Viewing traits as innate make coping with failure and success much harder. With a "growth mindset" you learn more, persist more, and overcome obstacles.
Today’s tip is about how a slight change in thinking dramatically changes your ability to get results.
“Know thyself!” My guidance counselor in high school was very clear on this. And boy, did I know myself: I’m smart. I’m bad at sports. I am so far on the “nerd” side of the spectrum that my thick, coke-bottle glasses need to wear glasses.
If you notice carefully, all these things I “knew” were unchangeable definitions of my being. This is a “fixed mindset.” It’s the belief that my traits, skills, and general awesomeness is set in stone and can’t be changed. Either I’m smart, or I’m not. And if not, there’s nothing that can be done.
Thinking with a fixed mindset sucks.
Even if that were true—and it’s not—thinking with a fixed mindset sucks. Psychologist Carol Dweck has been researching this for years. When someone believes their skills and abilities are innate, they give up more easily when they meet challenges. They conclude, “this is just who I am” rather than “I can learn to overcome this.”
Overcoming this is easy; you adopt a growth mindset instead. That’s how people become the superhero version of themselves. And we all want to be the superhero versions of ourselves! The costumes look way cooler, though of course we never, ever wear capes.
Growth mindsets emphasize improvement
A growth mindset is the belief that you can grow and change through education and practice. With a growth mindset, you adapt to challenges by learning and setting new goals. You respond differently to failure. Instead of concluding there’s nothing to be done, you ask, “What can I do differently?”
You can change a fixed mindset into a growth mindset, even if it’s not yours.
What you praise is what you get
When you praise people, they keep doing what they’re doing. If you praise someone for their innate abilities, that reinforces the idea that what they are is what matters. “You’re so smart!” you tell your friend. Your friend now thinks they’re innately smart. You’ve just reinforced the fixed mindset.
“You work so hard!” on the other hand, reinforces the growth mindset. It praises the effort someone put in which, of course, is something they can ramp up or down as they wish.
Get everyone growing
If everyone in your life has a growth mindset, everyone will start being more successful. You’ll all start rising to challenges! You’ll climb your personal Mt. Everest! Then you’ll take a selfie at the top and post it to Facebook. Everyone will be so jealous, and you’ll be as famous as Kim Kardashian. Yay.
Praise your mentees for actions, not traits
Do you have people you mentor in life or in work? Find out the actions they’ve taken that have led them to success, and praise those actions. “You really put in 100% effort on the marketing report.” “Your business plan shows that you did a great job with your research.” Praise the actions that are under their control that they can do more of.
Do not say things like, “you’re so smart” or “you’re gifted at photography.” Those emphasize fixed traits. Keep emphasizing actions.
Encourage a growth mindset in kids
Children are just like mentees, only we’re supposed to coddle them and tell them they’re smart and wonderful and will grow up to be President. These days, that’s an extremely low bar.
With kids, love them for who they are, and praise them for what they’ve done. Don’t say, “You got good grades because you’re so smart!” Develop a growth mindset by saying, “Great job! Your grades really show that you studied well and could show how much you’ve learned."
If a child fails a math exam, don’t tell them they’re stupid or that “math genes just don’t run in our family.” Instead, ask them: “What could you do differently to do better next time?” Help them orient around studying more, getting tutoring from friends, and so on. Once they learn they can control their learning, they can move on to higher stakes later in life. Just think “performance review.”
Encourage employees’ growth mindset
When your minions aren’t reaching their full potential, change how they think. Ask them about how they relate to their work and notice when they’re using fixed-mindset excuses. “I’m just not a details person.” Then counter any fixed-mindset excuses with growth-mindset actions you’d like to see them take.
Fixed mindsets, believing that your traits are responsible for success, cripple you. Growth mindsets, believing that your actions are responsible for success, free you!
You can ask, “What could you do to keep track of details?” That orients them towards skills.
Just between you and me, I, Stever Robbins, the Get-it-Done Guy, am horrible with details and accountability and getting things done. That’s why I’ve developed so many explicit tools and tips! Because with a growth mindset, I’ve developed systems to make up for being born without those innate skills.
Develop your own growth mindset
You can also use this with yourself. Notice how you describe yourself to others and to yourself. When you think you aren’t good at something, ask yourself why. If you find yourself saying things like, “I’m just not the kind of person who…” that’s a sign you’re falling into a fixed mindset. Change! Shift back to activity and growth-oriented questions.
Destroy your enemies by giving them a fixed mindset
Finally, you can use this with your enemies, too. When you’re talking to your personal nemesis at work, and they say, “I worked so hard, I really deserved that promotion!” You can look at them and say, in all sincerity, “You’re so amazingly smart. It’s as if you were just born with all the capabilities for success! Plus, you’re the kind of person that has all the luck.” Pretty soon, they’ll lose their ability to cope with failure, they’ll stop developing new skills, and they’ll just sit at home all day eating bon bons and watching reality television.
Fixed mindsets, believing that your traits are responsible for success, cripple you. Growth mindsets, believing that your actions are responsible for success, free you! Praise actions to reinforce a growth mindset in your mentees, your employees, your kids, and yourself. The more you learn, the more you’ll master. And the more you master, the sooner you’ll be guest starring on...the Kardashians.