Persevere using the Growth Mindset approach by Carol Dweck

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Perseverance can drive you to accomplish your goals. Is it something you are born with or can you develop it?

It turns out that this question is the key to unlocking what is known as the Growth Mindset.

Carol Dweck Ph.D. is a leading researcher at Stanford University in the field of motivation psychology. Her book Mindset: the new psychology of success maps out her groundbreaking research that affects all areas of life, including business, parenting and relationships.

Fixed vs Growth Mindset

Dweck asserts that there are two mindsets:

In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.

In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.

She goes on to describe the Fixed Mindset :

Believing that your qualities are carved in stone—the fixed mindset—creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character, well then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics […] Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser?

The benefits of Growth Mindset

Growth Mindset is beneficial in many areas of life from work to sports to school. In her research, Dweck used classroom results to demonstrate the progress students made when teachers implemented a Growth Mindset approach. For example, teachers made changes such as substituting the word “fail” for “not yet” which reinforced to the students that they were not inherently “bad”, but that they just had not reached a satisfactory level yet and more learning was required. The results were astounding, as she shared in her Ted Talk:

In [the United States], there are groups of students who chronically underperform, for example, children in inner cities, or children on Native American reservations. And they’ve done so poorly for so long that many people think it’s inevitable. But when educators create growth mindset classrooms steeped in “yet”, equality happens. And here are just a few examples. In one year, a kindergarten class in Harlem, New York scored in the 95th percentile on the national achievement test. Many of those kids could not hold a pencil when they arrived at school. In one year, fourth-grade students in the South Bronx, way behind, became the number one fourth-grade class in the state of New York on the state math test. In a year, to a year and a half, Native American students in a school on a reservation went from the bottom of their district to the top, and that district included affluent sections of Seattle. So the Native kids outdid the Microsoft kids.

This happened because the meaning of effort and difficulty were transformed. Before, effort and difficulty made them feel dumb, made them feel like giving up, but now, effort and difficulty, that’s when their neurons are making new connections, stronger connections. That’s when they’re getting smarter.

Dweck saw similar results with coaches and with managers when they implemented the Growth Mindset with their teams.

Persevering using the Growth Mindset

So how can you use the Growth Mindset to persevere in the challenges you may currently be facing at work? Dweck suggests four steps:

  1. Learn to hear your Fixed Mindset “voice”: Some of us experience a Fixed Mindset in certain situations whereas others practice the Fixed Mindset in general. Learn to identify the voice and notice the situation in which it presents itself.
  2. Recognize that you have a choice: How you experience a challenge or a setback is a choice. You don’t have to see yourself as someone who is inherently flawed or inept.
  3. “Talk back” with Growth Mindset: If you face a challenge and think “I don’t have the talent to do this”, you can counter that thought with a statement like “I’m not sure that I have the talent now but I can learn it with time and effort”.
  4. Take a Growth Mindset action: Take one concrete action towards developing a Growth Mindset. You can do some research to learn what you have to do or get in touch with someone you know who can point you in the right direction.

If you want to learn more about how to implement the Growth Mindset in your life and how it can help you to persevere through the inevitable career challenges or to learn more about her research, check out Dweck’s book Mindset: the new psychology of success or her Ted Talk.