In the 2018 movie I Feel Pretty, Amy Schumer’s character Renee struggles with insecurity and inadequacy until a hit on the head changes her thinking. Suddenly believing that she is the most beautiful and capable woman on the planet, she dramatically changes the range of her influence and the effectiveness of her results. For a fairly silly (perfect for an airplane) movie, the message is right on.
Our mind is a powerful thing. A positive mindset frees us to be bold, take risks and trust ourselves with the confidence that we’ll figure it out. I saw some mindsets at work this week and reflect here on the extraordinary ways they limit us or free us up to thrive, to live from who we really are, and stand in our most powerful commitments.
World-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck conducted extensive research into the role of mindset, first in children and later in adults and organizations. Why do some succeed but not others? Her research revealed the difference between life-long achievers with a growth mindset and those who hit a ceiling of achievement or start to fail once they are at the top because of a fixed mindset.
People with a fixed mindset view talent as an unchangeable quality that we either possess or lack. People with a growth mindset believe that we are able to increase talent and learn new skills through curiosity, discipline, and taking on new challenges.
In her book Mindset, Carol Dweck writes about how we reinforce a fixed or growth mindset:
Whether aware of it or not all people keep a running account of what’s happening to them, what it means, and what they should do. In other words, our minds are constantly monitoring and interpreting. That’s just the way we stay on track. But sometimes the interpretation process goes awry. Some people put more extreme interpretations on things that happen – and then react with exaggerated feelings of anxiety, depression, or anger. Or superiority.
The fixed mindset creates an internal monologue that is focused on judging:
This means I’m a loser.
This means I’m smarter than they are.
This means I can’t take on this challenge.
This means they can’t do the job, ever.
This means that … (We fill in the ending to this sentence in a million different ways.)
People with a growth mindset are also constantly monitoring and interpreting, but their internal monologue wants to know what is possible. Their self-talk is not about judging themselves and others. They are attuned to information from what is happening around and within them, but they’re responsive to its implications for learning, changing, and productive action:
What can I learn from this?
How can I help my team do this better?
How can I improve?
What do I most want and how will I create that in my life?
What does this mean? (They look objectively to find out what is possible.)
Changing the internal monologue from being fixed and judgmental to one that is oriented toward growth enables each of us to pursue our goals more effectively and, like Amy’s character, gives a boost to our confidence, motivation, and performance.
A team or organization can also position itself to thrive by cultivating a growth mindset. By seeing opportunity and potential in every moment, talent can be developed, intelligence can be fostered, creativity can be encouraged, and leaders can emerge from anywhere.
How do you recognize a fixed mindset? Listen for it. Here are a couple of examples of fixed and growth mindsets I heard just this week:
A manager with a fixed mindset said: Are you sure you can do it? You haven’t done this before.
The seasoned employee with a growth mindset answered: I’m not sure I can do it now, but I think I can learn with time and effort.
In her mind, a new hire repeated the refrain of a fixed mindset: What if you fail? You’ll be a failure.
After our work together, her new growth mindset answered: Most successful people had failures along the way and learned from each one. I can do it.
When offered the challenge of taking on a new initiative, a team lead with a fixed mindset said to herself: If you don’t try, you can protect yourself and keep your dignity.
She caught herself pulling back and replaced it with the words of a growth mindset: If I don’t try, I automatically fail. Where’s the dignity in that?
What does your fixed mindset say? What are the repetitive phrases that haunt the inner sanctum of your mind? How can you replace them with something that will free you up to accomplish what you really want to do? Try a couple of these for yourself:
1. The fixed mindset says,
The growth mindset answers,
2. The fixed mindset says,
The growth mindset answers,
Cultivate a growth mindset. Which voice you nurture in your head is your choice:
Practice hearing both voices.
Recognize that you have a choice.
Practice speaking from, and acting on, the growth mindset.
Set up a buddy system. Catch each other in fixed mindsets and work together to change them into growth mindsets.
Experiment. See how you can make your mindset work for you. From what I’ve seen, new and different outcomes follow from choosing a growth mindset, one that believes that you are in control of your own abilities and tells you that you can learn and improve in any situation and at any age.
Choose a mindset that supports you to live differently and act from your biggest, heart-felt commitments. Recognize your own and others’ potential for growth and watch the people around you step into the wise and wonderful fullness of who they are.
Expand your growth mindset into a learning culture and every employee diversifies their knowledge, learns from one another, and collaborates to fulfill the mission of the organization.
This is a daily practice to shift our mindsets so that we can take effective action on behalf of a healthy sustainable future for our children and for all life on earth.
This blog looks at mindsets in another way.
The book by Carol Dweck is Mindset
A personal assessment to check your mindset’s tendency toward fixed or growth.
Outperform with a Growth Mindset, Forbes, 2019
How Companies can Profit from a Growth Mindset, Harvard Business Review, 2014