whether it is a toddler trying to hop on one leg, or a teenager learning to drive. Imagine if we were told we failed every time we stalled a car? No one would drive. Thankfully even when failing a driver’s licence test, they immediately tell you to rebook. You aren’t there yet. But you will get there. Just try and try and try again.
Delete the word fail from your vocabulary and replace it with learn. You haven’t failed, you have learnt. And next time you will know better and do better. And succeed.
WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE When presented with an opportunity to try something new, we generally want to take that up. When we don’t, we need to check our language. We will say things, usually to ourselves, like, “I can’t do that” or “what if I fail?” It is so much easier to talk ourselves out of doing something than it is to talk ourselves into doing something.
Not everyone can stand on the precipice of a challenge and say, “Right! I may fall flat on my face, but I won’t know unless I try”. People with a growth mindset do.
Watch your language in your head. Watch the language of people around you. When someone says, “are you sure you can do that?”, check yourself. The voice inside your head needs to respond with, “no, I am not sure, but it is worth a try, and I can work at it until I get it right”.
Our internal dialogue is possibly one of the most critical deciders in our success. And our failures. Make sure that your internal dialogue is one that encourages you.
PRACTICE ACTION Challenges are a great way for us to work on developing our growth mindset. Overcoming setbacks reinforces our belief that we can in fact conquer challenges and learn from them, to improve in future. We can learn to thrive on challenges and reset our thinking to see “failures” as a launch pad for growth and developing our abilities. Knowing this, means we learn that our intelligence and talents are all capable of growing and improving.
NOBODY IS WATCHING YOU Failure is often measured because of our comparison to others. When you decide to take up something new, you can’t say you have failed unless you have a success to compare it to. Only when someone else succeeds at it, do you have a comparative success to measure it against. Until you see someone else do it, you have not failed you are simply still trying and learning.
Think of a baby learning. They keep trying to walk until they get it. They are encouraged by others around them, and no one says, oh dear, you tried once and you failed. That is it. You are doomed to crawl for your entire life. They aren’t comparing themselves to other toddlers – they know that walking is the goal, and they keep going until they get it.
Comparing your achievements to others’ can lead to feelings of frustration, inadequacy, and feeling overwhelmed because of their already attained success. A growth mindset means we can look at our own successes and achievements, celebrate them, and use them as a basis for future motivation.
Comparing ourselves to others, worrying about how we may look to others, and being ashamed of our failures are all obstructing us from developing a growth mindset. Those thoughts are blocking our success. It is important to stay focused on ourselves and how we can grow. Nobody is watching our progress; nobody really cares where we are in our journey. Stop worrying about others. If I decide I want to run a 5km distance in 30mins, that will be my success. Another runner may think 5km in 30mins is a failure. Success – and failure – are relative, and personal.
People have different talents and different areas where they really excel. I have a good ear for music. My husband’s best friend can’t hold a tune. For his wedding, he wanted to sing his wife’s favourite song, so he went for lessons, and he learnt to sing, albeit in a very technical way. He did it. He believed he could, so he did. He is not a natural singer by any stretch of the imagination, but he learnt. A growth mindset enabled him to do that, through determination and discipline.
A growth mindset is critical for success. No matter what your natural talents are, a growth mindset will help you realise that your strengths and weaknesses can be improved. It is something we need to train ourselves to have. We need to recognise that challenges are going to come our way, and that each one is an opportunity to learn and grow. To improve.
The Growth Mindset recipe for success is this: If we strive for improvement rather than perfection, we will continue to grow, to learn and to achieve. When we know that the amount of effort we put into things is directly proportional to our success, then we are not afraid to continuously challenge our brain by looking for new ways to increase our knowledge through experimenting and trying new things.
Go forth and seek new experiences. Grow your mind into success.